Sprinter Vs. Marathoner Body: 7 Key Differences

Sprinter Vs. Marathoner Body

Are you running to look good or for a race? This sprinter vs. marathoner body guide will detail all you need to know about body types, training, and nutrition.

Have you ever closely observed runners at a track meet and noticed that sprinters have different body types from long-distance runners such as marathoners? If so, you may have wondered if the different body types developed because of different kinds of training. Does the type of running create different body types, or is it the reverse? Let’s dive into this sprinter vs. marathoner body guide and learn more.

What Are Sprinter And Marathoner Bodies?

What are sprinter and marathoner bodies?
The best marathon runners have slim legs and light frames

Elite sprinters have the genetics to be strong, powerful, muscular, and fast. Sprinters are trained to run as fast as possible over short distances. Research indicates that the ideal sprinter is taller than average. For example, the fastest man alive, Usain Bolt, is 6’5″ and muscular, weighing around 207 pounds.

Also, sprinters need a strong mesomorphic body shape with more than 80% fast-twitch fibers. The fastest sprinters have fairly narrow hips and slim lower legs. Both of these traits give them a biomechanical advantage over competitors. Sprinters do plenty of heavy lifting, including squats, benches, deadlifts, and power cleans. This helps them to build a lot of muscle tissue. The larger the muscles runners have, the more speed they can produce. Sprinters need a powerful arm pump, core muscles, and a high knee thrust. These require well-developed hamstrings, quads, arms, glutes, back, shoulders, and chest. 

The best marathon runners have slim legs and light frames. In terms of height, elite marathon runners are small or medium height. Endurance runners have genetics that leans towards smaller and leaner, with minimal muscle growth. For example, former marathon record holder Patrick Makau Musyoki is 5’7″ and lean at 121 pounds. 

Marathon runners train with a lot of intervals. A solid training program will include weekly routines of intervals. Because marathon runners need high percentages of slow-twitch fibers and extremely high maximal oxygen uptake, they can more easily withstand dehydration. Their muscles also have a higher storage capacity that’s needed for glycogen.

Most elite marathon runners know that to be at the top of their field, they need to cut muscle mass. This will give relief to the joints and improve a runner’s running economy. Endurance runners aren’t usually lifting a lot of weights because building muscle mass will affect their running time. Too much muscle bulk causes premature fatigue because it uses up energy.

What Do Sprinter’s Bodies And Marathoner’s Bodies Have In Common?

What do sprinter's bodies and marathoner's bodies have in common?
While sprinters and marathon runners are strong athletes, the two sports are very different and require different body and muscle functions

Despite both being runners, sprinters and marathoners really don’t have much in common. The main thing is that neither of them is particularly bulky, and they both have relatively slim legs, but their muscle composition is still pretty different.

Sprinter Vs. Marathoner Body: The Differences

Is it possible that specific body types naturally perform better in different athletic activities, particularly when it comes to track and field? The answer is that both things are true. Different types of sports build different body physiques. However, ideal body types perform more efficiently in different kinds of running.

While sprinters and marathon runners are strong athletes, the two sports are very different and require different body and muscle functions. Essentially, the two sports require two different types of strength. 

Leg Muscles

Sprinters have thicker calves and quads. Their leg muscles also have longer muscle fibers. Their leg muscles also have longer muscle fibers. Sprinters have a distinct physiological advantage over marathon runners when it comes to producing high-speed contractions for running very fast for short distances. In distance runners, the leg muscles are shorter, and the quads and calves are leaner. 

Metabolic Pathways

Human bodies have three specific metabolic pathways that work to provide energy for running: 

  • Phosphagen system: This system is used for high-powered activities lasting less than 10 seconds.
  • Oxidative system: This system is for low-intensity exercise lasting for several minutes. 
  • Glycolytic system: This system is used for moderate-intensity exercise lasting up to several minutes.

Here is how different types of runners use the three systems. 

  • Sprinters mostly use the phosphagen system.
  • Middle-distance sprinters (for example, the 400 meters event) use the glycolytic system.
  • Marathon runners use the glycolytic system (5% of the time) and the oxidative system (95% of the time).  

Muscle Fibers

Muscle systems have two basic types of muscle fiber: 

  • Slow-twitch muscle fibers (Type 1 fibers)
  • Fast-twitch muscle fibers (Type 2 fibers)

Slow-twitch muscle fibers produce slow muscle contractions because they are slow oxidative fibers. These fibers are very fatigue-resistant. Alternatively, fast-twitch muscle fibers fatigue quickly because they produce fast contractions. 

Heart Rate

In a sprint, the runner’s heart rate can reach up to 90% percent of their maximum heart rate, and this heart rate can be sustained for only a short period. Marathon runners use about 70% of their available heart rate. However, elite marathoners can increase the intensity to sustain up to 80% of their maximum heart rate. 

Training Programs

Strength training programs of sprinters and marathoners are completely different. 

  • Marathon runners need to boost blood oxygenation.
  • Sprinters train on testosterone boosting, such as anabolic. This allows sprinters to recover more quickly and efficiently after they train intensely. 

Aerobic Vs. Anaerobic

Marathon running is aerobic, and sprinting is anaerobic. This means that more body mass can compromise the running economy of a marathon runner. In short, the bigger the engine, the lower you can expect the fuel economy to be.

Alternatively, sprinters need burses of speed. A good analogy is that fuel economy isn’t what sprinters need. They need horsepower. 


Sprinters and marathoners have different nutritional needs. Sprinters require more proteins, and marathon runners require more fats and carbohydrates. The food they eat impacts the type of bodies they develop. 

What’s Better About Sprinter Bodies?

There’s nothing necessarily better about one body type than the other. A lot of it is down to genetics since you can’t control your height or metabolism. A sprinter body is better for those interested in that running style. 

So, can a sprinter run a marathon? Yes, if they train adequately. However, they will not match the speeds set by elite marathon runners. 

What’s Better About Marathoner Bodies?

Again, there’s nothing necessarily better or worse when it comes to a marathoner body since training can only do so much. This body type is ideal for runners who like to participate in marathons. A marathon runner could certainly sprint, but they wouldn’t be able to match the sprinting speed of elite sprinters. You might be wondering why are marathon runners so skinny.

Who Should Try Have A Sprinter Body?

It should go without saying, but if you want to be a sprinter, then you should train appropriately to have a sprinter body. You can’t change your height, but you can do something about workout style and nutrition.

Who Should Try Have A Marathoner Body?

If you have no interest in running a marathon, you don’t necessarily need to train to have a marathoner body. Since marathon runners have less muscle mass, some people may think this body type is more appealing, but if you have no intention of running a marathon, training like a marathoner isn’t the only way to be slim and toned. 

FAQs About Sprinter Vs. Marathoner Body

Why Are Sprinters And Marathon Runners Physically Different?

A 2018 study on sprinters and long-distance runners noted different performance monitoring between the two groups. For sprinters, many fast-twitch muscle fibers are used for acceleration in a transient period. Alternatively, long-distance runners need a more significant number of slow-twitch muscle fibers to maintain their pace over a longer distance.

What Is The Ideal Body For A Sprinter?

Here is a quick snapshot of the ideal sprinter body:
1. Taller than average
2. Strong mesomorphic body shape
3. Fast-twitch fibers
4. Narrow hips
5. Slim lower legs

What Is The Ideal Body For A Marathon Runner?

Here is a quick snapshot of the ideal marathoner body:
1. Light frames
2. Slim legs
3. Small or medium height
4. Slow-twitch fibers
5. Muscles with high storage capacity for glycogen