If losing weight is a goal, getting on the bike is a great place to start. The nature of this activity makes it less likely that you’ll suffer from an impact-related injury.
But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be as simple as jumping on the bike and heading out for a ride.
To shed pounds and meet your weight goals, use these tips not only to burn the most calories but also to make your workouts as efficient as possible:
1. Don’t coast.
One of the reasons you’ll burn more calories per minute running than you will cycling is because of all the coasting. Whether you’re riding downhill, rolling up to a stop sign or just taking a break, all those times when you’re not pedaling lower your heart rate and kill calorie burning.
If you can keep your coasting to a minimum, you’ll be surprised at how many more calories you can burn on a one-hour ride.
2. Eat after your morning ride.
When you wake up in the morning, your body is in a semifasted state. If you can force yourself to jump on the bike shortly after rising without eating breakfast, you can encourage your body to burn more fat, depending on the length and intensity of your ride.
If you want to take it a step further, have a cup or two of plain green or black tea. This can improve your energy expenditure (calorie burn) and make a morning ride without any food in your system a little less daunting.
Just remember to have a good, hearty breakfast as soon as the ride is over.
3. Mix it up.
It can be easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re only cycling on the road. Riding the same routes at the same intensity can lead to a plateau when you’re trying to lose weight.
A good counter is to mix it up by trying a different discipline. Mountain biking and cyclo-cross, for instance, require short, explosive bursts of energy because of the terrain, which can mimic interval training.
This can also be ideal if you’re short on time. An hour on the trails will burn around 100 calories more than a steady-state ride on the road because of the increased intensity.
4. Go long.
To burn as many calories as possible, you’ll need to have a few moderate-intensity rides per week that last two hours or more. This means staying in your aerobic heart-rate zone, around 80% or less of your maximum heart rate.
While high-intensity intervals will give you more bang for your buck in terms of calories burned, they should only be done a few times per week and should last around one hour. On the other hand, the long ride (more than two hours) will burn more fat, and it can be done more frequently without increasing your risk of injury.
Just remember that longer rides will make you feel hungrier, so make sure you eat a healthy meal to limit your post-ride snacking.
5. Join a group ride.
If you ride alone all the time, motivation can become an issue. And when you’re trying to burn calories, getting out the door is half the battle.
Whether it’s a few training partners or a group ride organized by your local bike shop, getting together with other cyclists gives you another reason to get out on the road. As an added benefit, riding with other cyclists will push you to go harder and farther than you would on your own, especially if they’re a little faster than you.
6. Gels and energy bars are for racing.
Pre-packaged energy bars and gels are convenient to replenish energy stores when you’re out on a ride. The problem is that many of these options are denser and contain more calories than more natural food options.
Instead, tuck away a large banana (120 calories) or a half a peanut-butter sandwich (around 160 calories) in your jersey pocket instead of a PowerBar (240 calories). These options will save you from having to burn off the extra calories out on the road.
7. Be consistent.
Let’s face it: Getting on your bike once per week isn’t going to get it done. Burning calories is all about accumulation, and the days will need to turn into weeks for you to begin to notice a difference in your bottom line.
So instead of one slow ride for three or four hours each week, you would be fitter and burn more calories if you rode four or five days a week for an hour. It might sound like common sense, but the more often you get on your bike, the more calories you’re going to burn and the more weight you’re going to lose. The key is to be consistent and mix up your rides as much as possible.
8. Change up your commute.
Commuting to work by bike instead of opting for morning traffic on the freeway can be a great way to lose weight. However, repeating the same route or a too-short commute can make burning calories tough.
To maximize your calorie burn, have several routes of varying distances and terrains. While you won’t always have to take the long or the hard route, choosing it once or twice during the week could pay big dividends in the long run — even if it’s only an extra 15 or 20 minutes or one additional hill.