People run for a variety of reasons, including reducing stress, improving health, and winning races. However, if you’re trying to build muscle, you may wonder if running helps or hinders your efforts. This article answers the question – does running build muscles or destroy them?
How running affects your muscles
Running builds muscles in your lower body, but this largely depends on the intensity and duration of your runs.
In one study, 12 recreational-ready college students completed high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which included 4 runs at maximum load for 4 minutes followed by 3 minutes of active rest.
After 10 weeks of HIIT training 3 times a week, they showed an increase in the muscle fiber area of their quadriceps (located in the front of the thigh) by almost 11% compared to the control group.
Thus, workouts such as sprinting can promote muscle growth.
Aerobic exercise, such as running, is thought to increase muscle size by suppressing proteins that interfere with muscle growth and reduce muscle protein breakdown (MPB).
Running for long distances can heighten muscle protein breakdown (MPB) and thus prevent muscle growth.
For example, in a study of 30 recreational runners who ran 6, 2, 13, or 26.1 miles (10, 21, or 42 km), there was a significant increase in markers of muscle damage across all groups.
The levels of these markers increased with distance and remained elevated even after 3 days.
These results show that high-intensity, short-duration running builds muscles of legs, while long-distance running results in significant muscle damage, inhibiting muscle growth.
Takeaway: High-intensity, short-distance running builds muscle mass, while long-distance running can prevent it.
How the body builds muscle
Muscle building occurs when muscle protein synthesis (MPS) exceeds muscle protein breakdown (MPB). Protein is an essential component of muscle that can be added or removed depending on factors such as diet and exercise.
Considering protein as individual bricks, MPS is the process of adding bricks to a wall and MPB is the process of removing them. If you put more bricks than you put away, the wall gets bigger – but if you put away more than you put down, the wall shrinks. In other words, your body must make more protein than it removes to build muscle.
Exercise – mainly weight lifting – is a powerful incentive for MPS. Although exercise also induces MPB, the increase in MPS goes further, resulting in increased muscle mass.
Takeaway: Your muscles grow when your body synthesizes more protein than it breaks down. Exercise helps support this process.
An example of a running builds muscles
High-intensity, short running workouts like HIIT can help build muscle in the lower body, especially in the quadriceps and hamstrings (located at the back of the thigh).
Here are some examples of HITT muscle building workouts:
- 6 sets of 20-second sprints at maximum intensity, divided by 2 minutes of walking or light jogging
- 5 sets of 30-second maximum intensity sprints, divided by 4 minutes of walking or light jogging
- 4 sets of 45-second moderate-intensity sprints separated by 5 minutes of walking or light jogging
- 4 sets of 30 second hill sprints, separated by the time it takes you to get downhill
Try this workout 3-4 times a week.
You can also change them depending on your comfort level and experience.
For example, if you can’t catch your breath between sets, increase the rest time or decrease the total number of sets. Conversely, you can enhance these treatments by decreasing rest time, increasing the number of sets, or both.
Either way, be sure to warm up your muscles ahead of time to prevent injury and speed recovery.
To prepare your body for training, do light runs or jumps for a few minutes, then follow dynamic movements such as lunges or air squats
After training, walk at your usual pace for 5-10 minutes. An active recovery time helps lower your heart rate and prevents waste build-up in your muscles.
Takeaway: HIIT workouts can help you build muscles in your lower body. Warming up before exercising can prevent injury and accelerate recovery.
Read also: How to gain weight fast
The Right Nutrition for Building Muscle Through Jogging
Good nutrition is just as important to building muscle as running. Without adequate nutrients – especially protein – your body will not be able to support the muscle building process.
While exercise stimulates MPS, protein further enhances it, helping to increase muscle mass.
This is why many people drink protein shakes at the end of their workout.
To gain muscle mass, experts recommend a daily intake of 0.64–0.91 g protein per pound (1.4–2 g per kg) of body weight. This equates to 96-137 grams of protein per 150 lb (68.2 kg) person.
Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, dairy, fish, eggs, soy, and legumes.
Carbohydrates and fats
Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy, especially for anaerobic exercise like sprinting.
Low-carb, high-fat diets, such as the ketogenic diet, have been shown to impair the results of anaerobic exercise.
Fat tends to serve as a source of energy during lower intensity exercise such as long distance running.
To stimulate your workouts and ensure you have an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, try to get 45-65% of your calories from carbohydrates and 20-35% from fat.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates are fruits, whole grains, starchy vegetables, dairy products, and beans, while good sources of fat are oily fish, extra virgin olive oil, whole eggs, seeds, avocados, nuts, and nut butters.
Water acts as body temperature stabilizer and for other bodily functions.
Your personal water needs depend on several factors, including age, body size, diet, and activity level. However, the National Academy of Medicine generally recommends that men and women drink 125 ounces (3.7 liters) and 91 ounces (2.7 liters) per day, respectively.
These guidelines are for adults 19 years of age and older and include water from food and drink.
Bottom Line: A reliable diet is integral to building muscle while running. Stay hydrated and eat enough protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
As a result, running builds muscles or destroys them?
While long-distance running can inhibit muscle growth, high-intensity short-distance running strengthens the muscles.
Doing HIIT several times a week can help you build your lower body muscles.
Make sure you eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated to support the muscle building process.