Does running build muscle or break it down?

Many people run for stress relief, fitness, or competition, but its impact on muscle gain is debated. This article explores whether running supports or hampers muscle growth, providing insights to help you make informed decisions about incorporating running into your fitness routine.

The effects of running on your muscles

Curious about how running affects muscle growth? Well, it depends on the type and duration of your runs.

Studies show that high-intensity interval training (HIIT), involving short bursts of intense running followed by rest, can actually build lower body muscles. For instance, after 10 weeks of HIIT workouts, participants saw an 11% increase in quadriceps muscle fiber area.

However, long-distance running can have the opposite effect, increasing muscle protein breakdown and hindering growth. So, while sprinting and shorter runs may help, too much long-distance running could impede muscle growth.

In short, choose your running routine wisely to support your muscle-building goals!

How the body gains muscle

When it comes to building muscle, understanding the balance between muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and breakdown (MPB) is key. Think of MPS as adding bricks to a wall and MPB as removing them. To see muscle growth, you need to add more bricks than you remove. Exercise, particularly weightlifting, stimulates MPS. 

Although exercise also triggers MPB, the increase in MPS outweighs it, resulting in net muscle gain. Simply put, by engaging in regular weightlifting sessions, you’re effectively laying the foundation for muscle growth. So, keep lifting those weights to ensure your muscles are on the path to getting stronger and bigger.

Sample running workouts for building muscle

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) running workouts are an effective way to build muscle, particularly in the lower body, targeting muscles like the quadriceps and hamstrings. These workouts involve short bursts of intense running, followed by periods of rest or light jogging. Here are some sample HIIT running workouts for muscle building:

20-Second Sprints: Perform 6 sets of 20-second sprints at maximum intensity, with 2 minutes of walking or light jogging between sets.

30-Second Sprints: Do 5 sets of 30-second sprints at maximum intensity, with 4 minutes of walking or light jogging between sets.

45-Second Sprints: Complete 4 sets of 45-second sprints at moderate intensity, with 5 minutes of walking or light jogging between sets.

Hill Sprints: Try 4 sets of 30-second hill sprints, with the time it takes you to walk back down the hill as your rest interval.

It’s recommended to incorporate these workouts into your routine 3–4 times per week. However, it’s essential to listen to your body and adjust the workouts based on your comfort level and training experience. If you find yourself struggling to catch your breath between sets, consider increasing your rest time or decreasing the number of sets. Conversely, if you’re looking to challenge yourself further, decrease your rest time, increase the number of sets, or both.

Before starting your workout, it’s crucial to warm up properly. Begin with light jogging or jumping jacks for a few minutes to increase blood flow to your muscles. Then, perform dynamic movements like lunges or air squats to prepare your body for the intense exercise ahead.

After completing your workout, be sure to cool down with 5–10 minutes of walking at a normal pace. This helps lower your heart rate and prevents the accumulation of waste products in your muscles, reducing the risk of injury and promoting faster recovery.

Incorporating these HIIT running workouts into your routine can help you build muscle, improve cardiovascular fitness, and boost overall health. Remember to stay consistent, listen to your body, and consult with a fitness professional if you have any concerns or questions.

appropriate diet for gaining muscle when running


To maximize muscle growth, it’s important to understand the role of protein in the process. While exercise triggers muscle protein synthesis (MPS), consuming protein further enhances this effect, leading to greater gains. This is why many fitness enthusiasts opt for protein shakes before or after workouts. 

Experts recommend a daily protein intake of 0.64–0.91 grams per pound of body weight to support muscle growth. For instance, a 150-pound individual should aim for 96–137 grams of protein daily. Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, dairy, fish, eggs, soy, beans, and legumes.

Carbs and fats

Carbohydrates are essential for providing energy, especially during high-intensity exercises like sprinting. Diets low in carbs, such as the ketogenic diet, can negatively impact performance during anaerobic activities. 

On the other hand, fat serves as a primary energy source for lower-intensity exercises like long-distance running. It’s important to strike a balance in your diet, aiming to get 45–65% of your calories from carbs and 20–35% from fat. 

Healthy sources of carbs include fruits, whole grains, and vegetables, while good fat sources include fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. 


Water is crucial for regulating body temperature and maintaining various bodily functions. Your specific water needs depend on factors like age, body size, diet, and activity level. Generally, men are advised to consume around 125 ounces (3.7 liters) of water per day, while women should aim for about 91 ounces (2.7 liters). 

These recommendations, provided by the National Academy of Medicine, apply to adults aged 19 and older and include water from both foods and beverages. Staying hydrated can be achieved by maintaining a healthy diet, drinking water when thirsty, and ensuring adequate intake during and after exercise.

The final word 

While long-distance running might not be ideal for muscle growth, incorporating high-intensity, short-duration running like HIIT can actually promote it. By engaging in HIIT workouts several times a week, particularly focusing on lower body muscle groups, you can stimulate muscle growth effectively. 

However, it’s essential to complement your training with a balanced diet rich in protein and other nutrients to support muscle development. Additionally, staying hydrated is crucial for optimal muscle function and recovery. By combining proper exercise, nutrition, and hydration, you can enhance the muscle-building process and achieve your fitness goals more effectively.

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