The Truth About Sprinters vs. Marathon Runners

If you’re even slightly into fitness and have been interneting on the internet for the past few years, you’ve do doubt come across the picture below.

sprinting body

To summarize the picture above:

Marathon runners = skinny, weak, no muscle, pale.

Sprinters = lean, ripped, muscular, dark and handsome.

But there are some huge misconceptions about sprinting and running which I cover below.

Running does not make you lose muscle.

This is the most popular myth that a lot of fitness pros love to spread. Their argument is that due to the long distance nature of running, you’re burning your muscles for fuel.

But there’s really no proof to back this up. When asked for proof, all anyone says is blah blah blah look at the pic above.

Dude…look at marathon runners. They’re so skinny and weak, obviously they’re burning muscle when they run.

Truth: Just think about it logically. Maybe the reason a marathon runner is so skinny and doesn’t have any muscle is because they’re not trying to build any muscle and they don’t have much muscle in the first place.

Marathon and long distance runners train for their sport and that sport is running for a very long time without stopping. For a runner, lifting weights is just time wasted that could be focused on improving their running.

Marathon runners can gain muscle…if they want

You’re right, I’ve never seen someone look like Arnold Schwarzenegger compete and win in a marathon but there’s a damn good reason for that.

Here’s what you need to know:

1) Running is an aerobic exercise and doesn’t involve the explosiveness of sprinting or weight lifting. It’s all about endurance and running for as long as you can.

2) Runners don’t try to gain muscle. Their focus is on running fast and far.

3) Train for your sport. Bodybuilders train to look as lean and muscular as possible. Sprinters train to run as fast as possible over a short distance. Runners train to run as fast and far as possible. You train for your sport so you can’t criticize a runner for the physique they have.

Pick your battles

Sprinting and running are 2 very different sports. Sprinting is usually done in conjunction with weight lifting and runners tend to be laser focused on well…running.

A person who’s running 10 miles a day will simply not have the energy to hit a heavy weight lifting session as well.

It’s not that a runner’s body lacks the ability to gain muscle, it’s simply that runners don’t try to gain muscle. It’s counter-intuitive to their goal.

Also note, runners tend to have a diet that is much higher in carbs and lower in protein, so once again this is the polar opposite of most sprinters/weight lifters who put a larger focus on eating massive amounts of protein which you need to maintain muscle mass.

So should you be running or sprinting for the best look physique?

Obviously, most of you guys are not marathon runners.

I know most of my readers simply want to look and feel good and that’s great. And if that’s the case, just stick with a couple heavy lifting sessions per week and maybe throw in a quick workout finisher at the end.

My main point that I want to drill into your head is – don’t believe that doing a little or even a lot of cardio will cause you to lose muscle. The act of running itself doesn’t cause muscle loss, but it does take your focus and energy away from things like weight lifting.

What are your thoughts? How do you incorporate running or sprinting into your workout routine?

Comments

  1. john says

    Not sure how much help this article really is. I expect most of your readers probably just want to get fit and healthy, and want to know if sprinting or endurance running is better for them.

    Perhaps you could follow up by looking into the other commonly held belief (or myth?) that endurance running is bad for you – ie. endurance running makes you heart efficient rather than strong (like a sprinter), and efficient things tend to break if you stress them – hence the number of times you see news reports of someone “young and fit” falling over of a heart attack, then cut to friends and neighbours who express disbelief as “he was so fit and was always jogging…”

    I heard this morning that another runner died in the London marathon yesterday – will be interesting to see if he was a couch potato that suddenly decided to run a marathon or a “fit and healthy” runner…

    • Keith says

      thanks for the comment, John.

      I’m not an advocate of long distance running, I just wanted to make a point that running isn’t the devil that everyone makes it out to be.

  2. Artimus says

    Thanks Keith for the clearing up that myth. I’m new at weight-lifting and my passion is running so my concern was losing the muscle that I was working so hard for it. I’m no long distance runner either, the most I’ll do is 8miles (working up to 10) but it is true, that you’re just damn tired after a long run to do much of anything else.

    P.S. I usually just run the standard 5k (3.20 miles) like 3-4x a week.

    btw: your Stephen Amell workout brought me here, since that article I’ve read a few others. Great stuff man! Thanks for all the helpful information!

    • Keith says

      Exactly, the act of running itself doesn’t cause muscle loss, but it really tires you out so you won’t have the energy to do anything else.

  3. says

    But you completely skipped the fact that after about 30-45 minutes your body starts breaking down your muscle for fuel..especially if you don’t have much fat. I mean this can be avoided if you have enough carbs so they wont get totally depleted before you are done and if you fuel your muscle properly with protein to sustain themselves. But still, it is possible for your body to attack your muscle.

      • Hosea says

        Do some research on that. It may my good for your next article trust me. The system is already in place to happen in your body. Fuel yourself properly and it won’t make it to that last resort but It can still happen on 500kcal or 5000kcal. Quality over Quantity man.

  4. Tk01 says

    Great article! As a runner I completely agree, train for YOUR sport. As a female training for a half marathon I am constanyly seeking nutrition, training and sleep goals to push me further and further than the last mile! Up to running 16 miles at 1:58:07 is NOT bad for not being a professional runner. How’d I do it? Listening to MY body, researching MY sport and choosing My battles. I don’t get into conversations with people who are one minded about nutrition and training. You can’t becuase at the end of the day there is no “one size fits all” plan. I can’t skip carbs because they give me endurance, I can’t skip protein because I have to rebuild muscle and I can’t skip fat because it helps to oil the squeeky joints. MODERATION and ANTICIPATION (for your day full or low of activity) is the best thing you can do. Work on form, core, strength, endurance and over all NUTRITION, this my friends works across the board with ANY and ALL sports. When my friends ask me silly stuff like “what do you eat?” I give them the truth “FOOD”. lol! Sometimes the best results will speak for themselves, if you’re constantly explaining your results and not displaying them, well that may a sign that your results are not speaking for themselves. Don’t allow your friends to be lazy and rely on you for goal advice, if they are serious they need to research, plan, prepare and take action for their own lives. What works for me is not going to work for you, and that’s the truth.

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