Why Am I Having Trouble Gaining Muscles While Running

Millions of people use running as an excellent way to lose fat. Those focused on gaining muscle, however, may face some hurdles when it comes to running. If you are struggling to gain muscle while running, you may lack protein, sufficient or proper strength training, enough daily calories, or enough short, high-intensity running.

Luckily, all of these situations can be corrected to get you moving towards your muscle-gain goals. Let’s dive in to see how you can start gaining muscle while running today.

Lack of Protein

Proteins are the molecules critical to building and repairing muscles in the body. When you have a good run or workout, your muscle tissue will be microscopically damaged – this is why we feel sore after exercising. The amino acids found in protein help repair and maintain this affected tissue, building up the muscles to be even stronger than before.

Most of our protein intake comes naturally from our diets, but if you’re looking to gain more muscle, you will need to increase your protein intake.

The average person should consume 0.35 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. For those who run and do strength training, you should consume 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

When you run, your body uses your stored fat as extra fuel for your body. If you are running often and not consuming enough protein, your body will soon deplete its fat stores and start using your muscles for energy. This can leave you feeling weak and tired, with little physical progress even after weeks of running.

Consuming enough protein can be done easily through natural ingredients or supplements. Foods with high protein concentrations include:

  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Legumes
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Milk products (cheese and yogurts)

For those looking for protein on the go, you can also find protein powders and shakes in the health section of your local grocery store.

Related: Best Super Foods For Runners

Not Enough Strength Training

Strength training includes all exercises designed to promote muscle development by increasing resistance. Most exercises that include lifting, pushing, or pulling are considered strength training.

While running can also build muscle, it’s easy to plateau when you’re repeating the same runs every week. Strength training avoids plateaus by consistently increasing resistance as you get stronger. This is why strength training is vital in building muscle mass. Combining strength training with running is ideal for those aiming to reach their weight and fitness goals.

Not only does strength training build up your muscles, but it also promotes bone health, improves metabolism, reduces the risk of hypertension and heart disease, and boosts your mood.

Some examples of strength training include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Exercising with resistance bands
  • Climbing hills, climbing upstairs, or hiking
  • Push-ups, sit-ups, and squats

Not Enough Weight During Strength Training

If you are combining running and strength training and are still struggling to gain muscle, be sure you’re using enough weight during your exercises. Strength training is all about resistance, so the weight or intensity you use should increase as time progresses.

When using weights, it’s good to exercise with both a lighter and heavier set.

If you can easily do 22 reps with your current weight, they are too light. Pick a set of weights 5 pounds heavier and begin with these. You can increase another 5 pounds to find your heavy set of weights.

One suggestion is that when you can do 2 more reps than you started with for 2 consecutive workouts, you are then ready to add on more weight.

There are some weight calculators online; however, you should always listen to your body when choosing a weight that is heavy enough for exercise but not too heavy as to cause you injury.

Poor Strength Training Technique

Poor technique or strategy while strength training can nullify all of your hard work. A proper technique during strength training can help prevent injury, increase muscle use, and increase efficiency to avoid wasted movements.

Ask a certified trainer to inspect your technique to give you some pointers. This will help you to complete your strength training exercises correctly and optimally.

When completing your strength training sets, it’s also important to rest sufficiently between them. Muscles can recover up to 85% of their maximum capacity after just 15 seconds, which is good for building endurance. Nevertheless, these short recoveries are not as helpful for building muscle mass, so you should make sure you’re waiting at least 2 minutes between sets.

Too Much Long-Distance Running

If you’re struggling to gain muscle while running, your running method could be to blame. Recent studies show that short, intensive running is better for building muscle than long-distance running.

This study investigated the impact of different running distances on the runners’ muscles. It found that the level of muscle damage rose in correlation with the number of miles ran. Not only that, but the long-distance runners’ muscle protein breakdown remained elevated up to 3 days afterward.

On the other hand, a group of students who completed high-intensity interval training (HIIT) running showed an 11% increase in their quadricep muscles after 10 weeks. This shows that short and intensive runs are more effective than long-distance running when it comes to building muscle.

Too High of a Caloric Deficit

If you’re running often without increasing your caloric intake, you may have too high of a caloric deficit to build muscle. A caloric deficit means you burn more calories than you eat in a day.

Let’s say you burned 300 calories while exercising today, and through a calorie calculator, you speculate your body burns 2,000 calories per day naturally. If you only eat 2,000 calories that day, you will have a calorie deficit of 300.

One pound of fat is around 3,500 calories, so at the above rate, you would lose one pound of fat every 12 days. If you were to burn more calories or go on a diet, you could accelerate this process.

A healthy caloric deficit for those trying to lose fat is 500 calories per day or less. A standard diet is consuming 2,000 calories per day. No one should consume less than 1,200 calories per day unless first discussed with a doctor.

Caloric deficits are great for losing weight, but they can be disadvantageous for those trying to build muscle. If your calorie deficit is too high, your body will burn through your fat alongside your muscle.

You can avoid this by increasing your consumption of protein-rich foods and lowering the amount of time you run weekly. Adding in more strength training instead of running may also be beneficial.

Related: Why Am I Struggling To Lose Weight While Running


If you’re running often and struggling to gain muscle, there are some easy steps you can take to fix it. First, examine your diet. Without sufficient protein, muscles cannot repair nor grow. Calculate how much protein you’re consuming and add more if necessary.

Next, take a look at your current workout plan. Does it incorporate enough strength training? Are your runs short and intensive instead of consistently long-distance? If not, add in resistance-based exercises and switch your lengthy runs to HIIT runs instead. Make sure your strength training is done in proper form and with increased weights over time.

Finally, analyze your caloric deficit. Lower your deficit amount and weekly running time to get back on track towards gaining muscle again.

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Coach Scott's Credentials:
  • Published Author
  • RRCA Certified Running Coach (Level 2)
  • RRCA Certified Youth Running Coach
  • NASM CPT (Certified Personal Trainer).
  • NASM CNC (Certified Nutrition Coach)
  • NASM WLS (Weight Loss Specialist)
  • ACE SFC (Stretching and Flexibility Coach)
  • ACE GFI (Group Fitness Instructor)
He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 22nd half marathon race. 

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