Cycling is the perfect way to exercise outdoors while maintaining a two-metre gap from other members of the public. Taking to the roads on two wheels has been proven to lift your mood, build muscle, and improve lung health. But can you lose weight from cycling?
According to British Cycling, many riders struggle to lose weight from cycling. However, being thinner can make you a faster cyclist.
The site says: “One of the best ways to get quicker on the bike, especially on hills, is to drop a few pounds.
“It is no coincidence that when Grand Tours hit the mountains, the riders leading over the cols are all whippet thin.
“However, for many riders who are diligently following a training plan, commuting daily, getting out for big weekend rides or suffering on the turbo, the scales refuse to move or even go in the wrong direction.”
Can’t figure out why you can’t seem to shift those extra pounds even though you’re cycling every day? What if the scales are tipping the other way?
Don’t worry, there are ways to reverse this and shed weight while cycling. We checked in with the experts for you.
Express.co.uk talks you through how to lose weight from cycling.
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Overestimate calorie burn
It’s easy to be hard on yourself and track every single calorie that enters your mouth, while underestimating how many you have burnt on your cycle-ride.
If you have a smart watch that calculates calorie burn, it is easy for you to figure out how hard you have worked.
If not, you need to know your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the number of calories you require to do absolutely nothing. There are plenty of online BMR calculators, try this one. https://www.calculator.net/bmr-calculator.html
Then, you need to know how many calories you are burning while on the bike. The British Cycling site breaks down exactly how to do this.
It says: “There are three main practical based methods for doing this:
“This first is using a power meter. One of the key bits of data a power meter produces is the amount of work done in a ride which is expressed in kilojoules.
“Kilojoules convert to calories at a rate of 4.186 kilojoules per calorie. However, because we are fairly inefficient at converting our food energy into pedal power, losing about 75 to 80 percent to heat production, the actual ratio is approximately 1:1.
“There is some variation from rider to rider due to differing levels of efficiency but, in general, the accuracy for calorie burn calculated from power meter data is within 5%.
“Next is using a heart rate monitor. The algorithms used to calculate calorie burn from heart rate have become increasingly sophisticated.
“The more hard data you can add, such as age, height, weight, gender, activity level, functional threshold heart rate (FTHR) etc, the more accurate the value you get will be.
“However, most heart rate based calculations are only 10-20% accurate.
“Finally are estimates based solely on metrics such as time, distance, age, weight and activity level. With no input as to how hard you are actually working, you’re looking at an accuracy of between 20-60% off the mark.”
It is tricky to know for sure if you are hitting the calorie deficit you need, and you don’t want to go any higher than a deficit of 500 calories. This will push your body into a starvation state.
Change your pace
You don’t need to cycle as quickly as you can every single time you hop on the bike, but you shouldn’t cycle at a low intensity every day.
The site explains: “A common mistake made by lots of cyclists who want to lose some weight is going out and riding at a low intensity in the so-called ‘fat burning zone’
“Yes, at lower intensities, our bodies will draw predominately on fat reserves for fuel but, because the effort is so low, total calorie burn will be low also.
“It doesn’t matter what form, fat, carbs or protein, those calories take, if the balance is negative, you will lose weight. So, if you are looking to lose weight, forget about the fat burning zone.
“This doesn’t mean going out and riding as hard as you can manage all of the time, solid steady-paced endurance rides are still important but don’t fall into the trap of making all of your riding one-paced.”
Hard training and calorie restriction do not go well together. If you are cycling at a higher intensity, you will need a lot of fuel.
If you don’t fill yourself with nutritious food and calories, the quality of your training will be compromised and you won’t see much progress.
The site explains that if you want to lose weight, you shouldn’t do it while focussing on high-intensity sessions.
Serious cyclists will try and lose weight during the ‘off-season’.
You need to fuel each and every session, depending on the ride you are doing.
The site says: “A big bowl of porridge is brilliant on the morning of a big ride but, if you’re not cycling that day or not doing a session until later in the day, it is not necessary.
“A less carbohydrate and calorie-heavy breakfast, such as an omelette or yoghurt with fruit, would be more appropriate.
“Conversely, if you are riding hard and the quality of the session is your priority, it is important that you take on sufficient carbohydrates.
“At the same time as you plan your training, plan your diet so that it is appropriate to the riding you are doing.”
Ditch the scales
We all know that muscle weights more than fat, so if the scales are going up and up you should still be losing fat.
According to British Cycling: “If you are exercising, especially if you are doing strength work, it is possible for your weight to remain static, or even go up, but you could still be losing fat.
“Conversely, if you’re being too aggressive with your dieting, the scales could be dropping but you could be losing valuable muscle mass.
“One of the simplest ways to check whether either of these scenarios apply to you is to either keep an eye on how your clothing is fitting or, if you want a bit more objectivity, take some measurements (chest, waist, hips and thighs). Monitor these along with your weight.”
Cut down on alcohol consumptions
Cycling Weekly has suggested that your nightly alcoholic fix could be making you gain weight.
The article explains: “Alcohol is one of the main factors that can contribute to unnecessary weight gain. It is usually a three-pronged attack, with highly calorific alcoholic drinks piling on empty calories.
“The alcohol content can also alters your senses on the situation and how much you have actually drunk, which can lead to greater consumption of alcohol itself.
“Which can also lead to binge eating which piles on additional calories as well. All three scenarios are a recipe for easy weight gain.”
Other medical reasons
If you have tried all of the above and still can’t seem to lose that extra weight, there may be something else going on.
Contact your GP and talk to them about your issue. You may find you are failing to lose or are gaining weight because of a medical issue.
A few examples include chronic stress, hypothyroidism, or polycystic ovary syndrome.
If you are taking medication, this could be the issues. Steroids and other medications may limit weight loss.