People ride their bikes for many different reasons, but one of the most common reasons people turn to cycling is to lose weight; but is cycling really the best exercise for fat loss, or does the adage "abs are made in the kitchen" ring true?
Well, as with most things in life, it's a balance of the two; yes, cycling is a wonderful exercise for fat loss, but without a healthy and well-balanced diet, you'll be literally spinning your wheels; pun intended.
As a coach with over 20 years of experience working with professional athletes, I will outline some of the most simple yet practical tips on losing weight effectively and, most importantly, safely.
Retaining muscle mass
Contrary to popular belief, although cutting calories does equate to losing body weight, it does NOT equate to losing body fat; this might surprise many people.
Generally speaking, when you cut calories, you actually lose muscle mass which is the last thing you want. Losing muscle mass can hurt your performance on the bike, meaning you're putting out less power and effectively "going backward"; simply put, you won't have the energy needed to power those fat-burning workouts.
The more muscle you have, the more effectively you can burn calories and fuel those long rides. To mitigate the loss of muscle mass, make sure you're consuming enough protein to help optimize and maintain your lean muscle mass.
Don’t forget your upper body
Now I know what you're thinking; isn't weight training bad for us cyclists? The simple answer is NO. As a matter of fact, weight training is NOT BAD for cyclists at all and is actually one of the best ways to boost fat loss, increase muscle mass, and improve your performance on the bike.
Working your upper body three times a week for as little as 30 minutes is more than enough to maintain and build muscle mass. Having a more muscular upper body will also improve your posture on the bike and reduce the chance of injury to your shoulders and lower back, areas that most cyclists have trouble with.
Keep your upper body exercises simple; some examples are:
- Bench Press
- Shoulder Press
- Bicep Curls
- Triceps pushdowns and
- Lat pulldowns
When first starting, 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps are more than enough; once you get stronger, you can adjust the weight, reps, and sets accordingly.
Recharge your battery
In today's day and age, when you read the sub-heading "recharge your battery," you'd be excused for thinking I was referring to your iPhone, but in this case, we're talking specifically about recharging your body's battery.
Consuming enough quality calories on your days off is one of the most critical factors in helping you lose fat. Refueling with carbs such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, and pasta is crucial because it provides your body with the energy to start repairing itself. Protein is also vital to muscle repair and recovery, and coupled together with some rest, you should be well on your way to smashing your next fat-burning workout.
Now, while we are talking about batteries, don't forget to keep your iPhone charged with an iPhone wireless charging case. But not just any charging case; make sure it's an iPhone compatible charging case to ensure your iPhone stays topped up during your longer rides. Use with a bike phone mount to keep your phone secure and within view on all your rides.
Forget about looking at the scales
Your eyes did not deceive you; you read right; looking at the scales is one of the worst habits you can get into when trying to lose fat. The primary reason is that your body weight fluctuates throughout the day, and without being able to put your finger on exactly why, looking at the scales is a waste of time.
Two of the main culprits of weight fluctuation are water and glycogen stores. I recommend using the scales once or twice a week just to keep an eye on your weight and help confirm you're heading in the right direction; checking the scales daily can crush your motivation if you let it.
Moderation is the key to fat loss
One of the biggest myths about losing fat is that you have to CUT all of your favorite foods from your diet plan; luckily, this is not the case. MODERATION is the key when it comes to losing body fat in a sustainable and sensible manner.
For me, it's donuts, croissants, and the daily cafe latte that I need to watch, but as long as I'm consuming them in moderation, I can still reach my goal of losing body fat. Simple tips like exchanging full cream milk for fat-free or putting less butter on your croissant are simple and effective ways to reduce your overall calories while still enjoying your favorite foods.
Don’t forget to ride your bike
Okay, so you've got your diet in check, your weight training and strength conditioning is on point, and your batteries are refreshed; now it's time to get on your bike and burn off those unwanted calories.
Cycling can burn up to 450 to 700 calories per hour regardless of your cycling experience or fitness levels. Now obviously, the further you ride, the more calories you'll burn, but in general, 1 hour a day is more than enough for your average cycling enthusiast. Be sure to mix your workouts up as much as possible. I like to keep my rides to an hour on the weekdays and longer on the weekends.
Remember, cycling is more than just an exercise to help you lose weight. Cycling can help clear your mind, introduce you to new friends, help you save money, and keep the earth green.