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Does Running Build Muscle?

Does Running Build Muscle?

How to Get the Most Out of Running

There is no denying that running is one of the best ways to build muscle and stay fit. Regular exercise provides a multitude of benefits, like helping to maintain a healthy weight, tone the body, and build new muscles. To maximize the benefits of running for building muscles, follow these basic tips when incorporating running into your fitness regimen.

  • Always get your doctor’s approval before starting a running program. This is particularly important for people who are overweight, above the age of 40, or suffer from a chronic illness.
  • Always start with a warmup such as brisk walking and active stretching, and don’t forget to cool down afterwards too.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your run.
  • Invest in a good pair of running shoes. Shoe design can affect your running style, so don’t choose shoes that are too stiff or uncomfortable. 

Benefits of Running

The benefits of running are wide-ranging, no matter what type of runner you are. Running is a type of cardiovascular exercise that focuses on building muscular and cardiovascular endurance rather than brute strength. It promotes good heart health and aids in reducing blood pressure levels. Long-distance runners in particular often benefit from lower blood pressure and reduced plasma cholesterol levels. 

Moreover, running also promotes the proper growth of slow-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch muscle fibers exert great force, whereas slow-twitch fibers have more endurance in order to sustain contractions over extended periods of exercise. When we run, the prominent muscle groups in our legs contract with each stride, stimulating growth in the leg muscles’ higher proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibers.

How Does Running Impact Muscles?

Your running workouts will surely build up your lower body muscles, but the progress will depend on the duration and intensity of your runs.

A study comprised of college-age recreational runners had them perform HIIT (or high-intensity interval training) featuring sets of intense runnning followed by a three-minute period of active rest between each set. These students performed HIIT workouts three times a week for ten weeks. 

The results were terrific. They showed an an average of a 10% increase in the muscle fiber area of their quadriceps compared with the control group. Now we can say with confidence that sprinting is an excellent way to increase muscle growth.

Benefits of Sprinting

Sprinting Burns Fat

Sprinting is an excellent method for burning fat and works better than steady-state aerobic training. Not only does sprinting burn more fat in less time, but it may also be easier to incorporate it into your daily workout. Practicing six sessions of 30-second sprints with four minutes of rest between sets can kick-start your fat loss and help you tone your muscles.

More Lean Muscle Mass

Like we mentioned, sprinting helps you put on lean muscle mass. Sprinting has the same muscle-building response as weightlifting, particularly for increasing the strength and size of fast-twitch muscle fibers. According to a study involving male wrestlers, participants who performed six 35-meter sprints followed by a 10-second recovery break experienced a reduction in cortisol, the stress hormone that also promotes belly fat. 

Muscle Growth vs. Muscle Loss

According to studies, if you want to build muscle, high-intensity, short duration running sessions are most beneficial. For that reason, many athletes benefit from incorporating sprinting workouts to strengthen and build muscles.

Long-distance running increases MPB or muscle protein burning. However, long-distance running can cause overuse injuries that can inhibit muscle growth. For instance, in a trial involving 30 amateur runners, the participants ran a distance of 10K, 21K, or 42K. Each participant reported increases in muscle damage markers. These markers rose along with the distance and remained elevated for three days after the workout.

Although you can never prevent muscle protein loss completely when running, you can attain a healthy balance between muscle growth and muscle loss by making sure that your body has adequate fuel to utilize. That’s one of the reasons why fitness trainers emphasize eating a small dose of carbohydrates post-workout to restore muscle glycogen and preserve mass. Glycogen is a compound our bodies produce using the carbs we consume. Empty glycogen reserves will mean that you have less energy to fuel your training — something you definitely want to avoid.

When you have low energy reservoirs, you end up using more muscle protein. This can cause damage to your muscles. Ensuring your body gets sufficient levels of protein can give your muscles the fuel to become larger and stronger. So, don’t be afraid of running-related muscle damage. It’s is a great aerobic exercise, and you have complete control over your workouts. A good diet and adequate protein intake can help to ensure that there is more growth than loss.

How Does Our Body Build Muscles?

Protein is a crucial muscle component that can easily be managed with exercise and diet. Our body builds muscles when muscle protein synthesis (or MPS) exceeds muscle protein breakdown (or MPB). Consider proteins as individual bricks. MPS is the equivalent of adding bricks to a wall, whereas MPB is breaking the wall down. This wall grows larger when you lay more bricks. However, the wall will shrink if you take more bricks than you lay. In simple words, your body must synthesize more protein than it removes for building muscle.

