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You’ve just finished a killer workout. And now, as you chug your post-ride recovery drink, you are wondering how long it will be until those pounds come off.
Every site out there will tell you that it is “difficult to know just how many calories are burned while cycling.” And while that is true in the sense that it can be difficult to get a 100% scientific number, you can estimate the number of calories closely enough for you to manage your weight loss and fitness goals.
Furthermore, I’ll cover some ways to know exactly how your body is responding to your workout and diet regimen. And how you can optimize your workout to get the most out of every second.
A 200-pound man riding a leisurely pace on a mostly flat course would burn 370 calories in one hour of biking. You’ll find that the calorie burn increases with the weight of the rider and the intensity of the ride. Here are some riding intensities with their corresponding calories per pound estimates.
Calories(kCal) Burned Per Pound During 1 Hour Of Cycling
- Leisurely (Under 10 MPH): 1.81 Calories per pound per hour.
- Fitness 1 (10-12 MPH): 2.72 Calories/pound/hour
- Fitness 2 (12-14 MPH): 3.64 Calories/pound/hour
- Fitness 3 (14-16 MPH): 4.53 Calories/pound/hour
- Fitness 4 (16-19 MPH): 5.44 Calories/pound/hour
- Racing (Excess of 20 MPH): 7.26 Calories/pound/hour
Of course, there are a lot if things that can affect the actual caloric burn. If you are riding a hilly course, or spend the entire day fighting a headwind… well, your burn is going to be higher. The most accurate way to estimate caloric expenditure during road riding is to use a combination of heart rate monitors and wattage meters (which is what the pros do).
For simple estimations to measure your speed, I like to use a simple, affordable, bike speedometer. (I also track with my phone, but the bike-mounted speedometers tend to be slightly more accurate and require less battery).
Calorie Estimations Are More Accurate During Cardio Workouts
During a steady state exercise, there is a rather strong correlation between heart rate and the number of calories being burned. Oxygen is processed at a fairly steady pace, and it’s fairly easy to get a good idea of what is going on inside the human body.
Plus, we’ve studied thousands of endurance athletes through the years. All of this data helps.
With strength training, the heart rate may not peak very high even though the muscles are being taxed to their limit. Much of the caloric burn for weight training occurs after the workout in the ensuing 24 hours. With weight training, there is a not clear correlation between heart rate and calories, and it makes the estimations much harder to create.
Impact of Body Fact On Estimations
A body that has a higher percentage of muscle will burn more calories. Muscles are active, moving organs that need a constant supply of oxygen. For example, during a day of mostly sedentary activity, 1 pound of muscle will burn 7 to 10 calories. Conversely, a pound of fat will burn 2 to 3 Calories during a day of rest.
Without running in-depth testing, it is difficult to know exactly how many calories your body burns during a workout. And this is where the calorie estimations begin to break down.
For weight loss, the trick is to start off with a conservative Calorie calculation and then monitor your weight and — if possible — your body fat %, and increase your caloric uptake as necessary to protect your muscles from catabolism (where your body begins “eating” your muscles for energy)
For racing fitness, you use an opposite approach. Increase your calories by 10% over the likely calorie burn and watch your weight and body fat. If your body fat starts increasing, you will want to dial back the intake.
Unless you carry a lot of fat or are insanely fit, these calculations will likely be close enough for you to work with them.
Cycling Has Little Impact On Weight Loss
There is new research which points to the limited impact fitness can have on weight loss. Staying fit can help maintain muscle tone during weight loss, so it is an excellent idea. But when it comes to diet and exercise, it is clear that diet is the more important factor.
Cycling burns calories, but you will have to replace at least some of those calories with food (fainting is not typically a suggested weight loss strategy). In fact, a common mistake is to overdose on post-ride calories in the forms of protein shakes and power bars.
I find that drinking 20 ounces of water immediately following a bike ride, along with a small 300 calorie, high-protein snack gets me going again after most rides. However, I have to continue to push large quantities of water to keep from feeling the need to overeat. Sometimes timing your workout immediately before a scheduled mealtime can let you fight the post ride cravings with sufficient food. The trick is to keep an accurate count of the incoming calories.
As always, the types of calories you eat matters. High sugar foods that spike your insulin cause your body to store that excess energy as fat. Conversely, foods that create a lower insulin spike tend to get prioritized for energy use by the muscles.
But, the bottom line is, you can only burn a finite number of calories on the bike. Eventually, you have to shower, go to work and chase the kids. There is a limit to what you can physically burn. And — absent living on the bike for hours every day — the caloric burn from your workout will play a small role in the overall weight loss.
However, there are other weight loss benefits of cycling. So keep reading…
Cycling To Reduce Insulin Resistance
(How to unlock fat loss through cycling)
One of the big challenges to weight loss is insulin resistance. In order for your cells to process sugar, they need insulin to “unlock the door” and let the sugar into the cell.
A sedentary lifestyle tends to lead to greater insulin resistance and can prevent your cells from properly using sugar. Your body produces more insulin in order to try to get the sugar processed — leading, ultimately, to more fat storage (and maintenance of existing fat)
It has been well documented that fitness increases insulin sensitivity. This can decrease the amount of insulin in your body, and let the other hormones go to work unlocking your body’s fat storage.
So while you might be disappointed by the number of calories you burned DURING the workout, there are still these “hidden benefits” where aerobic exercise REBALANCES your hormones, unlocking fat loss.
When you combine exercise with whole foods and intermittent fasting, it is my experience that you can unlock a powerful combination that melts the fat away.