Does running build muscle?

You might not associate running with building muscle, but ask any frequent runner whether their lower body is more muscular since they started running, and almost all will tell you it is. However, if building muscle is your priority, you might wonder whether running is something you should avoid. The stereotype of a long-distance runner is someone who is very lean, so is pounding the pavement something you should stay away from if you want a broader body? Here’s our guide.  

Does running build muscle? 

If you do the right type of running then the answer is emphatically, yes. Growth hormones are the small proteins that tell your muscles to grow. There are plenty of people out there who think that the only way to get a growth hormone spike is to lift weights and workout in the gym. While high-intensity weight training will give you a growth hormone spike, a study by the US Army Research Institute found that steady-cardio, such as running and cycling, can send growth hormone levels soaring. What’s more, it found that the hormonal boost hung around at higher levels for longer in the test subjects who had been cycling rather than lifting weights.     

However, research also suggests that the muscle-building capabilities of running are associated with shorter distances run at a faster pace, such as interval training. One study of 30 male amateur runners found that those who ran the longest distances (26.1 miles) had the highest levels of muscle protein breakdown (MPB), causing significant muscle damage and inhibiting muscle growth. Therefore, if it’s muscles you want, high intensity, short duration running should be the focus of your training. 

How does running build muscle?

We’ve established that running does build muscle, but how does that happen? Without getting too bogged down in the science, here’s a quick explanation. 

Muscle growth occurs when muscle protein synthesis (MPS) exceeds muscle protein breakdown (MPB). Protein can be added to and removed from muscle based on factors like diet and exercise. When you do a form of exercise that makes more protein than it removes i.e. more MPS than MPB, then muscle grows. If the exercise stimulates more MPB than MPS, the muscle shrinks.

We’ve seen that short duration, high-intensity running stimulates more MPS than MPB, so your lower body becomes more muscular. With long-distance running, it’s the other way around, so you actually lose muscle. 

Does running build leg muscle?

Yes, running is good for building muscle in your legs. During you running training you will put most stress on the muscles from your hips down, including your glutes, thighs, calf muscles and so on. After each exercise session, the strain you’ve put on them will trigger your body to build more muscle. 

As noted above, there are different kinds of running workouts that will affect muscle gain in different parts of your legs. 

How long does it take to build muscle from running?

As a general rule, it takes between 3 and 4 weeks for muscle exercise to start to show in new muscle build up in your body. That said, how long it takes to build muscle really depends on a number of things, including:

  • How often and how intensively you train
  • Your diet, particularly the amount of protein you consume
  • Your genetic makeup

How to build muscle while running

Now we’ve established that running can help to build muscle, let’s take a look at a few high-intensity running workouts that will give your lower body the biggest boost.

Uphill sprints

Uphill sprints may not sound like your idea of a good time, but no one said building muscle was easy! Find a hill - make it a steep one - and sprint up it for 20 seconds, then walk back down to where you started and do it all over again. This exercise ten times and you’ll really feel the burn. 

Interval training

Does running build leg muscle? Absolutely, and interval training is just about the surest way to do it. Do 6 sets of 20-second sprints at maximum intensity followed by 2 minutes of light jogging for a simple but effective workout. 

Alternatively, if you live in a residential area, you can use the street lights to guide you. Start at around 40 percent effort and up the intensity by 10 percent every time you reach a street lamp until you reach 100 percent, then reverse the process back down to 40 percent and repeat as required.   

Track straightaway

If you have access to a track then a very simple way to do some muscle building is to jog the curve of the track at an easy pace and sprint the straight. Repeat for 6-8 laps and watch those muscles grow.  

Gym strength and weight training

Another way to build muscle for running is to do a variety of gym or bodyweight based strength workouts. These will help build muscles in key areas. Exercises include:

  • Squats
  • Weighted lunges
  • Donkey kicks
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Leg raises

You might also want to consider some basic arm, chest and abdominal exercises too - these will build up your general strength and improve your stamina. 

<h5>Taking precautions</h5>

Whatever form of muscle-building running you choose to do, make sure that you warm up beforehand and cool down afterwards. This is particularly important when doing high-intensity work outs. 

What to eat after a run to build muscle?

Running is good for building muscle but only if you give your body the right fuel. Without adequate nutrients, particularly protein, your body will not be able to support the muscle-building process and all of your hard work will be wasted. 

Protein further enhances the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to promote greater muscle gains. It is recommended that to build muscle, you should eat between 0.64-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day. If you weigh 170 pounds, that’s around 125 grams of protein. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and beans are all high in protein and will form the basis of an effective post-workout meal.

Is running good for muscle gain?

So long as you take them time to rest, fuel your body with the right nutrients, and exercise regularly, then running will definitely help build muscle in your legs. To get the desired results, you’ll benefit from training in supportive, stable running shoes and comfortable running clothes from ASICS too.