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Running For Bodybuilders | How Cardio Can Help Your Performance

Should bodybuilders incorporate running into their workout routine?

Running isn’t something commonly associated with bodybuilding, but you may be surprised to learn that this is generally down to a few myths that we’re about to put to rest. Why’s that? Because running isn’t the gain-killing, muscle draining, energy sapper that you previously thought was a massive tax on your mass-muscle-orientated workout. In fact, it can help in several ways.

Benefits of running and bodybuilding

1. Great for gym performance

First up, the overall benefit of both running and bodybuilding relates not only to your muscles, but your overall health and capabilities within the gym. With a few modifications to your diet and nutrition, it can provide you with an energy and testosterone boost after a six week period – the opposite of the draining effect you had in mind.

2. It’s healthy

Improvements to your cardiovascular health is something you may have neglected when focussing on strength and size.

While weightlifting is excellent for calorie burning, serious improvements and fat trimming can only really be achieved by adding a healthy portion of cardio training to your workouts. And what better way is there than running, which provides impact, which is good for strengthening your bone density, is good for your balance and posture, and also puts just about every major muscle group to work all in one go. Not only that, but running can significantly improve the quality of your sleep in the long run.

3. Builds endurance for longer training sessions

Running can improve your gym performance both mentally and physically. It will help to build your endurance and mental tolerance to higher intensities, which, in turn, will translate to how much you can lift and how many reps.

4. Improve circulation and blood flow

For those of you still only thinking about the muscles, this increased circulation to your muscles means that you can expect a boost in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles that you are working, meaning more lifts and bigger pumps.

5. Reduces estrogen in men

For men trying to build muscle, estrogen can be an issue. When estrogen levels are higher, men gain fat more easily and find themselves short on energy. Running rivals these adverse effects by reducing the production of estrogen and simultaneously promoting positive hormonal production, such as endorphins.

How to minimize the negative effects running has on building muscle

The answers here are simple and easy to follow. You’re already a bodybuilder so the hard work is already in the bag. Making room for a spot of running is a matter of tactical planning and combatting the effects that are adverse to your progress.

First up, let’s address the pink elephant in the room that you don’t want to see shrink as a result of too much cardio. That’s right, you want to get big and stay big and you fear that running will mess with that. As a bodybuilder, you already know the importance of nutrition. You didn’t get your muscles from starving yourself, right?

The first thing to do is acknowledge the nutrition that your body will need to factor both weights and running. Combining weights and cardio in your workout week will result in a massive calorie deficit if you don’t stock-up. Make slowly digested carbs and lean protein a staple of your diet.

While you need calories, avoid sugars and processed foods, they’ll cause a spike and make you feel worse off when you need the energy for real. Refined carbs and sweets will do you no favors, so don’t get your calories from ready meals, frozen and takeout foods. Look at the long game and the foods that your body will digest slowly over time, including grains and oats.


Utilize supplements on top of your balanced diet. Use isolated whey to get the quickly absorbed protein when you need it immediately after a workout and consider mass building blends to ensure you meet your calorie requirements. Further to this, you should keep in mind the eight hour fast that is your bedtime. By drinking casein (or eating it) you will provide your body with slowly digested protein that should see you through the night.


Hydration is just as important as food when it comes to fuel. Adding regular running on to an already strenuous workout plan can see you dehydrate and afflict your muscle development like nothing else.

Your questions answered

But where do running and nutrition fit into your schedule? You should always hit the weights first to ensure your greatest focus and bulk of your strength is there where you want it. After hitting the weights, refuel with protein and carbs for forty minutes before starting on your run. Obviously, you don’t want to be too heavy when you run, so stick to the lighter options – the lean proteins and light carbs.

Another tip for when to run: don’t mix it with leg day. Maybe that one already crossed your mind and you wondered how it would have even been possible, but the good news is that your muscles need their rest in order to recover and grow, and adding a high-impact workout to your leg muscles and joints simply isn’t a good way to treat them after heavy leg lifts.

It’s not just about getting your running shoes on and heading out like Forest Gump, either. When you come to run it needs to be by design, not random long slogs. A six-hour marathon can not only exhaust you but reduce your testosterone levels. Keep the threshold at two hours, max. During this time you are encouraging the production of testosterone.

Take home message

Put the idea out of your head that running is detrimental to all that you have been trying to build during your time in the gym. With some simple modifications to your nutritional intake and strategic rests, running can provide you with a myriad of benefits to your estrogen and testosterone levels, your circulation, endurance and health, while equipping you for longer, better weightlifting sessions, with a few pounds shed along the way.

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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye Reid has a Master of Science in Sport Physiology and Nutrition. She puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding. Find out more about Faye's experience here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/faye-reid-8b619b122/.

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