There’s a good reason why the muscle-hungry among us tend to avoid endurance-type activities (necessary fat-burning cardio notwithstanding). Simply put, anything that has the potential to limit muscle gains is considered to be the enemy, and this extends to long-duration, aerobic-based activities.
However, there is one such activity that’s been vilified for its muscle-stripping effects perhaps more than all of the others combined. Yet it is highly addictive, universally celebrated, and enjoyed by millions of people the world over.
The oldest form of fitness known to mankind: the age-old pursuit of running.
For many, bodybuilding and running remain mutually exclusive, the rationale being that to fully improve in one we must avoid engaging in its ‘opposite’ wherever possible.
While there remain different schools of thought as to whether running and bodybuilding may coexist, one look at the average runner is enough to dissuade any bodybuilder from adding this cardio option to their fat-burning repertoire (and we are not talking here about jacked-up sprinters, whose sessions are, like those of bodybuilders, short, intense, and of an anaerobic nature).
the average runner seldom possesses the desirable look of a well-defined athlete
despite (or perhaps even due to) performing many miles of strenuous activity in a given training week. With very little muscle and a surprising surplus of bodyfat, a typical runner’s physique would struggle to grace to cover of any fitness magazine. Many runners, in fact, do not look like they even train at all, which has led many to accuse running of being particularly counterintuitive to building a lean, muscular physique.
So then, how do we reconcile running’s seemingly detrimental impact on lean-body aesthetics with its supposed status as one of the purest forms of fat-burning cardio around?
A standard answer could be that we get the kind of physique that we train for, the obvious implication being that if we emphasize running ahead of weight training we’ll lose muscle and increase fat – a notion supported by that fact that poor muscular development combined with an excessive cardio schedule can lead to a state of metabolic adaptation in which the body shuts down its fat burning response (the end result being a smaller, metabolically sluggish body). Such a notion would at least explain to some degree the pitiable physiques of many devoted runners.
But then there are those runners who do look impressive.
As discussed earlier, running has the potential to be a great fitness option, but only if approached correctly. The problem is, many runners may fail to address the multiple factors essential to maintaining optimal health and a favorable body composition. The biggest of these is resource replenishment via optimal nutrition.
Irrespective of how far or how often you run, nutrition must be front and center of your training plan. Besides eating 4-5 well-balanced meals per day (depending on running schedule), the most efficient way to ensure the rapid assimilation of the key nutrients needed to sustain a consistent output is to take a range of key supplements of specific importance to cellular rebuilding and joint health. I would recommend the following four supplements for runners who value their health.
Even with the above-mentioned guidelines in place, running (indeed any form of training) can, over time, take a toll on the joints.
The perfect joint formula for runners is ALLFLEX, which has been designed specifically to reduce inflammation and improve joint mobility. Not simply a stop-gap measure to alleviate pain, this product restores the integrity of the joints to ensure that injuries associated with repetitive stress and the chronic pain that may result will not put us on the sidelines for good.
Clinically proven to be more effective the Chondroitin and Glucosamine combined, ALLFLEX contains a range of cutting-edge ingredients, including OptiMSM® (Methylsulfonylmethane), which has been scientifically proven to decrease the deterioration of joint cartilage, reduce associated pain, eliminate the inflammatory responses and swelling that contribute to joint pain and fatigue, while also providing ongoing nutritional support to ensure the development and maintenance of healthy joints and joint cartilage.6, 15, 17, 21
Protecting the joints and enhancing the muscle healing process is largely dependent on a sustained intake of every micronutrient of importance to cellular health and wellbeing. That it is all but impossible to consume each of these nutrients in one sitting has made it difficult for many hard training athletes to achieve the correct balance of each nutrient necessary for performance optimization.
With VITASTACK, over 70 highly bioavailable and ultra-absorbable nutrients can be assimilated in the body with just one nine-pill serving. When combined, each of these nutrients works synergistically to optimize the functioning of each pack’s full array of ingredients (aided by the patented Metabocore digestive aid complex).
While each specific function of athletic performance is addressed with each serving of VITASTACK, this product is particularly beneficial for athletes such as runners, who train regularly and place much pressure on their bodies. Specifically, it contains ingredients necessary for cardiovascular and skeletal health, along with separate immunity, electrolyte, and energy formulas for high-level physical output.
The underconsumption of protein is a major mistake made by many runners. When running any distance, the body begins the process of carbohydrate and fat depletion to maintain a sufficient output of energy. However, the longer we run the more the body burns through a sizable chunk or protein, leaving the runner deficient in this key muscle building nutrient. A catabolic state that inevitably leads to the scrawny runner’s physique typically ensues.
