Can Running Help You Build Muscle? Discover the Surprising Truth

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Beginner Runner
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David Dack

A quick Google search of “does running build muscle” confirms what many people already wonder – whether starting or increasing running might lead to muscle loss. However, the truth is quite the opposite.

In fact, as we’ll discover in today’s post, running, when combined with a healthy diet, can actually help you build muscle and achieve a leaner physique.

So, if you’re curious about how running can contribute to muscle development, this article has you covered.

I’ll be diving into the details of building muscle while incorporating running into your routine, and provide you with some valuable tips to make your running workouts as muscle-friendly as possible.

Does Running Build Muscle?

The question of whether running builds muscle is a complex one, as it depends on various factors and the type of running you do.

Let’s dive into the nuances of how running can impact muscle growth:

  • Running Type Matters: Different types of running have distinct effects on muscle growth. For instance, sprinting and hill running can stimulate muscle growth, especially in the legs and glutes. These short bursts of intense effort create muscle tension and micro-tears, prompting muscle repair and growth.
  • Long-Distance Running: On the other hand, long-distance or steady-state running primarily focuses on cardiovascular endurance and fat burning. While it may not contribute significantly to muscle hypertrophy, it can help maintain lean muscle mass and tone.
  • Resistance Training vs. Running: For substantial muscle growth, resistance training (weightlifting, bodyweight exercises) is more effective than running alone. Combining both running and resistance training can provide a balanced approach to fitness.
  • Nutrition and Recovery: Proper nutrition and adequate recovery play crucial roles in muscle development. Consuming enough protein, calories, and nutrients supports muscle repair and growth. Additionally, getting adequate rest and sleep is essential for recovery and muscle repair.
  • Genetics and Individual Variation: Genetics also play a role in how your body responds to running and muscle growth. Some individuals may naturally gain more muscle from running than others.

To learn about the process of muscle building, check the following articles:

The Running Motion

Let’s delve deeper into the muscles involved in the running motion and how they contribute to your overall strength and endurance:

Primary Muscle Groups:

  • Calves: The calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) are heavily engaged in running. They help propel your body upward during push-off and absorb shock during landings.
  • Quadriceps: The quadriceps, located in the front of your thighs, play a significant role in extending your knee and providing the power to lift your legs during each stride.
  • Glutes: The gluteal muscles, particularly the gluteus maximus, are responsible for hip extension and provide power to your stride.
  • Core: Your core muscles help stabilize your torso and pelvis, maintaining proper posture during running.
  • Shoulders and Arms: While these muscles are not the primary drivers of running motion, they contribute to maintaining balance and arm swing, which can aid in overall efficiency.

For an in-depth look into the impact of running on muscle, check the following articles:

What Should You Do to Prevent Muscle Waste Via Running?

To prevent muscle loss while running and actively build muscle, it’s essential to transition from aerobic to anaerobic training. This shift involves changing your focus from slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are primarily used during steady-state aerobic cardio, to fast-twitch muscle fibers, which come into play during anaerobic activities.

Here’s how you can make that transition:

  • Focus on Interval Training: Incorporate plenty of high-intensity runs, such as sprints, into your training routine. These workouts involve short bursts of intense effort over a brief period.
  • Increase Training Intensity: By elevating the intensity of your workouts, you place more stress on your muscles, which can stimulate strength gains and muscle development.
  • Listen to Your Body: Be mindful of your body’s signals and avoid pushing yourself too hard too soon. Gradually increase the intensity of your runs to allow your muscles to adapt and prevent overuse injuries.

Now, let’s explore two running workouts that are excellent for improving muscle mass and achieving a toned physique. Remember to start each session with a 10-minute dynamic warm-up and finish with a proper cooldown to enhance your performance and reduce the risk of injury.

Now, let’s get to work.

