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How Do Sprinters Get So Ripped?

author image Mike Samuels
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.
How Do Sprinters Get So Ripped?
A close-up of a sprinter's feet in the starting position. Photo Credit Zdenka Darula/iStock/Getty Images

Along with their blistering speed, sprinters are renowned for their impressive physiques, low body fat percentages and bulky muscles. Sprinters need to be ripped, as carrying excess fat mass can have a huge negative impact on speed, notes Marc Perry, strength coach and owner of Built Lean. To get ripped, sprinters eat a well-balanced diet and perform a high-intensity mixture of strength and cardio training.

It Starts in the Weight Room

Weight training is pivotal in a sprinter's training as it builds explosive power and burns fat. The weights workouts revolve mainly around variations of the power lifts and Olympic lifts. Snatches, clean and jerks, high pulls, hang cleans, back and front squats, overhead presses and pull-ups are sprinting mainstays. They may not compete in weightlifting events, but sprinters are renowned for their strength on these lifts. Compared to middle- and long-distance runners, there is much more emphasis on heavy lifting in a sprint-based routine. Expect to see two to three total-body strength sessions per week.

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It Continues on the Track

You may not be able to sustain maximum sprint speed for very long, but sprinting does have a much bigger impact on your metabolism than steady state cardio such as jogging. A typical sprint program mixes distances from 20 meters to 600 meters, according to athletics coach Brian Mackenzie. While these distances may not be far, a sprint program will create significant body fat losses, trainer Erick Minor observes. The higher the intensity of your cardio, the more fat you metabolize, adds nutritional scientist Layne Norton -- and cardio doesn't come much more intense than sprinting.

And the Kitchen Plays a Role, Too

Sprinters eat a high-protein diet -- with around 60 percent of the calories coming from protein. Meals are based around low-fat protein sources, such as chicken breast, lean beef and fish, and around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day is the target, notes elite sprinter Steven Benedict. As sprinting is a short duration activity, you don't need as many carbs to fuel performance as an endurance runner would, so 30 percent of your diet should come from carbs in the form of fruits and vegetables and the remaining 10 percent from healthy fats like almond butter and oils, Benedict adds.

Elite Sprinter vs. Average Joe

Elite level sprinters train for several hours each day and live the life of a professional athlete. While you may aspire to their physiques, with a day job, family and other commitments, you may not be able to get quite as ripped as the best sprinters do. Genetics also play a role, Minor notes. The best sprinters get to the top because of their work ethic, but also because they have good genetics that predispose them to higher levels of muscle mass and lower levels of body fat.

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