Many runners make the mistake of eating too little when they are trying to build muscle mass through running. Other people have no idea how many calories and how much muscle mass or fat they are burning while running. This can lead to weight loss and cause muscle damage. If you have no reserves to use, your body will draw energy by burning muscle mass. Hence, if you want to tone and build muscles while still participating in running workouts, you need to provide adequate nutrition to your body. Add powerful sources to your diets such as whole-grain carbohydrates, protein, and fresh vegetables and fruits.

What is the Best Diet for Muscle Building via Running?

No bodybuilding program is complete without the inclusion of healthy, nutritious foods. You must have adequate nutrients in your diet, including protein, to promote increased muscle mass. Here are some essential nutrients to consider adding to your diet that are known to help in building muscle.


Although exercise stimulates MPS, you need sufficient protein intake to enhance the process. This is why many gym enthusiasts enjoy a protein shake at the end of their workouts. Experts suggest consuming up to 0.6–0.9 grams of protein per pound of your body weight every day. You can also ask your doctor to recommend the right amount of protein you must consume if you are running regularly. Some great sources of protein include dairy products, poultry, meat, fish, beans, and eggs.

Fats and Carbs

Fat serves as a crucial energy source to fuel endurance exercises such as long-distance running. At the same time, carbs are the body’s preferred energy source, particularly for activities like sprinting. Many fad diets are high in good fats and low in carbs that can actually impair anaerobic exercise performance. To ensure that you’ll have sufficient energy levels to fuel your workout from start to finish, aim to consume 50-60% of your calories from carbs and 30-35% of calories from healthy sources of fat, including whole eggs, extra virgin oil, fatty fish, avocado, nuts, seeds, and nut butter. Sources rich in carbs include starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans, and dairy products.


Water is a critical part of everyone’s diet. It regulates your body temperature and keeps your bodily functions regular. Every individual’s water needs depend on various factors such as their activity level, diet, body size, and age. In general, doctors recommend that adult men and women should consume at least 3.7 liters and 2.7 liters of water daily respectively. Athletes must especially be conscious of drinking enough water before, during, and after their workouts.

Build More Muscle with Your Running Workout

Short duration, high-intensity workouts such as HIIT help you build muscles quickly, especially in your hamstrings and quadriceps. Many HIIT fans include running sessions in their training and fitness regimen to strengthen their muscles.

Participating in HIIT workouts several times a week can help promote muscle gain, increase your stamina, and build endurance. These workouts are easily modified according to your fitness level, training experience, and comfort. For instance, if you are having a hard time catching your breath between sets, you can decrease your reps or increase your rest time. Like any other activity, HIIT or running can be an activity to look forward to if you do it with a friend or a partner. You can also track your progress to measure your workout’s effects or set up a friendly competition with your running buddy.

Remember to warm up before every workout and cool down afterward to kick-start recovery and prevent injuries. Fast walking and light jogging can help your body get ready for a running session. After your run, you can add final touches to your workout by adding dynamic movements like air squats and lunges. Once you complete your workout, walk at an average pace for at least five to ten minutes. This active cooldown will prevent waste products from accumulating in your muscles and regulate your heart rate.

Different Styles of Running

Your foot strike is defined by the shape of your foot and your unique running needs, and no foot strike is incorrect or bad. Many runners attempt to benefit from all three types when running in different terrain or reaching for their desired pace. Find a style that’s right for you to help prevent running injuries and muscle fatigue.


This strike pattern places the weight of impact on the ball of the foot and the toes, and the  heel rarely hits the ground between the steps. Many sprinters adapt this running style to compete with other sprinters or power over a steep hill. Generally, the upper body is bent forward in this position. This can lead to more frequent cramps around the Achilles tendon and your calves.


With the midfoot pattern, the body’s weight is distributed evenly among your knees, hips, and ankles when the foot contacts the pavement. Running midfoot allows you to maintain a more consistent speed.


This is the most common type of footstrike amongst runners. The heel hits the pavement first as the stride reaches past the front of the body. This running style is beneficial when you must ground yourself around a sharp turn or run quietly.

What is the Best Running Style?

The best running style is the one that works for you. You might choose the best pattern for the terrain that’s in front of you, or you may make a decision to switch to a different style on the fly. However, if you want to increase your leg muscles, the midfoot strike pattern is said to be your best bet. That’s because landing on the center of the foot more successfully reduces the strain on the lower leg muscles, helping to eliminate many painful side effects.

Final Thoughts

Contrary to popular belief, running does more than just strengthen your lower body. It’s a powerful, easy exercise to strengthen and build muscles. Incorporating running in your fitness regimen is a great way to strengthen your muscles in a natural way. 

Nourishing your body with a balanced diet containing sufficient protein and good amounts of fat can help to make sure you build muscle instead of losing it over time. A clever mix of strength training, running, and great nutrition can boost your performance and promote good muscle growth.