Why Are Runners So Skinny? (In-Depth Analysis)

By | June 4, 2022


Have you ever been to a marathon, or watched an athletic competition? If yes, you must have noticed that the runners who perform the best and cover the longest distance are skinny! What is the catch behind this?

One of the gravest mistakes that one can make while performing running exercises is harboring the idea that leg strength equates to having buffed-up muscles.

This article will answer your question about why some runners, despite their leg muscles undergoing so much wear and tear, are skinny.

Why are runners so skinny?

Whether a runner is going to be skinny or bulky shall depend on the way he is designing his training. For runners who are skinny, usually indulge in long runs. This way, their body depletes the reserves of glycogen and utilizes the fat as energy source. This gives vent to more endurance and efficient muscles.

Stated below are some of the factors that determine what kind of running and workout practice will cause your legs to pump up and how your legs will remain skinny.

Long and often workouts are the reason behind skinny body

The kind of training habit that a runner indulges in is extremely important in determining the effect that it has on the body. Runners who have been training for a long time, indulge in exercising for nearly 6 days in a week. Each training session lasts for nearly a couple of hours. This kind of training helps to eliminate the fat from the body instead of storing it.

During the first one and a half of the running, the glycogen is used up by the body as fuel. After the glycogen is depleted, the body starts consuming the fat for energy generation. This is when the fat starts getting used up and the legs of the runner get slimmer.

For runners who indulge in frequent running, the depleted glycogen is restored through food supplements. The runner’s muscles take up the carbohydrates from their bloodstream. Hence, a very limited amount of carbohydrate is converted to fat, thereby preventing the muscle from getting bulky.

If any runner practices this 5-6 times weekly, hardly comes the time when the body has enough glycogen reserves such that the carbohydrates are converted to fats. Therefore, running more than 5-6 times each week is a healthy practice.

The kind of training you indulge in makes a difference

Your leg muscles are made of two kinds of fibers: fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers. When you indulge in activities that are less intensive, your slow-twitch muscle fibers are triggered. On the contrary, fast-twitch muscles are put to use when a runner indulges in short activities.

Slow-twitch muscles have better endurance. They also take time to contract. Therefore, it can be said that they are more resistant to fatigue. On the other hand, the fast-twitch muscles can produce greater force as compared to slow-twitch muscles. This causes the muscles to get worn out easily.

When you run a marathon or indulge in any long endurance activity, you have to rely on your slow-twitch muscles, as they have more capacity for resistance. Hence, long-distance runners have leaner and more efficient muscles.

On the other hand, if you practice sprinting, your fast-twitch muscles are put to use.

As has been mentioned above, the key difference between sprinters and marathon runners lies in the kind of muscle fiber that they put to use during running. It has been seen that the sprinters, due to the kind of training they undergo, have more developed glutes and muscles as compared to marathon runners.

This is because sprinters, who cover a short distance within an even shorter time, have to dash and cover the distance within seconds, thereby subjecting their leg muscles to tremendous pressure. The largest body muscle, the gluteus maximus, provides stability to the lower back. It also supports the sacroiliac joints when the sprinter puts force to drift forward.

Sprinters not only have stronger leg muscles than marathon runners, but the former also has a better curvature in the lower back than the latter. This may be due to better developed muscle mass in the area of the glutes.

To sum it up, the more explosive the activity is, the more buffed up the athlete’s muscles will be.

Genetics is a deciding factor

Some runners, despite all the strength training, are unable to put on weight. This might be due to the genetic predisposition of the individual.

Your genes have a major role in deciding the kind of physique you will possess, despite spending hours at the gym (or the field, in this case).

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Why do marathon runners look so unhealthy?

Why do marathon runners look so unhealthy

Not all, but some marathon runners look unhealthy. This may be due to a number of reasons like overtraining, stress, and dehydration. Sometimes, the time when you see them also determines if they look dehydrated and unhealthy.

How can you expect a marathon runner to look full, round, and glowing after he has just finished running for hours in the scorching heat? Marathon runners have a tough time when they run the race.

The skinny runners, who take part in marathons, look unhealthy and sunken because they train for relatively long hours of time. Running for a long period also causes them to get dehydrated, thereby, causing them to look dry, sunken, and unhealthy.

Marathon training without weight loss

By now, you must have developed a clear idea about what causes you to get skinny when you train for a marathon. It is the imbalance between calories spent and calorie intake, the type of twitch-fiber that you put to use, and so on.

However, if you do not wish to get skinny as you train for a marathon, here are a few things that might help you stay in shape:

Consuming carbohydrates to make up for the calories that are lost during training. You need to include more and more fats, protein, and carbohydrates in your diet to make up for the calorie loss.

You should make it a point to include lifting in your exercise regime.

Do not overdo your training.

Food for runners trying to lose weight

When you are trying to maintain that lean shape, running does only half the work. The other half of the work is done by the kind of food that you consume.

How you consume the calories determines the amount of fat you burn, how your muscles undergo recovery, if your metabolism is boosted, and how you gain from the running routine.

Here are a few food items that will help you maintain lean shape as a runner:

  • Avocados
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Lean beef
  • Egg white
  • Frozen berries

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Wrapping up

Here are a few pro-tips that you need to keep in mind. You need to be cautious about the portion of food that you put on your plate. You should also try to eat slowly and avoid being distracted.

The idea that “thin is fast” is quite popular and it is this idea that has been urging runners to maintain lean shape. Cross country runners, marathon runners, etc. are always under the pressure to maintain so lean and athletic body.

Now that you are aware that marathon runners are skinny while sprinters are muscular, you should try and pick your battles wisely so that you can get into the desired shape. What kind of runner do you wish to be?



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