The 100-Meter Sprint

For this workout, you’ll be doing 100-meter sprints to build muscle and increase explosive power.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Track Setup: Head to a running track or find a flat, open area where you can sprint safely.
  • Warm-Up (10 Minutes): Start with a 10-minute dynamic warm-up to prepare your muscles and joints. Include exercises like leg swings, high knees, butt kicks, and arm circles.
  • Sprint and Recovery: Begin by sprinting as fast as you can along the straight section of the track (100 meters). Focus on maximum effort during the sprint.
  • Walking Recovery: After completing the 100-meter sprint, walk the curved section of the track to recover. This walking phase allows you to catch your breath and prepare for the next sprint.
  • Repeat: Repeat this cycle for a total of four to six laps. Each lap consists of one 100-meter sprint followed by a recovery walk.
  • Progression: As your conditioning improves, you can gradually increase the number of sprints or the distance of each sprint. Challenge yourself to push harder during each sprint.
  • Cool Down: Finish the workout with a 5-10 minute cool-down, which includes light jogging or walking to gradually lower your heart rate and prevent muscle soreness.

The Uphill Surges

Looking to take your sprints to the next level?

Embrace hills.

Hill sprints are an excellent way to take your sprinting workouts to the next level and build muscle. Here’s how to incorporate hill sprints into your routine:

  • Find a Suitable Hill: Look for a hill with a grade of five to ten percent that takes approximately 30 seconds to run up. The hill should offer a challenging incline but still be manageable.
  • Warm-Up (10 Minutes): Begin with a 10-minute warm-up on a flat surface. You can jog or perform dynamic warm-up exercises to prepare your muscles for the workout.
  • Sprint Up the Hill: Once you’re warmed up, sprint up the hill as fast as you possibly can. Focus on powerful, explosive strides as you ascend the hill. This uphill sprint will engage your leg muscles, including your quads, hamstrings, and calves.
  • Jog Downhill: After completing the uphill sprint, jog back down to the starting point. This downhill jog serves as your recovery period, allowing your heart rate to come down.
  • Repeat: Repeat this cycle of sprinting uphill and jogging downhill for 15 to 20 minutes. The exact number of repetitions will depend on your fitness level and the length of the hill.
  • Cool Down (10 Minutes): Finish the session with a 10-minute cool-down. You can jog on a flat surface or walk to gradually lower your heart rate and prevent muscle tightness.

Strength Train

To complement your running routine and promote overall muscle growth, it’s essential to incorporate strength training into your fitness plan. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Alternate Running and Strength Training Days: Create a balanced workout schedule that includes both running and strength training sessions. For example, you could run on certain days and perform strength training exercises on others. This approach allows your muscles to recover adequately between workouts.
  • Target All Muscle Groups: While running primarily engages lower body muscles like calves, quads, and glutes, strength training enables you to work on other muscle groups such as the chest, shoulders, back, and core. Incorporate exercises like chest presses, shoulder flies, squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and planks to target various muscle groups.
  • Focus on Compound Movements: Compound exercises involve multiple muscle groups and are highly effective for building overall muscle mass. Examples of compound movements include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and rows. These exercises engage both upper and lower body muscles.
  • Progressive Overload: To stimulate muscle growth, gradually increase the resistance or weight you use during strength training exercises. This principle, known as progressive overload, challenges your muscles and encourages them to adapt and grow stronger.
  • Rest and Recovery: Ensure you incorporate rest days into your training plan to allow your muscles to recover and repair. Recovery is essential for muscle growth and injury prevention.
  • Proper Nutrition: Fuel your workouts with a balanced diet that includes an adequate intake of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Protein is particularly important for muscle repair and growth.

