It is a commonly held belief among many that running will cause you to lose muscle mass. So, is this really true? The short answer is no, you can run and still build and maintain your muscle mass as long as you plan your workout routine accordingly. Alex Viada, a certified strength and conditioning specialist (C.S.C.S), said “There’s plenty of proof with contest bodybuilders—whose sole interest is building muscle—that you can use aerobic training to burn fat and build fitness, while also building muscle.” So, it is possible but how do you do it?
An exercise routine that involves both resistance training and aerobic exercise is known as concurrent training. Professionals have even said that concurrent training can even aid aerobic performance and vice versa. However, you must choose one, either strength or running, to be your focus. Whatever you do first is really what you are going to get the most benefit from (if doing both strength and aerobic training on the same day). A 2003 Journal of Strength and Conditioning research paper found that people who did aerobic training within eight hours of strength training put up fewer reps on a leg press than those who had more time to recover. In order to maximize your benefit from each type of training, it would be a good idea to do strength training and aerobic training on different days. If you’re running right after resistance training, Viada recommends doing your high-intensity runs right after your lower-body resistance training session.
How to Run Without Losing Muscle Mass?
There is no specific amount of time or miles that you can run that will cause you to lose muscle mass as everybody metabolizes energy slightly differently, but there are some guidelines to follow in order to plan your runs so you are not losing muscle mass. One of the techniques to use is to monitor your running as a function of caloric intake. “For endurance athletes, calories burned during running should not exceed 33 percent of daily calories,” said Viada. He said this with regard to the amount a seasoned runner can run without being at a serious calorie deficit and losing mass. For anyone who is not a seasoned runner, Viada recommends to cap running at 15 percent of daily calories.
Another method that you could use is testing your strength periodically. Every five weeks or so you want to do a three rep max test on an upper body exercise, such as a bench press, and on a lower body exercise, such as a squat. Using this test, you can feel free to increase your running until your resistance training performance hits a wall or declines. If maintaining muscle is your priority and are feeling very fatigued while doing concurrent training, then prioritize strength based training in order to prevent muscle loss.
Whatever your priority is, you do not have to sacrifice muscle mass for the sake of increasing running performance or vice versa as long as you plan out your workouts and pay attention to your caloric intake!