How to Build Your Running Prowess Without Losing Muscle Mass

by Josh | Last Updated:  October 12, 2020
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Are you someone for whom cardio exercises are a priority? If yes, then it is important for you to rethink the effects that running and skipping have on your body. We will all agree that cardio increases the body’s resistance and stamina.

However, people often do not acknowledge that cardio training leads to a decrease in muscle mass. It’s justified if you have quite a lot of questions in your mind after hearing this.

Why does cardio burn muscles? Should we stop doing cardio to avoid muscle loss? Most importantly, how to run without without losing muscle mass you work so hard to create?

Take a deep breath because we will settle all your confusion. First, let’s get the big doubt out of your way. You have heard it right. It is true that when you do cardio exercises, your muscle-mass goes down.

That said, there are ways that will help you do cardio without losing muscle mass. Get ready as we sail through the journey of finding solutions to your doubt as to how to do cardio without compromising on muscle mass.

Why Does Cardio Lead to Muscle Loss?

When you train your body, you realize how every tissue and muscle demands attention and observation. All kinds of physical routines can create both wanted and unwanted effects on your body.

Such interlinked results take place because our body employs a complicated mechanism for survival where every tissue or organ depends on the other tissue or organ. That is the primary reason why doing cardio leads to loss of lean body tissue.

Now let’s understand the answer to the question, how does cardio burn muscle, and the mechanisms involved in this.

We all know the importance of a protein-rich diet when you are doing cardio. However, sometimes your intake might go low and as a result, the body recedes to its catabolic state.

In the catabolic state, the body feeds on the muscle mass to gain energy. Now, if you do not supplement the needs of the body, it begins to impact your muscle mass and hence, your body mass ratio.

The second reason for muscle loss due to cardio is the inactive state in which you leave your muscles. While the heart, which is the most important muscular organ in the body, receives rigorous training, the other fibers and tissues are left to degenerate.

In technical terms, we call this degeneration of muscles, muscle atrophy. Many scientists call it a “wasting away” of muscles, which seems to be the apt definition. It is apt because the term “wasting away” suggests that there can be a solution to control that waste or degeneration.

Now, before we go into the question of how to not lose muscle mass while doing cardio, it is important to see why you cannot delete cardio from your routine.

Why Is Cardio Important?

Cardio-vascular exercises are important for fitness freaks who are either into running marathons or playing sports like football, basketball, etc., which depend on the health and agility of the heart.

Here we have listed out few benefits of cardio exercises that make them intrinsically important:

As you have seen, the benefits of cardio-vascular training are many. That is probably the reason why researchers say that every American must do cardio training for 150 minutes a week, if done vigorously.

If the intensity of the exercises is less, the count of minutes changes to 75. The sure thing here is that cardio is important for all types of trainers and it cannot be avoided. However, we can find solutions as to how to do cardio without losing muscle so that our muscle mass ratio does not suffer.

We hope that clarifies the confusion that one cannot prevent loss of muscle mass. Look at Christiano Ronaldo. It is obvious that he focusses on cardio-exercises but you can visibly see his muscle growth. How does he manage it? Ronaldo must have employed the mechanism that many athletes do, that is, to pay extra attention to their diet, especially protein and calorie count.

How to Do Cardio Without Losing Muscle?

Do you remember the beginning of your physical training? It was so easy to train your body without having to worry about questions like does cardio burn muscles. When you are a newbie, you have the advantage of losing extra weight from your body without compromising on your muscle mass.

You see such qualitative results because the body has a large potential to achieve in the initial stages of the training. Instead of depending on the muscles for energy, the body chooses to protect and preserve your muscle mass.

However, as you begin to realize your goals and your muscles become stronger, the body finds it convenient to extract energy from muscle tissues. It sounds unfair, doesn’t it? Yes, the idea that you have to lose your muscles, after having spent so much time and effort in building them, is frustrating.

But have you wondered as to why the body has to depend on any alternative source, for that matter? If yes, then you got the solution. The body needs energy and you are not supplying it with enough nutrients. That is our first solution as to how to do cardio without losing muscle.

Pay Attention to Your Diet

The primary fact that you need to understand here is that you have to maintain your lean muscle mass. A proper way to do that is to keep your Body Mass Index at the correct point.

That brings us to the old thumb-rule that more than half of your training depends on whether you have a balanced diet or not.

If you are doing rigorous training religiously but you forget to snack on almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts, hemp seeds, etc., your game is weak. You have to give the body an ample amount of nutrients from which it can extract energy.

The most important macronutrients that will help in the prevention of muscle loss are proteins and carbohydrates.

Proteins

The Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) are foundational blocks of protein molecules. You must be aware of the whole obsession with BCAAs because any fitness freak, no matter what training they advocate, will always push you to increase BCAAs in your diet.

The purpose of BCAAs is to help you increase the synthesis in the body by working on the cellular development of the muscles. You want to increase your muscle fibers so that the amount of breakdown or degeneration of tissues does not overtake the rate of its development.

