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  1. #1
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    Tips for cycling to burn calories...?

    There have been a lot of discussions on nutrition, motivation, and plenty of other weight loss topics, plus things like hydration and such, that people need a good understanding of to cycle. I'm hoping most of us can benefit from talking about how different ways of biking affect the calorie "burn" rate. What can we do to make our cycling as energy inefficient as possible, without sacrificing comfort?

    My tips are a bit vague, but come down to this: knowledge is power. Get a heart rate monitor. Ideally, get a GPS, and a heart monitor that can talk to it. If you've got a GPS that can get track logs into your computer, download a free piece of software called SportTracks. Among other things like making maps and elevation plots for your rides, it will tell you how many calories you burned. ( If you know this for the exercise you do, and your "base" daily caloric needs, suddenly you know how many calories to eat in a day. )

    But I'm hoping people have more specific info. Going faster burns more calories than moving more slowly, because you're working harder, with some obvious exceptions. On the other hand, it makes more sense to think of calories per hour, not per mile. I'm guessing you burn more energy going 10 miles in one hour, than in two hours, though. Hills are hard work, and reward your waistline, but are you better off climbing 1,800 vertical feet on a ride, or putting that energy into more time on flat ground?

    How closely is your heart rate correlated with your calorie burn rate? Does it make sense to try and hold yourself in the "fat burning zone" ( 60 to 70 % )? It feels lazy to me; I enjoy pushing myself up to the "red line zone" and then backing down, trying to stay anaerobic for a few minutes, down to aerobic, then back up and down. Sometimes I climb hills for this reason. I just feel like I've had a better workout, and the flood of endorphins means I'm never too sore. My resting rate is down to somewhere in the low 50s, so this isn't terribly dangerous in my case ... but I'd suggest that anybody who wants to push their heart like this should ease into it.

    Any more tips for people who want to get the most exercise out of their bike?

  2. #2
    Degenerate Grouch xray1978's Avatar
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    Good question, I wish I had specific answers for you.

    Here is my logic, Get a heavy bike with and upright seating position and ride it a lot. Being a heavy bike makes you work harder, having a less aero position increases wind resistance thus make one work harder than say the same person would work on a nice light road bike with drops. When I first started trying to lose weight I used a electra beach cruiser with one speed. The bike was comfortable, heavy, and as aerodynamic as a twice used brick. I just rode and rode that thing and ate good foods and managed to lose 50 lbs pretty quickly. I learned to embrace the wind and hills instead of riding on mostly flat ground. The simple fact is, that is if I am remembering my physiology correctly, so long as you have a caloric deficiency every day you will lose weight so long as you don't drop caloric intake to much. So say you should eat 2000 k/cal per day to maintain weight if you drop it to 1800-1700 k/cal your body won't think it is starving and you will drop fat not muscle.

    God knows I am not a physiologist so take it for what it is worth.

