Does Running Make You Lose Muscle? Exploring the Facts

Running has long been a popular form of exercise, known for its cardiovascular benefits and ability to help shed unwanted pounds. However, there’s often some confusion about whether running may cause you to lose muscle mass in the process. It’s essential to understand how your body reacts to this type of exercise and what role running plays in muscle health.

The impact of running on muscle health depends on the intensity and duration of your runs, as well as your overall fitness and nutrition. While long, slow runs, like those performed during marathon training, may lead to some muscle loss, shorter, high-intensity runs may actually help you build muscle in your lower body. Moreover, proper nutrition and incorporating strength training exercises into your routine can minimize muscle loss and promote optimal running performance.

Key Takeaways

  • Running may cause muscle loss or build muscle, depending on factors like intensity and duration of runs, and overall fitness and nutrition.
  • Supplementing running with strength training and proper nutrition can minimize muscle loss and support optimal performance.
  • Maintaining a balanced exercise routine and proper running techniques will contribute to overall runner’s muscle health.

Impact of Running on Muscle Health

Strength and Endurance

Running can have various effects on your muscle health. In general, it can aid in fighting age-related loss of muscle mass by increasing strength and endurance in your leg muscles 1. As you run, your body adapts by developing stamina, and over time, this increases your endurance capacity. This can actually enhance your overall muscle strength, helping you maintain muscle health.

Cardio and Muscle Balance

However, properly balancing running and strength training is crucial to ensuring that running doesn’t impede muscle growth. Cardio exercises, like running, can have negative effects on muscle mass if not combined appropriately with other exercises, such as strength training 2. To ensure an optimal balance, consider incorporating both running and strength training into your exercise routine, as this will help maintain your cardiovascular health while also promoting muscle growth.

To summarize, running can help increase muscle strength and endurance, but it’s essential to find the right balance with strength training exercises to avoid losing muscle mass. By incorporating both cardio and strength exercises into your routine, you can work towards achieving a healthy body and strong muscles.


  1. Does Running Make You Lose Muscle Mass? | livestrong

  2. Does Cardio Burn Muscle? (3 Cardio Mistakes Killing Your Gains; builtwithscience)

Running and Muscle Loss

Muscles Affected by Running

Running mainly targets your lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. While running, these muscles work together to propel your body forward and maintain stability. Since running is a predominantly aerobic activity, it’s often believed that it can lead to muscle loss. However, proper integration of running with resistance training can actually help maintain and even build muscle mass.

To ensure running doesn’t negatively affect your muscle mass, consider focusing on specific running routines that engage both muscle-building and endurance abilities. Include a mix of intensity levels, such as sprints, tempo runs, and long slow distance runs. This approach will not only increase overall fitness but also help maintain muscle mass.

Aging and Muscle Loss

As you age, it is natural to experience a loss of muscle mass. This process, known as sarcopenia, typically starts around the age of 30. But don’t worry – running can actually help counteract age-related muscle loss. A 2018 review in the International Journal of Geriatrics and Gerontology found that running can fight age-related muscle loss.

By incorporating running into your exercise routine, you can help maintain a balanced muscle-building process, potentially delaying the effects of age-related muscle loss. As a runner, always remember to combine aerobic exercise with appropriate strength training exercises for optimal muscle maintenance and growth. This multi-faceted approach to fitness can help you preserve your muscle mass and overall health at any age.

Nutrition and Running Performance

Protein Intake

Including adequate protein in your diet is crucial for maintaining and building muscle, especially if you’re regularly running. Aim for at least 20-25 grams of protein per meal for women and 25-30 grams for men, from sources such as fish, poultry, eggs, or legumes 1. Consuming a variety of protein sources ensures that you’re getting all of the essential amino acids your body needs. You can also add healthy carbohydrates and vegetables to your diet to support optimal performance.


Staying hydrated is just as important as eating the right nutrients for your running performance. Make sure you’re consistently drinking water, especially before, during, and after your runs. In addition to water, consuming beverages like sports drinks can help replace electrolytes lost during your runs.



