8 Tips to Lose Weight With Indoor Cycling

Cycling class

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Whatever your weight loss goals, exercise needs to be part of the equation. Exercise will help you preserve muscle mass, which is healthier for your body and better for your appearance. Plus, maintaining muscle will make your weight loss easier to sustain for the long haul.

While a leisurely bike ride outside isn’t likely to help you lose significant weight, indoor cycling can. But to get the most out of an indoor cycling routine, you’ll want to heed some basic rules of nutrition and training.

Besides torching 400 to 600 calories in a 45-minute class, indoor cycling also helps rev up your metabolism (your body’s calorie-burning engine) and offers the opportunity to tone and strengthen all of the muscles in your legs, glutes, and core.

Eat Before (and After) You Ride

Contrary to what you may have heard about the benefits of exercising on an empty stomach, it’s smart to provide your body with the energy it needs to ride hard and get maximal benefits from the workout. Even if you take an early morning class, eat something small 30 minutes before you ride. This could be a small banana, a slice of toast with jam, or a handful of whole-grain cereal.

Do the same an hour or two before afternoon or evening cycling sessions by having a combination of protein and carbs (perhaps a small apple with a tablespoon of almond butter or a few tablespoons of trail mix). 

Besides helping you fuel up for the workout, eating beforehand can help you burn extra calories, thanks to the thermic effect of food. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after the ride, too. Your body needs sufficient water intake to keep your metabolism humming and burning calories efficiently.

Replenish Your Muscles Properly

Within an hour after your workout, consume a combination of carbohydrates and protein (such as 12 ounces of low-fat chocolate milk or a small handful of walnuts with a pear) to replenish your muscle glycogen stores and provide amino acids for muscle repair and building. This will keep your muscles and your metabolism operating smoothly and prepare your body for your next workout.

Vary Pace and Difficulty

With most forms of exercise, interval training can pump up your metabolism more than exercising at a steady state—and the same is true of indoor cycling. Think of it as a way of tricking your body into burning calories faster.

By alternating bursts of harder pedaling (meaning, a faster cadence against heavier resistance) with a more comfortable pace, you’ll burn more calories during the workout than you would have at a steady, moderate pace. Varying pace and exertion will also trigger greater excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (the after-burn effect), causing you to continue to burn more calories for a few hours after cycling.

Switch Up Your Workouts

Do the same type of ride day after day, and your body will adapt to the activity, and you won’t get as big a metabolic bang for your effort as you did initially. The solution is to regularly vary the types of rides you do (alternating between endurance, strength, interval, and race-oriented rides) and the intensity to coax your body into burning calories faster during and after the workout.

Split Your Workouts

If you don’t have time for a 45-minute cycling class, do two 25-minute solo sessions and you’ll burn just as many calories between the two as you would with one longer class. You might even push yourself harder during a shorter session, torching more calories. Either way, you’ll reap the after-burn effect twice in a day instead of once, allowing you to burn more calories in 24 hours.

Do Resistance Training

The more lean muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate (RMR) will be, and the more calories you’ll burn 24/7. To build muscle outside the cycling studio, perform at least one set of strength-training exercises for each major muscle group two or three times per week, says Wayne Westcott, PhD, director of exercise science at Quincy College in Quincy, Massachusetts, and author of "Get Stronger, Feel Younger."

Strength training helps you add muscle mass and crank up your RMR in the process. Whether you use weight machines or free weights, resistance bands or kettlebells is up to you.

Don’t Give Yourself a Dietary Free Pass

Some people make the mistake of thinking that since indoor cycling is such a high-intensity exercise, they can eat whatever they want and still lose weight. Even if you ride your heart out, you'll burn at most 400 or 600 calories in 45 minutes. If you treat yourself to a piece of chocolate cake, you’ll consume 537 calories, essentially eliminating the calorie incineration you did in cycling. 

Keep Moving

If you’re exhausted after a hardcore cycling session, don’t give yourself permission to become a sofa spud for the rest of the day. Do this and you’ll end up compromising the calorie-burning effects of your cycling workout and your progress toward your weight-loss goal. A better approach is to move more to lose more.

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