Recently I was talking to somebody about weight loss and the guy I was conversing with was telling me he would never do cardio based workouts in order to lose weight. I agree that the most effective programs revolve around a proper diet, but to never do cardio? Man, that’s a stretch. Food is your fuel, exercise is your spark when it comes to trying to become more trim. Case in point: about 7 or 8 years ago when my running regimen was in the toilet after having kids, I hopped on the scale and noticed with dismay that my usual 185 lb frame had ballooned to about 210. I was sporting a nice, aerodynamic dad bod and decided I’d better drop the extra pounds….y’know try to go from a keg to a six-pack as they say. The following link should clear up any confusion with what I’m talking about here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3A7eQshM90c . Fairly quickly, I was back running about 30-40 km per week and was able to keep this routine going for years. In all that time, however, my weight only went down to about 195. All of those kilometers over those years only amounted to about 15 lbs because I stubbornly refused to change my diet. I’m a big fan of fast food and just couldn’t kick the habit. I’m not going to say my cardio wasn’t worth it because otherwise I probably would have been heading north of 210 without a doubt. Nowadays my diet is slightly better and even with injuries keeping me down lately, it’s easier to maintain a healthier weight because of a better diet.
Either way, the person I was having this discussion with was saying that cardio based exercise like cycling and running build muscle and hence increase your weight instead. I had to stop and process that… It’s true that at a certain point there is not as much fat to burn off and that constant cycling and running would add muscle, which would increase weight. Could he be right? Was the heavyset, beer drinking, pot-bellied welder I was talking to standing on solid ground with his argument here?? Kelsey Mitchell, who recently won gold for Canada in Tokyo, has quads the size of tree trunks that could crush a human skull with ease. Her quads would certainly have built up in size due to training on the bike…..hmmmmm. Nope, still a ridiculous argument. If you’re at the point where you are not losing as much fat because you hardly have any, and then are putting muscle on instead, then I’d say that’s probably a good problem to have.
Still, it got me to thinking. When you look at an elite ultrarunner’s lean frame vs an Olympic sprinter’s muscled physique it begs the question, at what point does running lead to muscle growth or muscle loss? Both types of runners at the elite level have nearly no fat but vary significantly in the amount of muscle on their bodies. Due to this comparison, I’d say that anyone who has a fear of running too much and hence becoming too bulky has nothing to worry about, in the same way that lifting weights at the gym can either add bulk or increase tone. It’s an intriguing question, though, since obviously at a certain point your body would begin to metabolize muscle for fuel if you are running far enough. This being the case even though ultra runners are constantly feeding their bodies thousands of calories in order to sustain the long distances they run. I went down the rabbit hole on this and began really nerding out on the science of metabolism and how much energy muscle protein provides when training. I read an article by freelance writer, Ashley Lauretta where she quoted an exercise physiologist named Scott Saifer who said that a person has control over the outcome of how much muscle is built or lost in their legs but is subject to many factors like the availability of muscle glycogen, blood sugar, and fat. It’s an interesting article and, if you’re a bit of a geek like myself, I think you could possibly find it interesting. Check it out here: https://blog.mapmyrun.com/does-running-burn-muscle-or-build-muscle/
I doubt that many of these factors are in play for the majority of casual runners, and that just by getting out and exercising you’re doing a huge favor to yourself and your body by building a solid foundation for when you enter your twilight years. I believe that good health now, no matter how old a person is when they start or continue a routine is something you’ll thank yourself for down the road for sure. I still haven’t thanked myself, though, for getting that set of chiseled abs I referred to earlier because I still don’t have a set of chiseled abs, but I’ll keep on trying.