This makes protein replacement a must. As such, a well-balanced diet high in whole food proteins remains essential. However, the most effective and efficient way to ensure that enough protein is obtained to address that lost through movement and to increase muscle rebuilding is to consume the most bioavailable form on protein available today: whey isolate.
ALLMAX ISOFLEX is today’s purest, most bioavailable isolate: with 27g of laboratory-tested whey protein per serving, and loaded with non-denatured whey protein fractions, it’s designed to keep the muscles anabolic both when training and during rest. Take one serving after each run and another first thing in the morning to ensure proteins stores are adequate for the day ahead.
By adding the advanced carbohydrate/electrolyte blend CARBION+ to your pre-workout stack, you’ll not only have more energy to tackle the most pressing tasks but also sufficient carbohydrate reserves to enhance the recovery process.
CARBION+ is a scientifically-formulated product that has been shown to improve stamina and reduce perception of fatigue by 50-percent. By working its magic phase-delivery style – shuttling into the tissues a blend of highly-soluble carbohydrates, including the rapidly absorbed and ultra-effective Cyclo-D – CARBION+ will keep you going when others are about ready to quit.
Electrolyte depletion remains a big problem encountered by many runners. This may lead to poor energy levels and eventual dehydration (which can lead to muscle cramps, exhaustion, and possible injury). CARBION+ provides a rapidly-absorbable and highly-bioavailable electrolyte complex featuring ultra-effective versions of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium to keep the muscles functioning at a high level and to help boost recovery once the training is complete.13, 14, 25
Fun and Challenging
Despite the above, running remains one of the most popular forms of exercise (and competitive pursuits) for countless people the world over. This is due to the simple fact that running can produce a good return on fitness investment if done right. It can also lead to an improved fat to muscle ratio, again if certain precautions are taken.
Despite the potential drawbacks of running, many thousands of people include it in their daily schedules. A big drawcard for many is the way running makes them feel, the highly-coveted feeling of euphoria known as the runner’s high. The famed runner’s high can be attributed to several factors, the most important being the release of various feel-good chemicals.
Whenever we run for prolonged periods at a moderate intensity, our body produces the stress hormone cortisol, which partly explains why running can be catabolic to muscle tissue and not entire suitable for bodybuilders. However, the release of cortisol also stimulates the production of two key classes of chemicals: the pain-mediating endorphins and endocannabinoids, which, when released, result in the aforementioned euphoria – the runner’s high.1
Unfortunately, the runner’s high often keeps people running against their better judgement (i.e., when the body begins to break down due to overtraining). Such positive feelings thus could be considered a double-edged sword in that they can only be experienced to the fullest possible extent when running long distances (two hours or more with no resting).
Thus, to enjoy the coveted high, the runner will be forced to sacrifice their body to some extent, muscle catabolism being the least problematic outcome in this regard (the number of athletes who choose to continue running despite suffering serious running-related injuries is legion).
On a more positive note, running also provides a great challenge and fosters a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps like no other athletic pursuit can, running long distances makes the runner feel like they have achieved something of great significance, and indeed they have. Such efforts may be rewarded with greater mental strength and a disciplined mindset (positive attributes that can be transferred over to other areas of life).
Increased Caloric Expenditure
Of the many activities people pursue expressly for weight loss, few top running in terms of caloric expenditure and accessibility. The fact that running can be done by virtually anyone, anywhere, coupled with the positive feelings it fosters in those who run long distances makes it an activity that’s more likely to be adhered to in the long term. This alone makes running an efficient and effective activity for steady weight loss.
By running at 7.5 mph (8 min/mile) – a good pace that is neither not too fast, nor too slow – a 185lb person can burn roughly 300 calories per mile, which translates to around 1000 calories an hour (the larger the person, the higher the caloric expenditure). In fact, what makes running detrimental to those looking to retain muscle makes it perfect for those who simply wish to lose weight by any means possible.
So, for those wanting to shed weight fast, running is hard to match. But can we enjoy the weight loss benefits of running without the aforementioned muscle losses? The short answer is yes – keep reading to find out how.
Since the beginning of organized sports, running has been used a staple means for improving athleticism and functional performance. Name the sport and running is likely to form a heavy part of its training focus. This is largely because running works multiple systems of the body at once – in its various manifestations it can enhance coordination and agility, speed, endurance, skeletal health, and, of course, weight loss.
