14 Expert-Backed Tips That’ll Help You Lose Weight the Fun Way: On a Bike!

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Keep Muscle Mass in Mind

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Yes, you lose weight when you cut calories, but pounds lost aren’t always fat. Some of your weight loss may also come from muscle tissue. Cyclists that diet often end up thinner, but risk becoming slower and weaker on the bike. As pioneering diet expert Covert Bailey once wrote, “When someone says that they lost 20 pounds, the key question is: 20 pounds of what?” Some dieters can end up having a higher percentage of body fat even as they lose weight. And don’t forget that muscle burns calories. The more muscle volume you have, the more calories your body can burn—even when you’re just lying on the couch. How to combat this? Make sure you’re eating enough protein to optimize retaining muscle while losing weight.

Balance Your Meals

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It’s not always about how much you eat, but the nutritional balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein in what you’re eating. Endurance athletes need extra carbs to fuel their rides, fat to feel satiated, and protein to repair your muscles postworkout. It usually isn’t necessary to make radical adjustments to achieve this balance—small changes work best. For instance, instead of eating a huge bowl of pasta, fill half the bowl with pasta, then ladle a lean meat-based sauce on top and add a small salad on the side. You can also try substituting fruit for processed sweets.

Keep Your Upper Body Fit

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Because cycling is primarily a lower body sport, riders risk losing muscle volume in their upper body. The solution? Year-round resistance training. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the weight room—as little as 20 minutes twice a week during the cycling season and 30 minutes two or three times a week during the winter will maintain and even increase your upper-body muscle mass.

Related: A Total-Body TRX Workout That Will Put More Power in Your Pedals

Go Long and Easy

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You don’t always have to go hard in order to make a difference. Instead, take a slow, but long ride once a week, especially in the early season. Long rides (up to six hours) burn a lot of fat and give you a good endurance base for later in the season.

But Short Rides Can Still Do It

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Remember, even 30 minutes of cycling can help you lose weight, especially if you go hard. Try an interval workout (find some here) to get the most out of your time in the saddle.

Recharge Properly

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Recovery matters. After a ride, you need to refuel with carbohydrates and protein. Don’t think that you’ll lose weight faster if you don’t eat; instead, you won’t recover well, you may get weak, and you could even risk getting sick. Also, be sure to take recovery rides that are slow and easy.

Forget the Scale

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Your weight will often vary, since it’s influenced by factors such as hydration and glycogen storage. So if you notice the number on the scale go up or down—sometimes as often as once per day—know that this is totally normal. If you’re numbers-driven, then checking in on the scale once a week or every few days may motivate you. But if you find that it sets you back mentally, just ditch it. The number on the scale isn’t the best indicator of how you feel or what your body composition is.

Stay Hydrated

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To ride hard in the summer heat, humidity, and even during the cooler months, it’s important to stay hydrated. Be sure that you start rides in the heat with at least two full bottles—and know where you can stop for refills along the way. If necessary, add an exercise mix to your water to replenish the electrolytes you lose through sweat.

Related: The Best Drink Mixes for Every Kind of Ride

Forget Spot Reducing

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Will cycling make your thighs slimmer? Can cycling help you lose belly fat? It’s possible, but keep in mind that “spot reducing” is a myth. If you want to lose weight in a specific part of your body, you’ll have to reduce your weight overall with a healthy diet and exercise. The good news is, when you love riding, working out doesn’t feel like such a chore.

Everything in Moderation

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While it’s important to eat your vegetables, everything is fine in moderation. If you have a sweet tooth, eat a small portion of ice cream or dessert once in a while. If you always deprive yourself, you might be more likely to binge. You also need to be honest with yourself about what you are eating, says Frank Overton, owner and founder of FasCat Coaching in Boulder, Colorado. “There is so much crap that people have in their diet that is just out of habit,” he says. “Try to reduce or cut out soda, sugar, and junk food. Have a few less beers each week, or drink wine since it typically has fewer calories.” Small changes add up yet don’t feel as overwhelming as overhauling your entire diet.

Don’t Stuff Yourself

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Stop eating before you are full—you don’t need to feel stuffed after every meal. “It’s okay to feel a little hungry,” Overton says. “That doesn’t mean starve yourself or skip meals.” It just takes your body a little time to send the messages to your brain that you’re full, so stopping when your satisfied is an easy way to keep portions in check.

Conduct a Dietary Audit

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Overton also suggests trying to keep track of everything you put in your mouth for one week. “There are lots of good apps that can help with this,” he says. “So you log everything for a week, then analyze it, and try to figure out what you could cut out. You’ll be surprised at what you find.”

Get a Formal Plan Together

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If you don’t want to go it alone, get help from a certified nutritionist who can help you come up with a meal plan that will help you lose weight without going to extreme measures and still be able perform well on all your rides. There are also many online groups and forums that you can join for virtual support.

Just Get Out There

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Have faith that as you drop weight, you will gain more energy. Once you get used to the idea of riding, it becomes easier to get out there regularly. It’s a reward in itself and makes you feel rejuvenated—whether your weight changes much or not.

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