To stay healthy the NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. You’ll get that from a 15-minute each way bike commute if you do it daily. But riding to work is not a licence to eat whatever you like, and it’s not enough by itself to shed the pounds – or not quickly. That’s because cycling is such an efficient way to convert human power into movement.
Moderate cycling burns around 300 calories an hour. (The exact amount varies by size, age, and gender, and just how moderate your cycling is.) Ride hard and sweat and you might burn 600 calories an hour, up to around 1,000 for actual racing. Most cycle commuting is moderate, however.
Two and a half hours of moderate cycling a week is roughly 750 calories burned. That sounds fine until you consider that a pound of body fat contains 3,500 calories. So to lose just one pound of fat, our 15-minute each way commuter would have to ride for over a month! That assumes your diet doesn’t change at all, and you don’t reward yourself for cycling to work.
It’s trivial to eat an extra 150 calories a day. A couple of chocolate digestives with your morning cuppa will add that and more. If you only want to maintain your weight, you can view those biscuits as ‘calorie neutral’. If you’re seeking to lose weight, you’ve just cancelled out the benefit of commuting by bike.
Part of the problem is that, like any exercise, cycling makes you hungry. Long rides in particular do this. If you raise your cycling intensity on shorter rides instead – perhaps the commute home? – you’ll burn more calories without having time to get famished, so you can easily stick with your normal diet. Same calories in, more calories out. Cutting the calories you’re consuming (less in, more out) doesn’t mean going hungry but rather eating larger volumes of less calorie dense food. One word: vegetables. Pile ’em up!
Alternatively, forget about riding harder or changing your diet and just play the long game. If you ride 15 minutes each way five days a week, that’s 36,000 calories burned over a year (150 calories x 5 days x 48 weeks). That’s more than 10lb of fat lost for next to no effort. No sweaty gym sessions, no special diet – just a lifestyle change that involves riding a few miles to work and back. Anyone can do that.
Another benefit of making cycling part of your everyday life is that the regular exercise you’re doing will regulate your appetite better. You’re less likely to skip breakfast because that’s your fuel to get to work, and a good breakfast will stop you hitting the cakes and biscuits later. Lots of different diets will work. You don’t need to follow the latest fad. Just ride regularly. Bike commuting isn’t a quick fix for losing weight, but it is an easy win.
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