  3. #3
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    What can we do to make our cycling as energy inefficient as possible, without sacrificing comfort?
    To lose weight, you actually don't want your cycling to be energy efficient. Your body burns fewer calories for the same effort when you're more efficient.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    My tips are a bit vague, but come down to this: knowledge is power. Get a heart rate monitor. Ideally, get a GPS, and a heart monitor that can talk to it. If you've got a GPS that can get track logs into your computer, download a free piece of software called SportTracks. Among other things like making maps and elevation plots for your rides, it will tell you how many calories you burned. ( If you know this for the exercise you do, and your "base" daily caloric needs, suddenly you know how many calories to eat in a day. )
    Most programs like this grossly exaggerate your calorie burning and are very inaccurate. The best that comes close, is a power meter, with close to a 1:1 correlation between watts and kcals. I do understand this is an expensive option, and I don't actually own one myself. Just thought I'd lay that out there. Of course, I suppose a HRM is better than nothing, but not if you rely on it for any sort of accuracy re: kcals burned.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    But I'm hoping people have more specific info. Going faster burns more calories than moving more slowly, because you're working harder, with some obvious exceptions.
    You have to look at rates per hour. If you burn 1,000 kcals in one hour of hard cycling (80% HRmax), you still haven't burned as much if you go easier (65% HRmax) for two hours and burn 750kcals per hour.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    On the other hand, it makes more sense to think of calories per hour, not per mile.
    Exactly.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    I'm guessing you burn more energy going 10 miles in one hour, than in two hours, though.
    Not exactly. Just because you double the time does not mean you halve the caloric burn rate. Maybe you only take it to 65% instead of 50%: then you're burning more than you did in one hour.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    Hills are hard work, and reward your waistline, but are you better off climbing 1,800 vertical feet on a ride, or putting that energy into more time on flat ground?
    You're always better off doing more time. Over time, you'll burn more kcals (assuming you're not avoiding hills to add on just 10 more minutes). If you can do time + hills... great.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    How closely is your heart rate correlated with your calorie burn rate?
    It's not. At all. Too many other factors that effect your HR. Besides, HR is a symptom (of the need for oxygen), not a cause.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    Does it make sense to try and hold yourself in the "fat burning zone" (60 to 70 %)? It feels lazy to me;
    If you have the time, yes: stay in the zone. You'll burn much more fat. When you get too high, you burn more muscle and your overall weight doesn't drop as fast. Your fat-burning engine isn't run as much. Yes, it does feel "lazy". Sorry.

    Quote Originally Posted by xray1978 View Post
    Good question, I wish I had specific answers for you.

    Here is my logic, Get a heavy bike with and upright seating position and ride it a lot. Being a heavy bike makes you work harder, having a less aero position increases wind resistance thus make one work harder than say the same person would work on a nice light road bike with drops. When I first started trying to lose weight I used a electra beach cruiser with one speed. The bike was comfortable, heavy, and as aerodynamic as a twice used brick. I just rode and rode that thing and ate good foods and managed to lose 50 lbs pretty quickly. I learned to embrace the wind and hills instead of riding on mostly flat ground.
    It is possible to work too hard. You'l still burn fat, though not as much. When you go hard, your body starts getting its energy from the protein stores in your muscles, not the fat we're trying to lose.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    The simple fact is, that is if I am remembering my physiology correctly, so long as you have a caloric deficiency every day you will lose weight so long as you don't drop caloric intake to much.
    True. But I believe it takes a couple days to get your fat-burning engine turned on. It won't happen just over-night. And it won't shut down over one night, either. It'll keep plugging away for a couple days, even if you stop your diet/exercise.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    So say you should eat 2000 k/cal per day to maintain weight if you drop it to 1800-1700 k/cal your body won't think it is starving and you will drop fat not muscle.

    God knows I am not a physiologist so take it for what it is worth.
    Working harder is not necessarily the solution. Working longer is. And, if you want to work harder, just go faster, and throw in some hills (like you do).

    Visit The C-Blog : the blog about cycling.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    First, thanks for the very detailed answers! This has already cleared up some of the things that I was wondering about, and will help me "tune" some of my rides to use up more energy. I hope you don't mind some clarifying questions?

    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68 View Post
    Most programs like this grossly exaggerate your calorie burning and are very inaccurate.
    Hmmm. Can you elaborate on this at all? I don't doubt what you're saying - it would explain why SportTracks consistently reports about 3x the number of calories burned, versus the CatEye computer I had installed when I bought the bike. I had assumed this was because I weigh more than average ( probably in the ballpark of 220 to 230 lbs, but I don't have a scale ), which the software knows, but the bike computer doesn't. I'd also hoped that since it has other info available to it, mainly the altitude ( I'm going slowly, because I'm going up hill, or quickly through a descent ), meant that its numbers would be much more accurate. Of course, a little bit of wishful thinking may have been involved there...

    My thought has been that these numbers won't be 100 % accurate, but are the best guideline I have. So I've been adding them to my guess at my base metabolic rate, and eating as close as I can get to 1,000 fewer kcals per day. It's been working - I can fit comfortably into an XL instead of XXL jacket at this point - but if the software is always or even usually too high, it sounds like I could be doing better.