When it comes to sports specific training, the fact that so many sports require some degree of running means that the athlete needs to get good at running. This, of course, requires a great deal of running. Putting aside pursuits where running predominates (marathons, triathlons etc), there are sports, such as football and rugby, where an ability to run, albeit in shorter bursts, is fundamentally necessary. Even so, to become good at such sports requires a solid aerobic base that’s, for many, best achieved by running long distances.
Indeed, there is a specific kind of fitness that many believe can only be obtained via running, such are its great energy demands and required physical exertion. Take boxing, one of the most physically demanding of all sports. To build the extreme conditioning needed to go multiple rounds, most boxers emphasize running as a fitness modality. Running also gives such athletes the leg strength/endurance needed to stay in the fight when energy depletion inevitably sets in.
So, while not entirely suitable as a first option for enhancing size gains, running can nevertheless help to develop respectable leg strength and muscularity.18 It does this by largely forcing the leg muscles to contact eccentrically, rather than concentrically.
Here, studies have shown that eccentric contractions – where a muscle is lengthened rather than shortened – are optimal for muscle growth as they place the hardest load on the muscles.2, 10 With running, the leg muscles are made to eccentrically absorb up to four times one’s bodyweight with each stride, a major stimulus for muscle growth among runners.
Taking all of the above into consideration, running can be good or bad, depending on how it is structured into our daily training plan. Approached the wrong way and we may fast deplete our most valuable asset, muscle, while also inviting injury. Approached correctly and we may find ourselves on the sure path to efficient fat loss and maximum muscle retention. So, what’s the best way forward?
As noted above, long distance running, while integral to fostering the runner’s high and effective for weight loss, can also be one of the very worst practices from a muscle retention standpoint. The obvious solution then would be to curtail both running duration and number of weekly sessions.
Unless training for a specific event, wanting to lose weight at any cost (including the cost of sacrificing valuable muscle tissue), or willing to risk injury due to overreaching (or even overtraining) by all means run long distances often.
However, by reducing running output to 3-4 days per week, 30-40 minutes per session, you’ll still achieve impressive cardiovascular benefits, but also limit muscle depletion. Again, like any training modality, you’ll need to closely observe how your body responds to it. Indeed, 2-3 days per week, 30 minutes per session, might work best – especially for those in the 200-plus-pound category (remembering that the extra weight will tend to make running more difficult).
If fat burning is the major goal, perhaps include two running sessions along with 2-3 bike sessions per week to balance out your cardio schedule and limit the repetitive impact of the higher intensity running.
Sprinting is a high-intensity form of running that has found favor among bodybuilders for its ability to build muscle while stripping fat fast. Indeed, when included as an interval training option, sprinting is a far and away more suitable and sustainable running addition for those wanting to retain as much muscle as possible while also improving general cardiovascular fitness.
While not aerobic by nature, sprinting does provide many of the same benefits one might expect to achieve when training aerobically – namely, fat loss, enhanced oxygen uptake, and improved cardiorespiratory conditioning. In fact, it has been shown that we can substantially improve our aerobic capacity by incorporating short sprints alone, rather than exclusively committing to the long slow distance training (LSDT) that is common among runners.7, 16, 24
What sprinting does build – which running long distances cannot – is anaerobic capacity, which underlies the all-important athletic attributes of power, strength, and speed. In addition, because sprinting is more rapid and intensive (which leads to fewer strides taken overall), there is much less impact on the joints, we can move more efficiently, and more of the body’s musculature is used along with a greater proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers (the fibers crucial to building strength, power, and muscle).
In short, sprinting has more of an anabolic effect on the body compared to regular running. It also raises EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) for as long as 48 hours post-session, which means we can burn more calories (fat) in a shorter period of time compared to long distance running, while keeping the body in a steady growth state.
The big problem with running for many (especially larger bodybuilding types) is the massive high-impact slamming that occurs each time the heel hits the ground. While such technique is considered normal among most runners, it can nevertheless be extremely damaging to the joints and soft tissues and is to be avoided by those who value the health of their joints.8, 9, 12
To avoid the repetitive stress of the heel strike, instead use a softer running gait, one that removes much of the impact. Think of the barefoot runner. Rather than landing on the heels, such a person will naturally land with their weight on the front/midfoot region, thus promoting a much softer and gentler transition between strides.
So, when running, come down immediately on the forefoot/midfoot region, followed by the heel (instead of the other way around). Also, land with the knee slightly bent and take shorter strides. By combining each of these pointers the next time you run, you’ll save your joints a great deal of potential suffering and, as a larger person, you’ll be able to cover greater distances in a safer manner.