Exercise Strategies to Counter Muscle Loss

Strength Training and Its Benefits

Incorporating strength training into your workout routine can help counter muscle loss caused by running. Focusing on exercises that target all major muscle groups, such as deadlifts, squats, and bench presses, can effectively build muscle and enhance overall performance. Aim for at least two strength training sessions per week, and don’t forget to include proper warm-up and cooldown exercises to prevent injury.

Strength training has numerous benefits, including improved muscle mass, power output, and bone density. Additionally, lifting weights can boost your metabolism, making it easier to maintain a healthy body weight. By incorporating this type of training into your routine, you’ll be supporting your body’s overall health and potentially reducing muscle loss caused by running or other aerobic activities.

Running and Weight Training Balance

Finding the right balance between running and weight training is essential to prevent muscle loss whilst achieving your overall fitness goals. Instead of focusing solely on one type of exercise, consider integrating both running and strength training into your weekly routine. This balanced approach can help maximize muscle growth, improve cardiovascular health, and increase overall performance.

Start by alternating between running and weight training days – this will help your body recover from each workout and minimize the risk of overtraining. Additionally, consider incorporating different types of running, such as sprinting or hill workouts, which can trigger the anabolic processes needed to build muscle. Finally, ensure that your diet includes adequate protein intake to support muscle recovery and growth.

By combining running and strength training, you’ll be able to optimize your workouts and prevent unwanted muscle loss. Remember to listen to your body and adjust your routine as needed to continue progressing towards your fitness goals.

Running Injuries and Muscle Loss

Common Running Injuries

While running can be an effective way to maintain or build muscle mass, it does come with a risk of injury. Some common running injuries include shin splints, stress fractures, and muscle strains. These injuries can occur when muscles and bones in your legs are subjected to repetitive impact, such as running on pavement or improper warm-up and stretching routines.

Shin splints are caused by inflammation of the muscles around the shin bone, leading to pain along the inner part of the lower leg. Stress fractures are small cracks in the bone, usually occurring in weight-bearing bones like the tibia or metatarsal bones of the foot. Muscle strains, on the other hand, are caused by overstretching or tearing of muscle fibers.

Prevention and Recovery

To minimize the risk of running injuries and subsequent muscle loss, it’s essential to take preventative measures:

  1. Warm up: Begin your workout with a 5-10 minute warm-up, including light aerobic exercises such as jumping jacks or a brisk walk. This helps increase blood flow, loosening up your muscles and joints.

  2. Stretching: Incorporate dynamic stretching exercises to target your hips, hamstrings, quads, and calves. This will help maintain flexibility, range of motion, and prevent injury.

  3. Gradual progression: Increase your running distance and intensity incrementally, allowing your body to adapt to the new stress. Avoid increasing mileage by more than 10% per week.

  4. Cross-training: Include non-impact exercises like swimming or cycling to reduce the stress on your bones and joints, while still maintaining overall fitness levels.

  5. Proper footwear: Choose running shoes that provide appropriate support and cushioning for your feet, replacing them when they lose their shock absorption ability, typically after about 250 miles.

In case of injury, follow these recovery steps:

  1. Rest: Allow your body time to heal the injury. Avoid putting weight or strain on the injured area.

  2. Ice: Apply ice to the injured area for 15-20 minutes, several times a day, to help reduce swelling and inflammation.

  3. Compression: Wrap the injured area with a compression bandage to help reduce swelling.

  4. Elevation: Elevate the injured limb above your heart level, as much as possible, to help with swelling and pain relief.

  5. Consult a professional: If your symptoms persist or worsen, consult a healthcare professional to determine the best course of treatment.

By following these prevention and recovery tips, you can effectively reduce the risk of running injuries and muscle loss, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and enjoying the benefits of running.

Running Techniques to Support Muscle Growth

Sprints and HIIT

Integrating sprints and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into your running routine can help you maintain or even increase muscle mass. Sprints target your leg and glute muscles, triggering anabolic processes that help build muscle1. HIIT combines short bursts of intense exercise with periods of rest or lower-intensity workouts, which is an effective way to burn fat without sacrificing muscle. To maximize muscle growth, try to incorporate sprints and HIIT sessions into your running schedule regularly.