    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68 View Post
    The best that comes close, is a power meter, with close to a 1:1 correlation between watts and kcals. I do understand this is an expensive option, and I don't actually own one myself. Just thought I'd lay that out there. Of course, I suppose a HRM is better than nothing, but not if you rely on it for any sort of accuracy re: kcals burned.
    They're a bit beyond my price range, or at least that's what a quick Google tells me. I think I'm going to be adding a cadence monitor to my bike, though, and the one that talks to my GPS unit is pretty affordable. This will at least tell me my glide ratio for a ride ... I'm sure it's not simple figuring out how to "dampen" the calories-burned estimate based on this, but, if nothing else, pushing that number down will act as a sort of carrot.

    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68 View Post
    You have to look at rates per hour. If you burn 1,000 kcals in one hour of hard cycling (80% HRmax), you still haven't burned as much if you go easier (65% HRmax) for two hours and burn 750kcals per hour.
    Thanks for confirming this! I'll still plan for some periods of intense exertion, but I'll make a point of spacing them out, and staying in the "fat burning" zone in between. It feels like rest, and sometimes that's great on longer rides, which offer more benefit here.

    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68 View Post
    If you have the time, yes: stay in the zone. You'll burn much more fat. When you get too high, you burn more muscle and your overall weight doesn't drop as fast. Your fat-burning engine isn't run as much. Yes, it does feel "lazy". Sorry.
    And muscle burns more calories when you're resting than other types of tissue, right? So the number of kcals you need just for surviving, will go down as you lose muscle mass, right? Meaning I should be especially mindful of this? ( Also, any thoughts on whether protein drinks help here, before or after a long or hard ride? )

    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68 View Post
    Working harder is not necessarily the solution. Working longer is. And, if you want to work harder, just go faster, and throw in some hills (like you do).
    I'm going to start bike commuting on Monday ... this was more because car commuting is irritating here, but it sounds like this is a great thing for anybody in this forum to do.

  5. #5
    Pedals, Paddles and Poles Daspydyr's Avatar
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    All the Fat burning strategies that I have read and are preloaded into our stationary bike have a person operating at a boring Zone 2 continually. I like riding at Zones 3-4 and am bored senseless in Zone 2. I have found that just riding, and getting some good hours in every week is my "secret." I have also committed to never drinking my calories, no pop, very little beer, eating smart, at least a salad a day has helped me keep 30 pounds from returning. 10 more and I'm home free. Once you get used to it, sugary stuff makes you ill.

    And this from a former Donut-a holic!
    I think its disgusting and terrible how people treat Lance Armstrong, especially after winning 7 Tour de France Titles while on drugs!

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  6. #6
    Banned. Mr. Beanz's Avatar
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    Avoid junk food and ride your bike alot! You guys get too technical!

  7. #7
    Senior Member socalrider's Avatar
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    Everyone is different, some people can abide by the LSD - Long Slow Distance and get decent weight loss.. For me, I keep track of my calories and do high hr intervals, usually 90% + of max heart rate.. My average solo rides I keep in 70-80% of max for my average HR..

    The LSD rides for me is when I am riding with friends on a casual ride..

  8. #8
    gbg
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    Sports like Cycling and swimming are not very good for losing weight.

    The best sports are weight bearing exercises (like running) since they use your largest muscles,
    the gluts (which make up as much as 40% of your muscle mass), hamstrings, calves etc.

    While it might feel like your a are burning a ton of calories while you are riding at a hard effort
    it does not compare to a sport like running.

    I have heart rate monitor and it is hard for me to maintain 140+ on a bike, 155 and I am really feeling it.
    When I roller blade I hit 152+ and it feels like I am hardly trying, and I can maintain it for hours.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68 View Post
    To lose weight, you actually don't want your cycling to be energy efficient. Your body burns fewer calories for the same effort when you're more efficient.
    No, you just don't go as fast for the same effort when your bike is less efficient.

    The less efficient bikes still have much to recommend them though. Unless you live where there are open roads to cycle on, an efficient bike will require you to use more restraint and not work at the same level of effort. In some situations, you just can't work that hard.

