Most of us wish we could lose some weight, in fact over 30% of adults in the whole world are overweight. As a doctor, I am always keen to educate people on the benefits of weight loss, as well as the best ways to do it. As a keen cyclist who spends many hours each week on my bike, I wanted to take a look at the benefits of cycling. So, is cycling good for weight loss?
Cycling can be a great way to lose weight, with the average cyclist losing 6.5 pounds per month when they are focusing on weight loss. Cycling burns 350 calories per hour and is a low-impact activity, meaning you can continue it into later life and reduce the impact on your joints as you exercise.
So, cycling can be a good way to lose weight, but are there any negatives to losing weight through cycling, and how much cycling do you actually need to do to be losing weight? I take a look at these as well as what to do if you aren’t losing weight through cycling in the rest of the article.
Is cycling good for weight loss?
First things first. While I am a qualified doctor, it is important for me to remind you that I have not been able to properly assess you before giving this advice. This page has general guidance on the benefits of cycling and weight loss.
If you are concerned or plan to start a new exercise regime, it is important to seek formal medical advice first. This is especially important if you have any underlying health conditions.
How does cycling help you lose weight?
Many people will only think of cycling as a hobby for children, but if you are looking to lose weight, cycling can make a great choice, even as an adult.
Any form of exercise, cycling included, can be good at helping to balance the scales. Cycling is particularly good at burning calories as it is low intensity. This means that you can cycle for a long period of time without putting too much strain on your body. The longer you can exercise without wearing yourself out the more calories you can burn, and thus the more weight you can lose.
On top of this, cycling is also good at burning a lot of calories in a short amount of time, by implementing certain types of cycling (for example high intensity training), you can burn hundreds of calories in a short 20 or 30-minute workout.
Why is cycling a good way of losing weight?
1: Cycling is a low-impact activity
Cycling is a low-impact sport, this means it does not put as much strain on your body as other forms of exercise such as running.
Low-impact sports are generally better for you in the long run, resulting in fewer joint issues as well as allowing you to continue these sports into later life.
Using a low-impact sport to lose weight is particularly important if you are overweight, this is because the extra weight your body is carrying will put more strain on your joints compared to someone who is not overweight.
2: Cycling can be done all year round
Some sports, for example football or cricket are good ways of being more active and sociable, however, these are limited to a certain time of year (for example most cricket teams will stop during winter).
Cycling on the other hand is a sport that can be done all year round. With the ability to use either an exercise bike or tools such as Zwift, cycling is now available no matter the weather.
This can be very useful, as it means that you can start your weight loss journey no matter what time of year it is, and also you do not have to worry about losing your motivation over a long period where you aren’t able to do your usual exercise regime.
3: Cycling can be done for a long period of time
Cycling is a good way to lose weight because you are able to do long sessions on a bike with minimal training. This means that quite quickly into your cycling regime, you can be doing long cycling sessions that burn a lot of calories and help you to lose weight.
On top of this, while riding a bike you can also adjust your speed if you find yourself getting tired out more quickly than you expected, it also means you are able to plan activities after a cycle, as you can adjust the intensity of the workout if required to leave yourself energy for later in the day.
4: Cycling can be built into your daily life
Cycling is also a good way to exercise as it can be built into your daily life, limiting the amount of time you need to set aside for exercise after a busy work day.
First of all, you can try and include cycling into your daily commute. For some people, this can add an hour a day of exercise into their routine, easily enough to have an impact on their weight provided other factors such as their diet is also well controlled.
On top of this, you can also include cycling in the ways you relax after work or at the weekends. I for one love bikepacking (camping with a bike) and have spent many nights out cycling, not even realizing that I was exercising.
5: Cycling can help to tone your muscles
Cycling is not only good at burning calories and thus losing weight, but it is also a great way to build the muscles in your legs. Building muscle can be a good way to make the larger areas of your body (for example your thighs) look more toned, and also can help to remove the appearance of cellulite.
If you want to take a look at the way that cycling can help reduce your cellulite, take a look at my article here.
Finally, cycling can be a great way to stay sociable. Even if none of your current friends are regular cyclists, there are many different groups out there that you can join for a group ride.
This is a great way to ensure you have someone holding you accountable for your exercise, who will be able to notice when you skip a session and get on your case!
What are the disadvantages of cycling to lose weight?
