According to scientific studies, long “passive” commutes by train or car cause a variety of health problems, including raised blood pressure, anxiety and stress, musculoskeletal disorders and obesity.
Commuters cycle to work to combat any or all of these problems, but many people start bike commuting for weight loss.
The mere act of riding a bike to work or anywhere else does not guarantee you’ll lose weight, even though other benefits are assured. So, what can you do to make certain you’ll shed a few pounds? This article will tell you.
How To Lose Weight By Commuting To Work By Bike
Cycle to work and you’ll lose weight. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it helps to have a little understanding of the dynamics in play.
Counting The Calories
The simplest way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume. With that in mind, how many calories might you burn on a daily bike commute? These figures, based on a 180-pound man, give an indication:
- Sitting – 86 calories per hour
- Standing – 97 calories per hour
- Walking (moderate 3 mph) – 356 calories per hour
- Cycling (moderate 12 to 13.9 mph) – 712 calories per hour
- Cycling (brisk 14 to 16 mph) – 864 calories per hour
(Source: HealthStatus LLC)
Of course, these figures are approximate. The main thing to note is the difference between sitting or standing for an hour and riding a bike.
Examples: A moderately active man needs to eat about 2600 calories per day to maintain weight and 2100 calories to lose 1 pound in a week.
A moderately active woman needs to eat about 2000 calories per day to maintain weight and 1500 calories to lose 1 pound in a week.
Roughly, you could expect to lose three or four pounds of weight per month if you ate your recommended daily calories without compensating for bike commutes.
Counting Calories With Fitness Apps
Fitness apps vary significantly in their calorie calculations. It helps if you dial in personal details precisely and use a heart rate monitor or power meter. Garmin users benefit from that company’s acquisition of Firstbeat Analytics for calorie counting.
Syncing heart-rate data from Garmin Connect to calorie-counting apps like My Fitness Pal or Lose It is probably one of the more accurate ways to track calories, judging by independent testing of Firstbeat calculation methods.
How To Ride
You can ride at a leisurely pace straight to work and you’ll still be burning more calories than you would sitting still. Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week to maintain good health.
If you want to burn more calories and step up weight loss a little, you have to ride faster and/or farther.
Video: Bike Commuting As A Workout
Riding Faster & Increasing Intensity
Riding fast to work and increasing intensity burns more calories, so there is definite weight-loss potential. A downside is that you’ll sweat more and probably need to wear cycling-specific clothes to commute.
If your time on a bike is limited, you’ll make greater fitness gains by riding short, high-intensity intervals than by going fast the whole ride. Greater fitness leads to greater weight loss. You’ll achieve similar by integrating a few hills into your ride.
Riding For Longer
By choosing a longer route into work at a comfortable pace, you’re still burning more calories than you otherwise would without raising your body temperature as much.
Slow riding over distance boosts aerobic fitness and is easier to recover from than fast rides. You’ll arrive to work fresher and are less likely to accumulate fatigue.
A Word About Safety
Should you attempt to increase your speed on a commute, never do so at the risk of your own safety or anyone else’s. It’s easy to lose yourself in fast riding and make a perilous snap decision.
Food – A Vital Part Of The Equation
Exercise is one part of a two-part puzzle when it comes to losing weight. You have to pay heed to what you eat as well.
An immediate pitfall when you start exercising is thinking you can reward yourself for the effort. You may feel hungry after the bike ride. So, you destroy whatever caloric deficit you created by woofing back comfort food.
To lose weight on bike commutes, you must take up the gauntlet of “calories in, calories out”.
Read more: Eating for a long bike ride
What About Fasted Commutes?
It’s often said that a pre-breakfast, fasted bike ride burns more fat, and it’s usually advised that it should be short and easy. If this holds true, you could ride to work on an empty stomach and hope to lose weight faster, but opinion on it is polarized.
One scientific study suggests that the fat-burning benefits of fasted exercise do not kick in until 80-90 minutes have passed. It’s known that the body relies more on glycogen stores for energy at the onset of exercise and fat oxidation as time goes on.
The body’s ability to burn fat during exercise improves as we get fitter, so the fasted-commute idea is something to weigh up later if cycling is new to you. The chief concern is still caloric intake and expenditure.
Video: Is Fasted Exercise Better For Weight Loss?
Roadmap To Weight Loss
The quickest route to losing weight is to burn more calories than you eat, and you’ll do that best if you monitor calories. Try this:
- Install a calorie-counting app like “My Fitness Pal” or “Lose It” on your phone
- Sync a compatible exercise app to your calorie counter (e.g., Garmin Connect)
- Buy a heart-rate (HR) monitor and sync it to the same exercise app as above
- Begin logging your food and exercise in the apps
- Stay under your daily net calorie goal to lose weight
It’s vital that the exercise app you use does not overestimate calories burned during bike commutes. Strava might do this unless you feed it real power meter data or calorie estimates from other apps using HR data.
An Easier Way?
If you don’t want to fiddle with apps and calorie-counting, try cutting out just one or two of your worst dietary habits. Swap sugar-sweetened beverages for water. Stop binge-eating chocolate or biscuits. Eat less pizza.