  10. #10
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by garage sale GT View Post
    No, you just don't go as fast for the same effort when your bike is less efficient.

    The less efficient bikes still have much to recommend them though. Unless you live where there are open roads to cycle on, an efficient bike will require you to use more restraint and not work at the same level of effort. In some situations, you just can't work that hard.
    I was referring to the efficiency of the human, not the bicycle.

    Visit The C-Blog : the blog about cycling.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gbg View Post
    While it might feel like your a are burning a ton of calories while you are riding at a hard effort
    it does not compare to a sport like running.

    I have heart rate monitor and it is hard for me to maintain 140+ on a bike, 155 and I am really feeling it.
    When I roller blade I hit 152+ and it feels like I am hardly trying, and I can maintain it for hours.
    This is gbg's experience. It is not universally the case.

    You need to bulk up your leg muscles if that's how it is for you. Also, try toeclips and straps or clipless, so you could recruit more muscles.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68 View Post
    I was referring to the efficiency of the human, not the bicycle.
    How do you get yourself to burn more calories without increasing your power output?

  13. #13
    Pedals, Paddles and Poles Daspydyr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Beanz View Post
    Avoid junk food and ride your bike alot! You guys get too technical!
    This advice from a guy who posts pictures of Mexican Feasts!
    I think its disgusting and terrible how people treat Lance Armstrong, especially after winning 7 Tour de France Titles while on drugs!

    I can't even find my bike when I'm on drugs. -Willie N.

  14. #14
    Banned. Mr. Beanz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daspydyr View Post
    This advice from a guy who posts pictures of Mexican Feasts!
    Masa...carbs
    Pork...protein!
    Chile sauce...veges and........ natural METABOLISM BOOSTER! (burning calories without increasing power output)

  15. #15
    Senior Member Nola_Gal's Avatar
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    I think cycling seems ideal for burning calories and losing weight. If I could run (back won't tolerate it) I'm sure I could burn more calories per hour but I doubt seriously I could run continuously for 4 hours the way I can riding. As for swimming, I remember somewhere reading a theory that it is not as efficient for weight loss because your body somehow compensates to maintain the insulation in the cooler water.
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    Not safe for work cyclokitty's Avatar
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    Running is boring, it takes to long to get anywhere, and it kills my feet.

    Cycling is much more fun and I'll actually ride instead of making excuses to tie up my running shoes and head to the gym.

    To increase the work on my bike I pick routes with plenty of inclines. That way the increased work going uphill makes me spin in an easier gear and spin faster. Then when the street evens out or goes down hill, I can catch my breath and pedal more comfortably. If I'm riding on flats for a significant amount of time then I'll work on spinning to improve my rpms. My route home from Lake Ontario is uphill and I've noticed this spring it's been much easier and I'm quite a bit faster than last year.


  17. #17
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by garage sale GT View Post
    How do you get yourself to burn more calories without increasing your power output?
    Let's shoot for generating 1,000 watts of power, as an example.

    If your body is inefficient at converting stored energy (fat) into power, it will use more stored energy (fat) to get that 1,000 watts. If the body is efficient at converting stored energy (fat) into power, it will use less.

    This is just the definition of efficient/non-efficient. As a person becomes more and more fit (efficient), they require less energy (stored fat) to generate the same power they used to. They expend less energy to ride the same speed, cycling has become easier to do. Or, more likely, they expend the same amount of energy they used to, but now go faster.

    Now don't get me wrong when I said you want your cycling to be inefficient, I meant: a nonefficient engine will burn more calories (lose more weight) than an efficient one. However, I do think that becoming more fit (more efficient) is a Good Thing and should be pursued.

    Visit The C-Blog : the blog about cycling.

  18. #18
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by garage sale GT View Post
    How do you get yourself to burn more calories without increasing your power output?
    Sorry, I might not have answered this directly. Over time, assuming the same variables (speed, terrain, resistance, etc...), you can't. Your body will become more efficient and you will burn fewer kcals for the same workload.