1: Cycling can be an expensive hobby
Bikes can be expensive, with some riders spending over £2000 on their road bikes. In reality, when you look at this cost being spread out over the lifespan of a bike, cycling is not as expensive as it first seems, however it does not make it any more accessible when there is such a high upfront cost.
2: Bike storage can be hard
If you live in an inner city or do not have any outside space, storing a bike can be difficult. Certainly, in my small flat in London, I have had to be a bit creative with where I store my bike.
On top of this, many of the same places that do not have an outside space to store a bike, also have higher rates of bike theft. This means that storing your bike outside on the street can be risky.
3: There is a risk of accidents
Many new riders are, quite understandably, concerned about the risk of accidents. This is especially the case if you plan to cycle on the road. It is important to ensure you wear a helmet, as well as have appropriate lights and a visible bike kit to make yourself as safe as possible.
4: Other sports can be more effieicent
While cycling is a good way to burn calories, certain sports such as running are able to burn more calories per hour than cycling does. This means that if you were to cycle or run for the same amount of time each week, you would burn more calories by running instead of cycling.
However, it is important to remember that often people can cycle for longer than they can run, and so you may find you actually burn more calories each week by cycling than you would by doing another more intense sport.
If you want to take a more in-depth look at whether or not cycling or running would be a better option for you, you can take a look at my article here.
Can cycling lose weight fast?
I was keen to find out how much weight cyclists were actually losing from riding a bike, so I asked a large group of cyclists how long they had taken to lose weight from cycling.
Of the cyclists I spoke to, some had been cycling for as little as 2 months and some as long as 2 years. Across the group, the fastest weight loss was by a cyclist who lost 90 pounds in 1 year. If you take a look at the graph below, you can see the results of the cyclists I spoke to.
By cycling to lose weight, you can lose between 50 and 60 pounds after 1 year of cycling. This is the equivalent of 25kg over the year.
When looking at a month-by-month basis, the cyclists on average lost 6.5 pounds per month of cycling. This will obviously depend on the amount you are cycling as well as other factors such as your diet but can show you what the average cyclist is losing when trying to lose weight.
How much cycling to lose weight?
Cycling burns calories
As we’ve already established, weight loss comes down to calories in and calories out (provided you are healthy and don’t have an underlying health condition). Cycling helps to increase the number of calories you burn each day, helping to tip the scales in your favor.
You need to burn 7700 calories to lose a kilogram (2 pounds)
In order to lose a kilogram of fat, you need to burn 7700 calories. Harvard University has done some research into the number of calories you burn while cycling and found that the average cyclist riding at 10-12 mph will burn seven calories a minute.
If we look at this simply, this means that the average person will need to do 1100 minutes of cycling to lose 1kg (2 pounds). This is presuming that they are cycling at 10-12 mph and are changing nothing else about how they are eating or exercising.
While this might sound a bit daunting, this means that you can cycle for 4 and a half hours each week and lose 2 pounds a month, even by changing nothing else about your life.
Cycling faster will burn more calories
The number of calories you burn will also be dependent on the speed at which you are cycling. If you take a look at the table below, you can see some examples of the different calories burnt per hour when cycling at different speeds
|Speed||Calories burnt per hour|
You can take a more in-depth look into how fast you can lose 10kg by riding a bike in my article here.
How far should I be cycling to lose weight?
Some people prefer to think about weight loss in terms of distance cycled rather than time spent cycling. This can be more motivational as it can encourage you to cycle faster, knowing that your exercise will be over if you can keep cycling at a faster pace.
Using the same data that we used above, we can see that in order to lose 1kg by cycling, you will need to cycle for around 1100 minutes, at an average of 11mph (10-12mpg) this is equivalent to 200 miles.
200 miles is the same as 325km. Using this we can see how many kilometers you need to be cycling each day to lose 1 kilogram.
|Number of weeks to lose 1kg||Number of kilometers cycled each day if cycling for 3 days a week||Number of kilometers cycled each day if cycling for 4 days a week|
As you can see, aiming for your weight loss over a longer term such as 20 or 40 weeks makes the amount of riding you need to do each week much more feasible.
Which cycling is good for weight loss?
Different types of cycling will lose weight faster
In general, cycling is a good way to lose weight, however, there are multiple different types of cycling, some of which are better than others for burning calories.
