A quick google search of does running build muscle confirms what we already knew—a lot of people who want to start running—or do more running—are worried they might lose muscle mass.
It couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, as we’re going to see in today’s posts, running alongside a healthy diet can actually help you put on the muscles and get a leaner physique than not doing it.
Here’s what you need to know about building muscle while logging in the miles.
I’m also sharing with you a few tips on how to make your running routine as muscle-friendly as possible.
Let’s lace-up and dig in.
Does Running Build Muscle?
Yes, to some extent, but as you can tell, the complete answer is a bit complicated.
Let me explain.
How much muscle mass you build while running ultimately depends on how you run.
Sprints and steady-state runs have a different impact on your muscle, with the former triggering muscle growth while the latter harming your muscle building effort.
The simple answer is yes, but, as you can already tell, the real answer is actually much more complicated.
But first things first, let’s briefly explain how muscle growth happens.
So how does your body build muscle?
Building muscle can be boiled down into a simple equation:
Stress + Recovery = Muscle Gain.
I’m oversimplifying things, but by the end of this article, you’ll get the big picture.
Stress happens whenever you push your body harder than it’s used to—like when you lift more weights, work against gravity while doing bodyweight exercises, or log in more miles.
Keep repeating the breakdown and build-up process, and you build muscle.
Pretty cool, right?
To learn about the process of muscle building, check the following articles:
Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods
The Science of Muscle Growth: Making muscle
The Running Motion
Running employs your muscles to generate movement and propel you forward.
It mainly works the calves, quadriceps, and glutes.
The muscles in your core, shoulders, and arms are also used to a lesser extent.
Running primarily builds lower body muscles, but how much mainly depends on the intensity and duration of your runs.
Remember the formula from before.
Stress virtually always causes muscle damage, which then prompts your body to build them stronger than before.
There are mainly two ways running can place extra stress on your muscles.
First, through horizontal movement through space.
Mainly, your core, glutes, thighs, and calves have to work hard to propel your body forward.
The seconds happen with vertical movement—this is the impact stress your muscles take in during each stride.
Additional resource – Maintaining muscle during marathon training
Fuel Sources And Muscle Loss
Let’s back up a bit and discuss how running could eat up your muscle gains.
The human body prefers to use up its glycogen and fat as fuel stores before turning it into protein.
Glycogen breaks down easier, which helps release energy faster, but not for a prolonged duration.
Exercise long enough, you will lose glycogen.
When this happens, your body may resort to using muscle protein as fuel, which can cause muscle mass loss.
Every person has their own distance limit, or length limit before their muscles go into starvation mode or chronic protein breakdown.
Said otherwise, if you lack fuel stores, your body may resort to using muscle protein as fuel.
But that’s an extreme scenario—and their many things you can do to shortcut it.
Although running causes damage to the muscle that’s conducive to muscle gain, logging the miles can also cause lead muscle loss.
My advice, keep it balanced and know your limit.
For an in-depth look into the impact of running on muscle, check the following articles:
The impact of a long training run on muscle damage and running economy in runners training for a marathon
Strength training in female distance runners
The Effects of a 10-Kilometer Run on Muscle Strength and Power
Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage and Running Economy in Humans
What Should you Do to Prevent Muscle Waste Via Running?
In order to keep building muscles while running, you need to switch from aerobic to anaerobic training.
This is achieved by changing the focus of your training from slow-twitch fibers, which are used up during aerobic, steady-state, cardio, to fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are used up during anaerobic training.
So how do you make the switch?
Focus on interval, explosive training. In essence, do plenty of high-intensity runs, such as sprints, that involve intense work over a short period of time.
By upping your training intensity, you place more stress on your muscles—and start making strength gains soon and again.
That’s a good thing if you ask me.
Just remember to pay attention to your body and not do too much too soon.
Running Workouts To Improve Muscle Mass
The following two runs are perfect examples of the type of running you should be doing if you want to improve your muscle mass and get toned.
As a rule, start each session with a 10-minute dynamic warm-up and end with a decent cooldown.
Now let’s get to work.
The 100-Meter Sprint
Head to running track.
Next, following a 10-minute warm-up, run as fast as you can on the straightaway, then walk the curved section to recover.