    Therefore, you need to do something different to get your body to burn more kcals. You can:

    • Ride for longer duration (hours & minutes)
    • Ride more difficult terrain
    • Ride at a faster pace
    • Ride with a heavier load (heavier bike, backpack, etc...)
    • Increase resistance (wind, or wider tires, or muddy/sandy trail, etc...)
    • Exercise in a way that you're not accustomed to
    • Any combination of the above


    All of these might be new to your body. It is not efficient at them. It will therefore maximize your body's consumption of stored kcals to convert into power, thus maximizing weight-loss (assuming a healthy & balanced diet).

    Visit The C-Blog : the blog about cycling.

  19. #19
    Senior Member breadbin's Avatar
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    i think i agree with mr. beanz, its getting way too complicated just get out and ride!! i'm a great one to think about things but the more thinking we do the less doing we do
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  20. #20
    Senior Member Saltybeagle's Avatar
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    yea too complicated ride 100-200 miles a week you will lose weight. reduce sugar, no fried food, soda, too much beer etc.

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    Ride more miles. I think trying to ride inefficiently sounds like a way to injury yourself or become frustrated with cycling. Last year I started riding after having not been a bike for 5 or 6 years. the first month I was doing like 4-6 miles a day. By the end of the summer I was doing 100 miles a week, and now I am on pace for 500-600 mile/month. The more you ride, the more you can ride.

    If you have an iphone download the app Loseit or something similar and track what you eat, if not an iphone also try any of the various websites that can do the same thing. It was amazing to me once I started writing down what I ate how many calories I was eating, and I think seeing that now has helped me keep it in the 1500-1800 range.

    As to what to eat, drink no calories except maybe while riding/just after riding (but don't over do it), I eat alot of fruit now, it is sufficiently sweet to satisfy my taste-buds, but loaded with fiber that makes me feel full. Cut the junk carbs (potato chips, most "low fat" foods, "free" bread at restaurants). Don't think of a little fat as a bad thing, it fills you up. If you are eating junk now don't quit altogether, find an alternative instead(I replaced m&m's with a handful of Almonds or pistachios. At first glance those are high fat, but I only eat 10 or so nuts instead of the 50(yes I've counted) chocolates in bag of m&m's)

  22. #22
    Pedals, Paddles and Poles Daspydyr's Avatar
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    Beanz is wise and has the miles to back it all up. I used to run many miles, then I had my hips replaced. Pavement is hard on your body. Biking, swimming and hiking are good.
    I think its disgusting and terrible how people treat Lance Armstrong, especially after winning 7 Tour de France Titles while on drugs!

    I can't even find my bike when I'm on drugs. -Willie N.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68 View Post
    If your body is inefficient at converting stored energy (fat) into power, it will use more stored energy (fat) to get that 1,000 watts. If the body is efficient at converting stored energy (fat) into power, it will use less.
    How do you know it won't just leave the power ungenerated? How did you establish that unfamiliar exercise won't just result in getting tired?

    Worse, how do you know you won't go catabolic if you overwhelm your fat burning system? That'll lose you some weight.

    I suspect there may be a slight benefit which comes from the energy your body needs to build up the muscles you use during unfamiliar exercise but I don't see any basis for your theory.

  24. #24
    aka Josh gjosuem's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Beanz View Post
    Avoid junk food and ride your bike alot! You guys get too technical!
    +1 Just do it

  25. #25
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    Wanna burn more calories and make cycling simple?
    Get a fixed gear bike.
    The fixie is the almighty punisher of lazy cycling techniques.
    You do not have a bail out gear to fall back on if the hills are steep. (I hear my friend Bob's voice in the back of my mind every time I approach a hill, yelling "STAND UP BIG MAN!")
    You do not have a freewheel that lets you 'take a breather' on the downhills.
    You pedal, it goes. If you want to go faster, you must pedal faster. If the uphill is steep, you must stand up and hammer. If the downhill is steep, you must spin like a trackstar. No rest.
    "I feel like my world was classier before I found cyclocross."
    - Mandi M.

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