For example, I like to go bikepacking, this involves long-distance cycling and carrying lots of gear. I recently wrote an article on how many calories you will burn a day while bikepacking and found that your body will burn 4509 calories per day or 608 calories per hour while on a bikepacking trip.
As you can see, this is far more than you would expect based on the calories burnt per hour we looked at above. If you are looking to lose weight from cycling, there are two main methods you can use.
Long distance cycling
The traditional method for fat or weight loss from cycling is long-distance cycling. This involves cycling for very long distances or times at a moderate pace (think of a pace that leaves you a little breathless but where you can still keep a conversation going).
This is good for burning a high amount of calories per session as you are able to maintain the exercise for a long period of time.
Recently, new exercise regimes that focus on high-intensity training (HIT training) have come into favor. In fact, some studies show that they are more efficient at burning fat than the traditional long-distance cycling methods.
These high-intensity training regimes burn more fat than prolonged low-intensity training. HIT Training involves cycling as hard as you can for a short burst of time (think 20 or 30 seconds), before taking a minute of very slow exercise as a rest period. This cycle is then repeated multiple times.
For an example of a HIT Bike training regime, take a look at this plan from anytime fitness.
I’d suggest mixing both of these methods together, with regular HIT sessions throughout the week with a longer ride at the weekends.
You can take a look at the benefits of high-intensity training in my article here.
Where do you lose weight first when cycling
It is important to clarify that there is no such thing as targeted fat loss. This means that the place where you lose fat is not decided by the area of your body that you are exercising.
Your body uses fat stores as it sees fit when it needs the energy. The way your body chooses what fast to burn first is typically defined by your genetics and if you are male or female.
This is the same reason that men typically put on weight first around their tummy and women put on more weight around their thighs and bum.
On the plus side, this does still mean that you can burn thigh fat, leg fat, and excess bum fat as you cycle, but not necessarily because you are working those areas.
If you want to look into targeted fat loss in more detail take a look at my article on the effect of cycling on thigh size.
Why can’t I lose weight cycling?
So what do you do if you find that you aren’t losing weight by cycling? In general, cycling should help you to lose weight, but there are a few key points that can mean you don’t lose weight as fast as you are expecting.
1: You are not cycling fast enough
We’ve established that the faster or longer you cycle, the more calories you will burn. It is important to make sure that you are pushing yourself enough to lose a significant amount of calories otherwise the time you are putting into cycling may be wasted.
If you are cycling at a speed lower than 10 miles per hour, you will find that you are burning very small amounts of calories with each ride.
If you are having trouble fitting cycling into your life, try swapping out your commute with a bike ride which can help you to increase the amount of exercise you are doing significantly.
2: You are eating too much
I’ll say it again, when trying to lose weight it is really important to monitor your calories in and your calories out. Cycling can be a great way to burn a lot of calories, but you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.
It’s much quicker to eat 200 calories of pizza than it is to lose 2000 calories through cycling.
It is also important to ensure you are eating the right type of food. Some foods can be very high in calories, making losing weight harder. As well as this, you need to ensure you are getting a balanced diet with a good amount of protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients to ensure your body is best placed to exercise.
3: You might be putting on muscle
While cycling can be a good way to lose weight, it also works the muscles in your legs quite a lot. Gaining muscle in these areas can make the scales look like you aren’t losing any weight, when in fact you are losing body fat and gaining muscle in its place.
Lots of people will tell you that muscle weighs more than fat, and this is true! If you are concerned this is the case, it might be worth monitoring your waistline or thigh size with a tape measure, as this will show if you are losing fat.
If you are interested in gaining muscle through cycling, take a look at my article here.
4: You might not be resting enough
People often talk about exercise and diet when trying to lose weight, but ensuring you are giving your body enough time to rest and recover is really important.
Trying to exercise without a good amount of rest will mean that you are not as efficient while cycling, this means you won’t be able to cycle for as long or as hard, and this can impact how many calories you burn with each session.
On top of this, ensuring that you get a good amount of rest will help your body to recover in between riding sessions, which can really help you to increase the frequency of your rides.
As you can see, cycling to lose weight can be a great option. However, no amount of exercise alone will cause you to lose weight, you need to make sure that you are focusing on all areas of your life, such as your diet to really lose weight in the best way possible.
If you are looking to get more fit and healthy through cycling, take a look at my article on the impact of cycling on type 2 diabetes which can be found here.