If this unequal and unbalanced cycle begins to take place, you will face increased muscle loss. Now, the best way to increase BCAA content is to upgrade your whey protein intake. You need to take a minimum 0.5gram for every pound of your weight.

Some good sources of protein are omega-3 oils, salmon, eggs, olive oil, nuts, macadamia oil, etc. For best results, avoid taking animal-protein and try to keep your diet wholesome by maximizing natural intake.

We think that supplements are important but they should not come over and above the natural proteins.

Carbohydrates

When it comes to carbohydrates, try and minimize the intake of all refined carbohydrates like sugar, etc. Refined carbohydrates are complex molecules that take time in breaking down. They are the ones which get deposited if you do not burn them immediately.

What you should rather focus on are carbohydrates found in yellow, orange, and green vegetables and fruits. The fruit sugar is a good source to keep your sugar requirement in check without burdening your body with molecules that are difficult to digest.

According to your calorie count, you can determine how much carbohydrates your body will require. See, if you totally delete carbs from your diet, you are putting all the pressure to release energy on proteins. No matter how much you want to, you cannot consume that much protein in one day.

Carbohydrates are helpful because they are instant sources of energy. They will give you the strength to perform. Fats also give your body the energy to bear extensive resistance training.

Do Rigorous Strength Training

You heard it right. If you want to learn how to do cardio without losing muscle, get ready to invest time in strength or resistance training. The best way to do resistance is to do weightlifting.

Your muscles need to work constantly so that the body does not get the message that they are still. If you are in muscle atrophy, you will find that the body starts a slow degeneration process of your muscles.

Oftentimes what happens is that when we do cardio, our attention is entirely directed towards the heart muscle. However, that is not enough. Other muscles need equal attention, which is why we advise that our mentees carry out a weightlifting routine alongside cardio training.

Try to cover all your important muscle and joint regions including arms, shoulders, joints, knees, and hips. Weightlifting can help your muscles gain strength. Now if you are worried about how aerobic training like cardio can co-exist with resistance training, the answer is simple.

Always remember that resistance training never interferes with cardio training, though the opposite is possible. So, no matter how rigorous your weightlifting is, your cardio training will not get affected.

This is applicable only when you ensure that you do weightlifting or other resistance exercises before your aerobic training. To put it simply, start from resistance exercises and have cardio training at the next slot where you can focus on running, swimming, jogging, skipping, etc. Avoid going for a run before a workout.

That is simply because when you run, you lose out on your carbs and energy. The subsequent weightlifting produces fewer results with more fatigue.

If you do not have the option of doing cardio after the resistance training then it becomes mandatory for you to have a strong and well-trained upper body. However, you might not see the best results in this case as you will have to compromise on the muscle-mass to some extent.

The next thing that you can and must do is set up a routine in which you divide days for resistance and cardio training respectively. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? On one day you can do weightlifting, followed by less intense aerobic training.

On the next day, you can go for an intense cardio workout where it is natural that you will lose your muscle glycogen. The balance between the two types of exercises helps in the prevention of muscle loss.

This type of training that we just demonstrated here is known as concurrent training. Concurrent training is more suitable for trainees who are good and experienced at cardio. They usually lose mass instead of muscles when they run.

However, even if you are new to cardio training, you can enjoy the maximum benefits of this method if you keep the intensity of your cardio exercises high and consistent.

Just remember that after your resistance training, it is normal that cardio training will demand more carbs and fats to burn than usual. You have to keep your diet and protein count in check. That is why the kind of diet you take plays a crucial role in determining whether concurrent training will work for you or not.

Additional Tips to Run Without Burning Muscle

Now that we have stated ways on how to do cardio without burning muscles, let’s look at a new aspect. If your question of how to preserve muscle mass was specific to running, don’t worry because we have you covered.

We assume that you have read that running is not an equal cardio counterpart to resistance training. However, if running is your passion, you do not have to stop it to avoid muscle degeneration.

Instead, what you can do to avoid any loss is to improve your diet and increase the intensity of your running. That is right. Experiment with your running by adopting strategies like sprinting, jumping, etc.

If you cannot increase the intensity as soon as you want, you should consider decreasing the time you run. That will help you avoid the cartilage damage that happens from running. Instead, you can do short slots of running by experimenting with its form and by introducing new methods to your running.

Once you think your intensity of running has increased, you can improve your time as well. Make sure that you are meeting the calorie count while closely inspecting if the effect of such a routine is good for your BMI. 

Final Thoughts on How to Run Without Losing Muscle Mass

For many people cardio is considered the devil, meaning it is able to rob you of your results faster than you can grow results. But at the same time it is very good to have solid cardiac health so you need to balance your approach.

Instead you may want to learn your best approach to give you a chance to keep your results but also lose that extra body fat, building a solid base of muscle will help you burn more calories and lose body fat also so it is a balance.

I love running outside and on treadmills, getting my cardiac health the best it can be as heart issues run in my family and I need a strong ticker. I encourage you all to grow that cardio and strengthen your cardiac system.

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