Proper Form and Posture

Maintaining proper running form and posture is crucial for achieving a balanced muscle buildup. Good running posture involves engaging your core muscles, keeping your head, shoulders, and hips aligned, and avoiding excessive forward lean2. This ensures that various muscle groups in your legs and core work efficiently together. To improve your form, focus on keeping your stride smooth and efficient, landing midfoot, and swinging your arms naturally.

Paying attention to your form and posture is essential for avoiding muscle imbalances and injuries, which could hinder your progress in building muscle. By incorporating these techniques into your running routine, you can promote muscle growth and enjoy the many benefits of aerobic exercise.


  1. livestrong

  2. Runner’s World

Training Programs for Runner’s Muscle Health

Balancing Cardio and Strength Training

As a runner, it’s crucial to find the right balance between cardio and strength training to maintain and improve your muscle health. While running is a great way to improve your aerobic endurance, it can sometimes lead to muscle loss if not appropriately incorporated with strength training exercises.

Integrating strength training two to three times per week can help you prevent muscle loss and even gain muscle mass while running. It’s important to focus on exercises that target your major muscle groups – including your legs, core, arms, and back – to build a well-rounded physique. As an athlete looking to maintain a consistent training program, this balance between cardio and strength will help you stay in peak shape.

Beginner Training Tips

If you’re just starting to incorporate strength training into your running regimen, consider these tips for beginners:

  1. Consult a Personal Trainer: A personal trainer can create a tailored workout plan that incorporates both cardio and strength training, ensuring you achieve your fitness goals in a safe and efficient manner.

  2. Start with Bodyweight Exercises: Before hitting the gym and lifting heavy weights, build a solid foundation using bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, and planks. These exercises engage your core and other essential muscle groups, setting you up for success as you progress in your training.

  3. Slow and Steady Progression: Gradually increase the intensity, duration, and frequency of your strength training workouts. Aim for steady progress to avoid burnout and minimize the risk of injury.

  4. Incorporate Functional Exercises: Functional exercises, such as lunges, single-leg deadlifts, and kettlebell swings, closely mimic the movements encountered during running. These exercises help improve your stability, mobility, and overall athleticism, making you a stronger, more efficient runner.

Remember, the key to a successful training program is consistency and patience. Focus on gradual progress and adjusting your workouts as needed, and you’ll be well on your way to improving your muscle health as a runner.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often can you run without losing muscle?

To reduce the risk of losing muscle, it is ideal to run approximately 3-4 days per week. This allows you to maintain cardiovascular fitness while giving your muscles time to recover and adapt. Make sure to prioritize strength training as well as incorporating proper nutrition and rest days into your routine.

Does morning running affect muscle gain?

Morning runs do not inherently affect muscle gains negatively. Running in the morning allows you to get your workout in early and helps in kickstarting your metabolism. Focus on proper warm-up, post-run nutrition, and an adequate strength training routine to support muscle growth.

Can running and muscle building coexist?

Yes, running and muscle building can coexist in a well-rounded fitness routine. You can combine both endurance and resistance training to optimize your overall fitness and physique. To maintain or build muscle mass while running, incorporate some high-intensity interval training and strength training exercises into your routine.

How to prevent muscle loss while running?

To prevent muscle loss while running, make sure to consume adequate amounts of protein and carbohydrates, get enough rest, and incorporate strength training into your fitness routine. It may also be helpful to focus on shorter, more intense runs, such as hill sprints or intervals, which can help preserve muscle mass.

Is muscle burn more likely before or after running?

Muscle burn is generally experienced during or after running, as it is often a result of lactic acid accumulation in the muscles. To minimize the sensation of muscle burn, make sure you properly warm-up before running and stay hydrated throughout your exercise.

What distance is safe to run without losing muscle?

There is no specific distance that is considered safe for preventing muscle loss. However, long-distance running can contribute to muscle loss if not combined with adequate strength training and proper nutrition. To maintain muscle mass while running, focus on shorter, high-intensity sprints and interval training, and make sure you are consuming enough protein and carbohydrates to support muscle growth and recovery.

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