Does Running Build Muscle or Not?
It is a common thought that cardio should be avoided in exercise routines when a person is trying to build muscle. But is it true?
A lot of bodybuilders bash cardio, claiming all it will do is make your muscles shrivel up and suck away your strength. And evidence seems to support this when you look at a marathon runner with their skinny bodies, but that’s excessive cardio. What about using cardio in moderation? Can it still interfere with muscle growth or can it help with it?
The answer to both those questions is yes. Actually, it can end up going both ways.
3 Ways Cardio Can Help Muscle Growth
There are actually 3 ways cardio exercises can end up helping you build and keep muscle:
- It improves muscle recovery, both in quality and time
- It improves the body’s metabolic response to food eaten
- It keeps up with your body conditioning and helps the transition from bulking up to cutting on the body
Muscle Recovery with Cardio
Intense exercise leads to the damage of muscle fibers and then the recovery of them during rest periods. The damage can leave you feeling sore a day or two after a high intensity workout. It is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.
The repairing of the damaged muscles is a complex but much needed process that occurs when it comes to building muscle in the body. As complicated as it is, it is actually regulated by two simple factors: how much repairing is needed over time, and the speed in which any leftover waste products are removed.
So how does cardio help this? Well, it increases blood flow, helping your body repair damaged muscle quicker. It aids in removing the waste and the overall recovery time. Some people looking to bulk up tend to do a cardio session on their leg days because it reduces leg soreness the follow days dramatically.
However, it does help to know that the benefits of cardio and muscle gain are mostly seen in the legs because cardio workouts don’t utilize the upper body. If you are looking for a full body recovery, then you will have to find a form of cardio that also works out the upper portion of the body. Exercises like a rowing machine or even the arm pumps on an elliptical can do the job.
How Your Body Metabolizes Food with Cardio
Everybody is different with how, and at what rate, nutrients are absorbed and used. Some bodies store less fat when the person overeats because their metabolism is quick and can they can burn off excess calories.
Some lose less muscle when they diet because the energy is sucked from fat rather than muscle. Some even store excess calories and lose muscle when they are on a diet for weight loss. It is important to know how your metabolism affects you personally because it can better help you understand how to plan your workouts and dietary restrictions.
Hormones like testosterone and cortisol (stress hormone) also affect how the metabolism works. If you have higher levels of testosterone, you have more muscle production and less fat storage. High levels of cortisol make for the opposite—more fat and less muscle production.
Unfortunately, when it comes to our genetics, there is little we can do to change the make-up, besides injecting ourselves with artificial drugs. But everyone is different in their hormonal ranges and we have to work with what we have.
If you have genetic issues that make it harder to gain muscle and lose weight, don’t lose hope. Natural body inefficiencies such as insulin sensitivity, can also impact how food is metabolized in the body.
Being insulin sensitive isn’t necessary bad when it comes to building muscle. Actually, it was shown that it help when you’re eating a surplus of calories and trying to build muscle. On the other side, if you are insulin resistant, you may have trouble with muscle growth and having more fat storage under the same conditions.
As stated before, if your genetics are against you, don’t fret. There are various ways to manipulate the body to perform in your favor. Cardio helps with this because it improves insulin sensitivity.
It does so in a dose-dependent way, which means that the more you do, the more benefits you receive. With this, cardio can aid in the absorbing of nutrients by the muscles.
Conditioning with Cardio
A common problem among bodybuilders is that there is a reduction of cardiovascular fitness. Why? Because they are focusing so much on heavy weightlifting and forgetting about cardiovascular health, too.
If you keep a cardio routine with your bulking routine, you will maintain your metabolic conditioning. This prevents the shock that happens to the body when you begin to cut.
The 2 Ways Cardio Can Hinder Muscle Growth
Cardio can do both things — it can hurt and help muscle growth. The two ways it can negatively impact muscle growth are by overly reducing caloric surplus, and by causing you to overdo it with training. However, this is why workout programs like CrossFit are becoming increasingly popular. These workout programs combine strength training and cardio so that you don’t overdo it.
The surplus issue isn’t really an issue, though, because normal cardio sessions don’t burn that many calories. If cardio session somehow surpass the couple of hundred of calories range, than it can cause some issues. It’s rare but possible.
For issues relating to overtraining, the more cardio done and the more intense it becomes, the more your strength and growth will be negatively impacted because there are excessive stresses being placed on the central nervous system and on the muscles. The legs normally get the worst of it though.
The Summary: Cardio During Muscle Growth
After reading through the article, it’s obvious the positives to using cardio during gaining muscle outweigh the negatives. The negatives can be monitored, manipulated or dealt with.
If you are looking for a cardio routine to add to your bulking program, try HIIT cardio. Research has shown that this program preserves muscle, but that doesn’t mean you should go crazy and start doing HIIT every week while bulking up. It means learn about it and use it to better your bulking journey.
It is recommended that a safe amount of cardio while bulking is to keep it around 2-3 sessions each week. No more and no longer than 30 minutes each session. More importantly, make sure you keep it under a couple hundred calories. When you start to go over that barrier routinely, your bulking results will suffer.
At any time, if you feel like the HIIT program is affecting your strength in a negative manner, lower the amount of sessions a week and decrease the intensity level.
If you are looking for another way to do cardio other than running, it has been proven that cycle is a better alternative than running when it comes to cardio and muscle gains because it mimics the movements performed when lifting. Leg strength can jump up dramatically, so always keep your options open and be sure to explore to find what gives you the best results.