Cycling for Weight Loss
Tips & Advice On Getting Started
Thinking of riding your way to weight loss? Cycling is an extremely effective and popular exercise that significantly improves endurance and fitness. As a bonus, it can help you shed the pounds along the way.
If you’re a novice to the biking world, hopping on the saddle is a daunting thought. To help you find your wheels, we’ve got some tips and tricks for getting started.
Is cycling good for weight loss?
First things first, let’s delve into why cycling is an effective tool to help you achieve your weight loss goals.
- Great cardio workout – boosts lung and heart health
- Improves blood flow
- Burns calories
- Builds muscle strength
- Lowers stress levels
- It’s adaptable
- Increases overall fitness levels1
Exercise, in general, has an overwhelming amount of benefits – not related to weight loss alone. This includes reducing your risk for serious illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.2 It’s not just physical health – increasing your activity levels benefits mental health at the same time. Cycling is one way to do this.
Cycling and weight loss tips
While it’s important to be aware of the overall benefits, if weight loss is your goal, getting on the bike can help you get there. There are many types of exercise that will help you lose weight and fat – but you need to ensure you’re maximising effectiveness.
Unsure where to start? Here’s some handy advice:
1.Keep muscle mass in mind
While you can’t target fat loss, cycling is a lower body exercise, building muscle in your legs. Therefore, you can run the risk of losing muscle volume in your upper body.
Avoid this by carrying out some strength training all year round. Aim for at least twice a week, keeping up with your cycling at the same time. Even as little as 20 minutes can go a long way!3
Building muscle will not only help you burn fat, but in turn increase your metabolism – so it’s a win-win all round.
2. Don’t rely on cycling alone
It’s important to be aware that biking is a tool to assist in your weight loss goals. It will be most effective when carried out in conjunction with other methods. These include:
- Following a healthy diet
- Being in a calorie deficit (a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day is sufficient for weight loss)4 exercise can aid this, but it will largely come from how much you eat
- Eating more protein
- Cutting back on alcohol consumption
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Reducing the amount of refined carbs and sugar you eat5
Essentially, if you’re in a calorie surplus, cycling alone won’t help you lose weight. However, if you improve your diet and general lifestyle, it’s a handy tool.
3. Make every journey count
Adding cycling to an already busy lifestyle can be easier said than done. So, try and make it part of your routine.
For example, where possible, cycle rather than taking the car or public transport. This could be on the morning commute. While not always practical, cycling to certain places or events can help make you more active and cement cycling as part of your daily lifestyle. This can be particularly effective if you’re short on time and thus find it hard going to the gym or doing exercise.
4. Choose the complex routes
Taking the longer, or hillier, route can make cycling more difficult and help you rack up more miles. This will not only allow you to burn more calories, but also drastically improve fitness and endurance levels.
5. Ride at a moderate pace – often
When it comes to weight and fat loss, you need to increase your heart rate (ideally between 68 and 79 percent of your max heart rate).6 The goal is to set a pace that leaves you out of breath, and your heart rate increased, but that you can maintain.
Aim for between half an hour to an hour at a time, two to three times a week.
6. Gradually increase frequency
Don’t push yourself too hard at first – build up your fitness levels. The goal is to cycle as often as possible, but go at your own pace, rather than comparing yourself to others. Be realistic with yourself and ensure you take things slow.
For example, cycling for 20 minutes at a time is an improvement – and better than not doing anything at all. Give yourself time to build up your endurance, without being too hard on yourself. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of demotivating yourself.
7. Give fasted training a go
Some studies show that exercising before eating breakfast can be effective in kick-starting weight loss. This is because your body is forced to turn to fat stores for energy as there’s no food stores.7 Going for a cycle in the morning is also a good idea for those who are short on time during the day.
Bear in mind this is not the only time that cycling is effective. Just because it has worked for some people, doesn’t make it right for you. The key is to cycle when and as often as you can – whatever time you do it will be effective.
8. Ensure you’re fuelling your cycles
A bike ride will burn calories and require your body to work hard – therefore you need to ensure it’s adequately fuelled. Eating too few calories will drain your energy levels and make your cycles less effective. For this reason, ensure your calorie deficit is moderate, not extreme. Also, ensure you’re eating the right kinds of foods to give you energy, e.g. slow release carbohydrates, such as whole grains.
9. Mix it up
Variety is the spice of life, after all. Following the same route, in the same way, every single time will likely cause you to get bored. So, change it up! You could do a shorter cycle alongside other types of exercise some days, or take a different route each week, for example.
10. Get a buddy
If you’re struggling with motivation, cycling with others is a great way to boost it. It makes a bike ride a social activity and less of an exercise obligation. If you’re looking to improve the fitness levels of the whole family, a weekend bike ride is both a fun and good activity.
11. Set realistic goals
How much weight you’ll lose will depend entirely on your own body, activity levels, metabolism etc. Realistic weight loss, a ‘safe rate’, is defined as 0.5kg to 1kg (lb to 2lb) per week.8 The amount of calories needed for this will vary person to person.
Losing weight too quickly is not only unhealthy, but difficult to maintain. Therefore, you need to set realistic goals. Remember, particularly if carrying out resistance training, fat loss can’t always be shown on the scales.
12. Keep pushing yourself
Progression and continuous pushing is key – don’t get complacent and fall into a stagnant routine. You may notice you can go for longer, or find the activity less challenging, as your fitness levels increase. So, ensure you change up your training to accommodate this.
13. Go for high intensity, high energy
If your effort is low, it’s likely the total calorie burn will also be low. This means the exercise won’t be as effective and results will be slower. Instead, focus on high intensity cycles, giving them a lot of effort. This will help you burn fat more effectively.1
14. Try interval training
High intensity interval training, also known as HIIT, is an extremely effective way to burn more calories and fat. This can be done on the bike by alternating high intensity intervals with low intensity (rest) intervals. For example, this could be cycling at a faster pace, or up a big hill, before going along a flat surface at a slower pace.
15. Enjoy it
You’ll keep up the momentum and frequency if you enjoy what you’re doing. Ensure it doesn’t feel like a chore – but an enjoyable activity that benefits both mind and body. Cycling will help you get outside in the open, see some amazing views and explore new routes (all while burning calories). But if it isn’t for you, there are plenty of other exercises out there that might suit you better.
Stick with it, keep pushing yourself – and start seeing the results.