Presse Santé

Does running build muscle mass?

People run for many reasons, including to reduce stress, improve their health, and participate in races. However, if you’re trying to pack on muscle, you might be wondering if running helps or hinders your efforts. This article discusses whether running builds or limits muscle growth? In other words, can you build muscle by running?

How Running Affects Your Muscles

Running can strengthen lower body muscles, but it largely depends on the intensity and duration of your runs. In one study, 12 recreationally trained college kids performed high-intensity interval training (HIIT) involving 4 sets of running at near-maximum capacity for 4 minutes, followed by 3 minutes of active rest. After 10 weeks of HIIT training 3 times a week, they showed an almost 11% increase in muscle fiber surface area in their quadriceps (located at the front of the thigh), compared to the control group.

So, workouts like sprinting can be beneficial for muscle growth. Aerobic exercises like running are believed to build muscle by inhibiting proteins that interfere with muscle growth and decreasing muscle protein breakdown (MPB). On the other hand, distance running can significantly increase muscle protein breakdown and therefore hinder muscle growth.

For example, in a study of 30 male amateur runners who ran 10, 21, or 42 km, all groups experienced significant increases in muscle damage markers. Levels of these markers increased with distance and remained elevated even three days later. These results suggest that short-duration, high-intensity running builds leg muscles, while long-distance running causes significant muscle damage, inhibiting muscle growth.

How does your body build muscle?

Muscle building occurs when muscle protein synthesis (MPS) exceeds muscle protein breakdown (MPD). Protein is an important component of muscle that can be added or taken away depending on factors such as diet and exercise. If you think of proteins as individual bricks, MPS is the process of adding bricks to a wall, while MPB is the process of removing them. If you lay more bricks than you remove, the wall grows, but if you remove more than you lay, the wall shrinks.

In other words, to build muscle, your body must make more protein than it takes out.

Exercise, primarily strength training, is a powerful stimulus for MPB. Although exercise also causes MPB, the increase in MPS is greater, resulting in net muscle gain.

Examples of Running Workouts to Build Muscle

Short-duration, high-intensity running workouts, like HIIT, can help you build lower-body muscles, especially the quads and hamstrings (located in the back of the thigh).

Here are some examples of HITT running workouts to build muscle:

6 sets of 20-second sprints at maximum intensity separated by 2 minutes of light walking or jogging.
5 sets of 30-second sprints at maximum intensity separated by 4 minutes of light walking or jogging
4 sets of 45-second sprints at moderate intensity, separated by 5 minutes of light walking or jogging.
4 series of 30-second sprints uphill separated by the time it takes you to descend the hill.
Try to perform these workouts 3-4 times a week.

You can also modify them according to your comfort level and training experience.

For example, if you can’t catch your breath between sets, increase your rest time or decrease the total number of sets. Conversely, you can improve these routines by reducing your rest time, increasing the number of sets, or both. Either way, remember to warm up before and cool down afterwards to avoid injury and promote recovery. To prepare your body for the workout, go for a light jog or jumping jacks for a few minutes, then perform dynamic movements like lunges or squats. After your workout, walk at a normal pace for 5-10 minutes. An active cool-down lowers your heart rate and prevents the buildup of waste products in your muscles.

A good diet for bodybuilding by running

Proper nutrition is just as important for building muscle as running itself. Without adequate nutrients, especially protein, your body cannot support the muscle building process.


While exercise boosts the MPS, protein strengthens it further, promoting greater muscle gains. This is why many people drink a protein shake at the end of their workouts. To gain muscle, experts recommend consuming 1.4 to 2 grams per kg of body weight daily. This equates to 96-137 grams of protein for a 68.2 kg person. Good sources of protein are meat, poultry, dairy products, fish, eggs, soy, beans 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, like the ketogenic diet, have been shown to impair anaerobic exercise performance. Fat tends to serve as an energy source during low-intensity exercise like distance running. To fuel your workouts and ensure adequate vitamin and mineral intake, aim to get 45-65% of your calories from carbs and 20-35% from fat. Healthy sources of carbohydrates are fruits, whole grains, starchy vegetables, dairy products and beans, while good sources of fats are fatty fish, extra virgin olive oil, whole eggs, seeds, avocados, nuts and nut butters.


Water helps regulate body temperature and other bodily functions. Your personal water needs depend on several factors, including age, height, diet, and activity level. All the same, in the training phase, it is generally for men and women to drink respectively 3.7 liters and 2.7 liters per day. These recommendations apply to adults aged 19 and over, and include water from food and drink. Most people can stay hydrated by eating a healthy diet and drinking water when thirsty, and during and after exercise.


Although long-distance running can inhibit muscle growth, high-intensity, short-duration running can promote it. Doing HIIT several times a week can help you build lower body muscle. Be sure to follow a balanced diet and stay hydrated to support the muscle building process.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the advice of a health professional.

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