It comes as no great surprise that those best suited to running are usually of a smaller build while people with more mass tend to be better equipped for less impactful cardio methods. Here, the extra 30-40lbs of solid muscle (however functional it may be in other contexts) can make running extremely difficult and hard to sustain. There are several reasons for this.
First, metabolically-costly muscle requires much energy to function at a high level, which typically causes more muscular people to ‘gas-out’ faster than their leaner and more aerobically-adept counterparts. Second, running can put a lot of pressure on the joints (in particular the knees, hips, and ankles); thus, runners with a larger body mass may be more susceptible to joint problems, including chronic joint pain and injury.
Finally, running for larger types can be just plain unenjoyable. Here, greater levels of exhaustion combined with the aches and pains associated with increased joint pressure could hardly be considered conducive to ongoing adherence (and may explain why most bodybuilders prefer to do their cardio on lower impact machines – bikes and steppers etc).
More muscular types, who do choose to run, may soon find their hard-won gains vanishing before their eyes. The reasons for this may surprise those who consider running to be the gold standard when it comes to shaping up.
Firstly, running can be enormously energy depleting, which may lead to rapid weight loss over relatively short periods of time. Indeed, running is often employed for this very reason (think fighters who need to make weight fast). However, when it comes to losing weight the main rule in bodybuilding has always been and will always be: slow and gradual wins the race.
In other words, the longer we take to lose weight (bodyfat), the more muscle we retain. This is why the typical bodybuilding competitor will usually take 16 or more weeks to get their bodyfat into the low single digits. This is done to ensure that a greater proportion of fat, rather than muscle, is used for fuel.
Pursuits such as running, on the other hand, exact a tremendous energy toll on the body and usually end up burning a hefty combination of fat, carbohydrates, and protein (muscle). As such, the weight may come off faster, but much of it comes from our biceps and quads. Not good.
Any high-intensity activity sustained over a long period (upwards of an hour, or more) tends to drain stored carbohydrates before turning to protein for further fuel. Though this does not happen in exactly this way in every case, it happens often enough among runners to make people weary of running’s catabolic effects (which, again, are ably demonstrated in the legions of fat-skinny, sunken-cheeked runners we see hitting the streets).
In short, such are the massive resource demands of running that the average runner will, with each mile, blast through hundreds of calories worth of precious nutrients that might otherwise be used to build muscle tissue and support intensive resistance sessions.
Running has also been shown to deplete testosterone, with several studies showing noticeably lower T levels in those who run long distances.4, 19 Here, as well as having a negative effect on lean muscle building, excessive nutrient depletion can also limit the production of testosterone, the manufacturing of which is reliant upon a surplus of specific nutrients (notably Zinc, Vitamin D, and Magnesium), each of which can also be depleted through any sweat we may lose when running.
In addition, the stressful nature of running may lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels, which in turn may cause testosterone to plummet. In this case, as one hormone increases (the catabolic cortisol) the other (the anabolic testosterone) drops, the worse possible scenario when seeking to optimize lean muscle gains.
Dehydration can also have an adverse effect on muscle building. Running tends to promote dehydration more than any other cardio-based activity due to its higher intensity output over longer distances, not to mention warmer weather conditions leading to increased sweat production.
Up to two-thirds of our body is composed of water, making it a crucial factor when it comes to sustaining the many physiological functions essential to health, wellbeing, and indeed our very survival. Among its many functions, water is used as a building block for almost every cell of the body, assists in the removal of toxic waste products, and transports proteins and carbohydrates to enhance energy output and cellular rebuilding.
Comprised of almost 80% water, the muscles are largely dependent on H2O for their ultimate functioning and growth. As such, dehydration, however minor, can greatly compromise muscular performance and size, limiting power output and decreasing muscle volume respectively.11, 22, 23
Most detrimentally, when the muscles lose water (and thus volume), protein production slows down and protein breakdown is increased.3, 5 So, while a runner may sensibly rehydrate, any dehydration (especially if it’s experienced over many weekly bouts of activity) may still have dire consequences on muscle growth.
Bad for Health?
While running can provide a wide range of physiological benefits, including improved cardiovascular functioning, a stronger heart, greater blood volume, and improved resistance to infection to name a few, it may also, compared to other forms of cardio, have its fair share of drawbacks from a health standpoint.