Additional resource – Guide To BCAAs for Runners

Recover Well

Recovery is a crucial aspect of muscle building, and it’s essential to prioritize it in your fitness routine. Here are some key principles to follow for effective recovery:

  • Adequate Rest: Ensure you get enough sleep each night to allow your muscles to recover and repair. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep, as this is when the majority of muscle regeneration occurs.
  • Active Recovery: Incorporate light activities like walking, swimming, or yoga on your rest days. Active recovery helps increase blood circulation and can alleviate muscle soreness.
  • Nutrition: Provide your body with the necessary nutrients for muscle repair and growth. Consume a balanced diet rich in protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Protein is particularly important for muscle recovery.
  • Hydration: Stay well-hydrated throughout the day, as dehydration can hinder the recovery process. Water is essential for muscle function and overall health.
  • Stretching and Mobility: Include regular stretching and mobility exercises in your routine. Stretching can help reduce muscle tightness and improve flexibility.
  • Foam Rolling: Consider using a foam roller to perform self-myofascial release (self-massage). Foam rolling can alleviate muscle knots, improve circulation, and reduce muscle soreness.
  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how your body feels. If you experience persistent pain or discomfort, it’s essential to rest and allow your muscles to recover fully. Pushing through excessive soreness can lead to injury.
  • Gradual Progression: When increasing the intensity or duration of your workouts, do so gradually. Rapidly increasing training volume can lead to overuse injuries and hinder recovery.

Additional resource – Single leg bridge for runners

Eat Your Protein

Protein is a crucial component for building and maintaining muscle mass while running. When you engage in exercise, especially running, it triggers muscle protein synthesis (MPS), which is the process of creating new muscle proteins. Adequate protein intake enhances this process, promoting better muscle growth and recovery.

Quality sources of protein are essential for repairing and rebuilding the muscle fibers that may be damaged during your runs. It’s a good practice to consume protein-rich foods within 15 to 30 minutes after running to aid in muscle recovery and replenish the calories you’ve burned.

As a general guideline, individuals looking to gain muscle should aim for a daily protein intake of about 0.6 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For example, a 160-pound person should consume roughly 96 to 144 grams of protein per day.

Quality protein sources include eggs, meat, poultry, fish, beans, soy, and legumes. Incorporating these foods into your diet can help support muscle growth and overall fitness goals.

Additional reading – Guide to supplements to gain mass

Eat Your Carbs

Carbohydrates are essential for providing energy during exercise, including anaerobic activities like sprinting. Consuming healthy sources of carbohydrates before a run ensures that your body has enough fuel to perform optimally.

Some examples of healthy carbohydrate sources include:

  • Starchy vegetables (e.g., sweet potatoes)
  • Whole grains (e.g., brown rice)
  • Fruits
  • Legumes (e.g., beans)
  • Dairy products

These carbohydrates provide the necessary energy to support your muscles during high-intensity efforts like sprints. Incorporating them into your diet can help improve your overall running performance and muscle-building capabilities.

Eat Your Fats

Fats are indeed an important part of a balanced diet, and they can serve as a valuable fuel source during lower-intensity training, such as long-distance running. It’s essential to have a well-rounded macronutrient distribution to support your overall energy needs.

As a general guideline, aim to get approximately:

40 to 60 percent of your calories come from carbohydrates, which are essential for quick energy during high-intensity activities like sprints.

20 to 30 percent of your calories from protein to support muscle repair and growth.

The remainder is from healthy fats.

Healthy fat sources include:

  • Olive oil
  • Whole eggs
  • Fatty fish
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Avocadoes
  • Nut butter

Including these fats in your diet can provide sustained energy for endurance activities like long-distance running while still supporting muscle health and overall performance.

Does Running Build Muscle – The Conclusion

So does running build muscle

Yes, it’s possible to build some muscle with running.

As long as you balance muscle burning—or muscle protein breakdown—and muscle bidding—or protein synthesis, you shouldn’t fret about losing your precious mass.

So, if you’re looking to improve your muscle mass, running can definitely be a part of your training program.

You shouldn’t shun it simply because you’re worried about losing muscle.

As I have explained in today’s article, there are many steps you can take to help avoid the potential pitfall, and the perks of running, such as increasing endurance and overall body strength, are too good to pass on.

What’s more?

Logging the miles won’t turn you into a bodybuilder.

At the very least, even if you don’t build muscle mass while running, you may start to look more sculpted as your body shape changes while increasing your mileage.

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