Repeat for four to six laps.
Perform more sprints as your conditioning improves.
The Uphill Surges
Looking to take your sprints to the next level?
Locate hill with a five to ten percent grade and takes roughly 30 seconds to run up.
Next, jog for 10 minutes on a flat surface to get warmed up, then sprint up the hill as fast you possible.
Jog down to the starting point to recover.
Repeat for 15 to 20 minutes, then end your sessions with a 10-minute cool-down.
Another thing you can do is to mix up your training plan so that you’re hitting the pavement on some days and lifting weights on the other days.
Don’t assume that running will help you build up your chest and shoulders as you’ll undoubtedly only see gains o your lower body—as in, your main running muscles.
Sorry, you still have to do your chest presses and shoulder flies.
Exercising, whether it’s running or weight lifting, breaks down muscle tissue, which triggers your body to build repair and rebuild them back stronger than before. It’s all about adaptation when it comes to muscle building.
If you’re worried that running is messing up with your muscle gains, then rejoice.
The fact is, running is something that can help you build muscle.
Running is a total body exercise.
Runners make the most gains in the lower body muscles, such as the calves, quads, and glutes.
Additional resource – Guide To BCAAs for Runners
After all, causing damage to muscle fibers is only one part of the equation—you’ll need to provide your muscles with both rest and nutrients to help repair and rebuild the damage.
Your muscles require downtime to rebuild and get stronger.
Skip recovery, and you’ll suffer the dire consequences sooner than later.
Pay Attention to Muscle Loss
One way to work around this is to pay attention to protein deficiency symptoms, such as
- Water retention
- Chronic fatigue
- Brittle hair
- Chronic hunger
If you experience more than a few of these symptoms, it’s time to review your workout and diet plan and make the necessary changes—mainly increasing your protein intake to satisfy your body’s needs of the nutrient.
Additional resource – Single leg bridge for runners
The Importance of Nutrition
Nutrition also comes into play when it comes to building muscle.
It’s key to helping you build muscles and get the most out of your runs.
There’s no way around that.
Proper diet is just as important for building muscle as the training itself.
Exercise, especially running, sheds a lot of calories, so it’s key to consume proper amounts of healthy foods to fuel your body and build muscle.
Without proper nutrition, especially protein, your body will fall short of supporting the muscle-building process.
And you don’t want that.
Here are a few diet guidelines to practice when trying to build muscles while running.
The rule of thumb is to ensure that you are consuming the right amounts of calories.
Sure, creating a calorie deficit can set you up for losing weight –if that’s your goal—but cutting too many calories can lead to muscle loss (as I’ve already explained before).
While exercise triggers MPS (muscle protein synthesis), adequate-protein intake improves it further, which aids in better muscle growth.
Quality protein food sources are also fantastic post-run foods that can help patch up those damaged muscle fibers following training.
Make it a rule to consume enough protein, which helps repair and rebuild broken down muscle fibers and prevents them from wasting.
More specifically, aim to eat something rich in protein within 15 to 30 minutes of running to help you restore the calories you’ve burned and built your muscle.
So for a 160-pound person, that’s roughly 80 to 130 grams of protein per day.
Good sources of protein include:
As a general rule, to gain muscle, most experts recommend shooting for 0.6 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day.
Additional reading – Guide to supplements to gain mass
Eat Your Carbs
Carbohydrates and fats are also key nutrients that your body needs for the recovery and muscle building muscles, especially for anaerobic exercises like sprinting.
Eating healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes and brown rice before a run can help ensure you have enough fuel for the miles.
All in all, carbohydrates the body’s main source of fuel, especially during anaerobic exercises like sprinting.
Healthy sources of carbs include:
- Starchy vegetables
- Whole grains
- Dairy products
Eat Your Fats
Fat seems to work better as a fuel source during lower intensity training like long-distance running—think 70 to 80 percent of max capacity.
As a general rule, aim to get roughly 40 to 60 percent of your calories from carbs, 20 to 30 percent from protein, and the rest from fat.
Good sources of fats include:
- Olive oil
- Whole eggs
- Fatty fish
- Nut butter.
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.
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.