6 Tips for Supporting Your Cycling for Weight Loss Efforts


Cycling offers everyone a creative and fun way to get some exercise, and with countless ways to mix it up, it can keep you from getting bored.

However, exercise isn’t the only factor that plays a role in weight management. To increase those advantages of cycling for weight loss, focus on these other lifestyle habits, too. Here are some weight loss tips to support you in your journey.

1. Find Friends

Research shows that social support—especially having a workout buddy or two—dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll stick with your routine, and consistency is key to improving your fitness and shedding unwanted weight.

Cycling is such a social sport that, like herds of buffalo and flocks of geese, there’s even a special name for a group of us: a peloton. It doesn’t take more than a quick search to find local cycling clubs where you can meet riders of the same fitness and ability levels to join on rides.

Why Cycling for Weight Loss Is a Solid Strategy

2. Do HIIT Workouts

Your body burns fat through oxidation (part of breathing) and by metabolising (or using) the triglycerides stored in fat cells. As your body metabolises the triglycerides and burns the fat, you exhale the waste product (carbon dioxide) with every breath. Translation: When you’re breathing hard, you’re burning fat.

This is why rides that include short, intense efforts (a.k.a., high-intensity interval training or HIIT) are scientifically-proven fat burners. In a well-cited, head-to-head comparison from 2011, researchers from the University of Western Ontario found that runners performing four to six 30-second, full-throttle sprints three times a week burned more than twice as much body fat as those who ran for 30 to 60 minutes at a moderate, aerobic intensity.

To boost your fat burn, add HIIT training to your rides twice a week.

3. Switch Up Your Rides

On a weight-loss plateau? Time to try a different type of ride. Your body adapts to what you ask it to do, so if you always cycle the same route at the same intensity, you get used to it and stop adapting. Change it up to make progress in turning to cycling for weight loss.

Look at your weekly rides and plan for each one to be a bit different from the rest. Go long one day; hit the hills another; include steady efforts during which you’re working for 15 to 20 minutes at “race pace” (or right where you can just speak a few words at a time) in another. This strategy trains all your energy systems, so your body has to keep adapting and you avoid plateaus.

4. Eat a Healthy Diet

If you want to lose weight, healthy eating does play a part in it.

Research suggests that there’s no single best strategy when it comes to diet for weight loss. Whether you’re counting macros or choosing the well-studied Mediterranean diet—or simply making healthy choices throughout the day—you have to find an eating plan that works for you.

One thing to keep in mind: According to a 2022 study published in Obesity: The Journal of The Obesity Society, those who changed their weight and stuck with it did so by changing their attitude. The number-one reason they thought they were successful? Perseverance. They just kept trying until they found what worked for them.

Focusing on diet for weight loss doesn’t mean cutting out food groups or counting calories—you need food to fuel your cycling, after all. “Riders trying to lose weight will often not eat before or after a ride because they want to burn fat and lose weight,” says Leslie Bonci, R.D., sports nutritionist at Active Eating Advice and coauthor of Bike Your Butt Off. “Problem is, that nearly always leads to overeating at some point later in the day.”

Instead, time your normal meals to fuel your rides. For example, if you’re riding midday, try to split your lunch in half. Have half your sandwich half an hour before you go out and eat the rest when you’re done. You can do the same with breakfast.

"Have a small recovery snack after your ride refuel"

If you’re riding longer and/or harder, take food with you, so you can eat about 200 calories an hour while you ride. Have a small recovery snack like a glass of chocolate milk and a few almonds when you’re done to refuel and replenish, then eat as usual for the rest of the day."

“Eat three meals that are satisfying enough that you can go four to five hours until you eat again,” Bonci adds. “Portion your plate so you have half your calories from vegetables and fruits, a quarter from complex carbs, and a quarter from lean protein. Top with healthy fat like nuts, avocado, or olive oil.”

5. Focus on Sleep

If you’re not getting enough sleep, that may very well be the missing piece to your weight loss puzzle. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2020 concluded that the more you get adequate amounts of sleep and stick to a sleep schedule, the more successful your weight-loss efforts will be.

According to the study, you should aim for at least seven hours of sleep. Remember, your body needs rest to recover from riding, so it can also help you perform better too.

The Bottom Line on Cycling for Weight Loss

Again, people who are most successful at long-term weight loss have the patience to figure out what works for them. Managing weight can be a lifetime journey. No quick-fix diet has been shown to successfully keep weight off for the long term, but adaptations to the Mediterranean way of eating and the DASH diet, as well as others have all been shown to support a healthy weight.

What’s most important: If you like riding, stick with it no matter what the scale says. Rather than focusing on weight loss, set a few cycling goals that don’t have to do with metrics. And enjoy cycling for all the other benefits it offers too.

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