Aside from the aforementioned damage to weight-bearing joints, muscle depletion, and dehydration, running has received much bad press for its negative cardiovascular implications (in particular among those new to exercise, those with pre-existing heart conditions, and those previously diagnosed with heart disease).20
The unfortunate fact remains that people who drop dead of heart attacks while exercising tend to do so while running, a phenomenon that is caused by an increased demand on the heart for blood and the subsequent cardiac strain that may ultimately ensue in susceptible individuals.
Running has the potential to be a bodybuilder’s worst enemy, or a superior tool to carve off the kilos. The key is to avoid becoming seduced by its addictive allure. In other words, assuming you are experiencing good cardiovascular and fat loss results from 4 40-minute sessions per week (or however many may be deemed suitable), do not extend these sessions to 50-60 minutes. In short, don’t get caught up in the craze of running to where it becomes an all-consuming passion, a competitive pursuit that becomes intoxicating to the point of diminishing returns.
By all means, enjoy running if it’s something you like. But if you want to keep your muscle gains steady, follow the above guidelines and use it judiciously and strategically in your quest for a superior physique.
- Boecker, H. et al. (2008). The runner’s high: opioidergic mechanisms in the human brain. Cereb Cortex. 18(11):2523‐2531.
- Franchi, M. V. et al. (2017). Skeletal Muscle Remodeling in Response to Eccentric vs. Concentric Loading: Morphological, Molecular, and Metabolic Adaptations. Frontiers in physiology, 8, 447.
- González-Alonso, J. et al. (1998). Muscle blood flow is reduced with dehydration during prolonged exercise in humans. The Journal of physiology, 513 ( Pt 3)(Pt 3), 895–905.
- Hackney, A. C. et al. (2018). Chronic Low Testosterone Levels in Endurance Trained Men: The Exercise- Hypogonadal Male Condition. Journal of biochemistry and physiology, 1(1), 103.
- Hackney, K. J. et al. (2012). Skeletal muscle volume following dehydration induced by exercise in heat. Extreme physiology & medicine, 1(1),
- Hasegawa, T. et al. (2004). Suppressive effect of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) on type II collagen-induced arthritis in DBA. Japanese Pharmacology and Therapeutics 32(7):421-427January
- Helgerud, J. et al. (2007). Aerobic High-Intensity Intervals Improve V˙O2max More Than Moderate Training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 39(4):665-71 April
- Hreljac, A. (2004). Impact and overuse injuries in runners Med Sci Sports Exerc, 36, pp. 845-849
- Hreljac, A. et al. (2000). Evaluation of lower extremity overuse injury potential in runners Med Sci Sports Exerc, 32, pp. 1635-1641 (heel strike)
- Hody, S. et al. (2019). Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Risks and Benefits. Frontiers in physiology, 10, 536.
- Jones, L.C. et al. (2008). Active dehydration impairs upper and lower body anaerobic muscular power. J Strength Cond Res. 22(2):455‐463.
- James, S. l. et al. (1978). Injuries to runners Am J Sports Med, 6, pp. 40-50
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- Jung, A. P. et al. (2005). Influence of Hydration and Electrolyte Supplementation on Incidence and Time to Onset of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps. J Athl Train. Apr-Jun; 40(2): 71–75.
- Kalman, D. S. et al. (2013). A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Evaluation of MSM for Exercise Induced Discomfort/Pain. Experimental Biology Conference and Expo
- Koral, J. et al. (2018). Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Improves Running Performance in Trained Athletes. J Strength Cond Res 32(3): 617–623
- Kim, L. S. (2006). Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) in osteoarthritis pain of the knee: a pilot clinical trial. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. Mar;14(3):286-94.
- Konopka, A. R. et al. (2014). Skeletal muscle hypertrophy after aerobic exercise training. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 42(2), 53–61.
- MacKelvie, K.J. et al. (2000). Bone mineral density and serum testosterone in chronically trained, high mileage 40-55-year-old male runners. Br J Sports Med. 34(4):273‐278.
- Noakes, T.D. (1987). Heart disease in marathon runners: a review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 19(3):187‐194.
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- Ritz, P. et al. (2003). Effects of changes in water compartments on physiology and metabolism. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003;57 Suppl 2:S2‐S5.
- Schoffstall, J.E. et al. (2001). Effects of dehydration and rehydration on the one-repetition maximum bench press of weight-trained males. J Strength Cond Res. 15(1):102‐108.
- Sloth, M. et al. (2013). Effects of sprint interval training on VO2max and aerobic exercise performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 23(6) July
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