It's easy to build up unwanted fat on the waistline, but getting on a bike can help you lose belly fat and get back into shape. Here are a few tips if you want to use cycling for weight loss.
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Tips to lose belly fat
1. Keep a steady pace
Does cycling burn fat? Yes. Although your stomach muscles aren’t working as hard as your quads or glutes when you’re riding, but cycling’s aerobic nature means you are burning fat.
Work at a moderately intensive pace, so that conversation is possible, but not easy — less than than 80 percent of your maximum heart rate — three times a week for about two hours.
This kind of lower-intensity training burns a greater percentage of fat than high intensities, but bear in mind overall calorie burning would be less than higher-intensity sessions for the same duration, so don't go overboard with the post-ride snacks.
2. Try interval training
To really push the calorie burn, add in some interval training. At the end of your long ride, or if you only have a short amount of time to train, do six sets of all-out efforts, each lasting two minutes, with 30 seconds of rest in between. As you improve you can keep going for longer.
Be sure to stay aware of traffic if you're doing flat-out efforts on the road — consider making the most of your turbo trainer for these sessions.
The benefits are that you’ll burn loads of calories in a short amount of time doing intervals, and your metabolism will be up for the next 12 hours, meaning you burn extra calories over the course of the day. You’ll soon be seeing the weight loss!
3. Off the bike exercise
Your natural instinct may be to concentrate on stomach crunches and sit-ups to remove belly fat. In reality, although these will help to build muscle and improve core strength, they won’t remove fat. You need a more holistic workout that tones and burns calories to get the fat going.
That said, doing these exercises will help you ride for longer, facilitating that weight loss, and can help improve your posture which in turn will help you stand straighter, reducing the appearance of belly fat and, once you've burnt it off, give you a toned stomach.
Try aerobic muscle workouts like the 'lying down bicycle' exercise. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head and raise yourself up so that your shoulders and legs are off the ground at a 90-degree angle, with your knees bent.
Touch your right knee to your left elbow while extending your left leg, followed by left knee to right elbow extending your right leg. Repeat this, at a controlled speed, in sets of 20 with 30 seconds rest.
Planks are also excellent for toning the core muscles and increasing strength.
Cross training can also help shift the pounds, and will improve your overall performance on the bike. Doing circuits, classes like Zumba or Body Combat, or bootcamp sessions will all give you a full body workout, burn calories and improve your core strength too.
And if that wasn't enough, there's evidence to show that combining strength training with aerobic exercise, such as cycling, can increase the calorie burn. This is because muscles burn more calories than fat tissue, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you'll burn off while you exercise.
4. Eat right
In theory, losing fat is simple: you need to burn more calories than you consume. The bigger the calorie deficit, the greater the fat loss. Be careful to fuel your exercise with slow burning carbohydrates (whole grain pastas and breads) and lean proteins (turkey) and avoid eating much of anything high in saturated fat, like cheese, butter and sugary sweets.
You should also be wary of food labelled 'low fat'. Some so-called low fat foods have very high levels of sugar, which contains a lot of calories which the body converts into fat during digestion, so check the labels carefully. You may be better off going for a moderate, occasional portion of the real deal rather than the 'low-fat' option.
Bear in mind, too, that starving yourself completely isn't wise. If you're not fuelling yourself adequately in your training, you won't be able to get the most from your key sessions — lowering performance — and your body could start dropping muscle mass rather than fat. Your body may also go into starvation mode, slowing the metabolism to conserve calories, which is exactly what you don't want.
It's also worth avoiding food and drink that can cause bloating. While this isn't strictly speaking belly fat — it's caused by water retention in the tissues (oedema) around your stomach and elsewhere on your body — it can cause that tum to look a little on the large side.
You might already be aware of certain foods that have this effect on you, but salty foods and alcohol certainly have this effect so are best avoided or limited — and that's not even to mention the hidden calories in alcoholic drinks!
5. Stress less
Stress and its associated low mood can affect weight; some people stop eating properly and lose weight, others turn to comfort eating and gain weight. Neither is ideal or healthy. Stress can also affect sleep levels. So controlling or managing your stress levels can have a beneficial effect on weight control.
Happily, regular aerobic exercise such as cycling has been shown to be a great way of combatting stress, decreasing anxiety, helping to reduce tension and boost your mood. What's more, getting outside into nature has also been shown to decrease stress levels according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and handily cycling is a predominantly outdoor form of exercise!
6. Post-cycling rest and recuperation
Sleep deprived? If you're trying to shift some weight then getting enough sleep can be an important part of the equation. A study by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, US, demonstrated that people who slept between six and eight hours a night were more likely to be successful in their weightless goals. A good night's sleep is also important for recovery post-exercise and injury prevention.
There's also some evidence to suggest that eating later in the evening, or eating around the clock, may mean the body holds onto more calories, according to research published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
What better way to tire yourself out so you're more likely to get a good night's rest than by cycling regularly? The benefits here are twofold.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your bike, get out and beat that belly fat!
Note: this article has been extensively updated since it was first published so some comments below may be out of date.