I have been cycling for some months. I started cycling for weight loss, now I am addicted to it.

I have an average speed of about 23 to 28 km/h. I usually ride around 3 to 4 days a week and 80 to 100 km total distance. My weight loss has plateaued which I have not been able to break for some time.

Please guide me in what sort of routine or action I need to follow to overcome this hurdle. Do I go for more average speed or increased distance?

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    AFAIK exercise is absolutely awesome for health and strength and a whole range of other stuff - but it sucks for weight loss. Our bodies are ridiculously effective and even the hardest of workouts consume just a few hundred calories. Easily replaced by a single hamburger. Most energy in our body is used simply for staying alive and you can't really influence it in any way. So if you want to lose weight, the only realistic option is to reduce your calorie intake. Eat less, there's no way around it. (But also take care to make the diet balanced or you'll run into other problems)
    – Vilx-
    Oct 5, 2018 at 11:33
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    @Vilx- To say the hardest workouts only consume a few hundred calories is nonsense. It is very easy to burn 1000's on a single bike ride. I burned 4600kcal in a single ride in the Italian Alps last month, and I only weigh 60kg - a heavier rider would have burnt significantly more.
    – Andy P
    Oct 5, 2018 at 12:49
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    @Vilx- Power meter. I took several cafe stops, so was able to recover and refuel before each of the major climbs. 4600kcal is not an unusual amount, during grand tours professional riders burn up to 7000kcal daily
    – Andy P
    Oct 5, 2018 at 14:42
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    @whatsisname I regularly get similar or higher values to AndyP, but we're talking about a couple of hundred km with some climbing. Me + bike =100kg. Lift that through 3500 vertical metres and you get 3.5MJ. With typical human efficiency that's near enough 3000kcal,before you even account for forward motion. And a burger, fries and a couple of beers gets nowhere near that (big mac and large fries just under 1000, beer 200kcal/pint)
    – Chris H
    Oct 6, 2018 at 12:36
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    The key to weight loss is to never eat the last french fry. Oct 6, 2018 at 21:14

7 Answers 7


Most important - Well done in losing weight, what you are experiencing is very normal, don't let it put you off.

A word of warning - despite the common perceptions, most people do not lose weight exercising. Their appetite increases to compensate for the the increased calorie demands, this could be what's happening to you.

Personally I think focusing on weight is at the expense of overall health and well being detracts from the progress most people make and demoralizes them needlessly. Take the weight loss as a part of the equation, but focus more on your fitness and progress. When you started, how far and fast, how often were you riding, how does that compare to now? Are you happier now? Focus on the wins.

Exercise builds muscle, which is heavier (and healthier) than fat - if the weight loss has leveled out because you are building muscle, keep doing what your doing. It may be too late, but measurement is a better guide to progress than weight - did you measure yourself before starting? If not, are your cloths looser, are they still getting looser? Are you feeling less flabby?

To continue to make progress you may need to mix it up a bit. Adding resistance exercises would help - I am a fan of body weight exercises - pushups, pull ups, squats, burpees etc will balance out the cycling. No need for expensive gym memberships and machines, the only thing most people are missing at home is a pullups bar.

As far as cycling, you can also mix it up - instead of training all the time at once pace, you need to have sessions of slow, long distance and sessions that are short, high effort. Also look at doing sprints after a good warmup, - 30seconds at absolute maximum effort, 30-60 seconds to recover, repeat 5 -10 times then cool down. Do these in a short session (if you do this properly, it will be short)

A good guide will be 3 - 4 sessions a week, one will be half you weekly distance at a steady, comfortable pace. One will be short and fast.

Have a look on the internet for suggest training program - they will look something like this:

Day 1 - 50% of weekly distance at slow steady pace
Day 2 - rest
Day 3 - 20% weekly distance at max effort
Day 4 - rest
Day 5 - rest
Day 6 - 30% weekly distance at 'race' pace
Day 7 - rest

One of my favorites - "You don't get fit exercising, you get get fit recovering from exercise."

Hopefully this is enough to get you started - there is a lot of information out there, some will not agree with what I believe. We are all different, sift though it and work out what's right for you. If what you doing does not work, or stops working, no matter who says it, change something.

  • 3
    +1 for adding some exercise apart from cycling since it's a repetitious movement with little variation. A few pull-ups, push-ups, squats and deadlifts (unfortunately you need a barbell and quite some weight for those) go a long way to balance it. Strength training is also great fun, especially in the winter when the weather is bad.
    – Michael
    Oct 5, 2018 at 7:37
  • +1 for a very thorough answer. It lines up very well with the guidance in the excellent book Racing Weight, which has become my go-to reference for getting lean and mean.
    – Paul
    Oct 6, 2018 at 3:35

In the end it's all about calories in vs calories out. Cycling longer or at higher intensity will both increase the amount of calories you burn. However, the most important factor is what suits you best.

If you enjoy 4h rides, do them. If you enjoy going up a hill/mountain for half an hour as fast a possible, do it.

You could get a power meter if you want real numbers on how much energy expenditure you have on each ride. I think this only makes sense if you are closely monitoring calories though.

  • 1
    I too used to thing it was calories in vs calories out. Its also not about grog going harder for longer. It's just not that simple.
    – mattnz
    Oct 5, 2018 at 19:03
  • This is not actually true, though it's a common perception. Calories in vs. out does matter some, but what matters more is the timing and quality of the calories because the body metabolizes them differently depending on activity level, time of day, what else is in the stomach, etc.
    – Paul
    Oct 6, 2018 at 3:37
  • The human body is very efficient at extracting and storing energy from food. I'm not aware of anything you can or should do to prevent it from using the energy you put in. Eat 100g of carbs and you'll have 400kcal of energy available which -- unless used -- will end up as body fat.
    – Michael
    Oct 6, 2018 at 4:42
  • If its that simple, can you explain why the human bodies basal metabolic rate varies by 250% between individuals?
    – mattnz
    Oct 6, 2018 at 7:37
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    @mattnz: Oh, you are comparing across different ages, genders and body compositions. Of course a large, young man will have more resting energy expenditure than an old, small woman. In the end this doesn’t really matter, you have to work with what you have/are. Blaming your gender, age or body composition won’t help. It’s still all about calories in vs. calories out. Anything else would violate the laws of physics.
    – Michael
    Oct 7, 2018 at 11:20

Skip a meal once or twice a week. With consistent exercise, skipping a meal is a quick way to make your body use fat reserves. I'm not a doctor or dietician, but I've found this to be an extremely effective way to lose weight once I've gotten into a good exercise routine.

Also, check your respiration. You're doing well, but you may be just relying on muscle at this point. One technique I used was to increase my breathing rate and then increase my power output to a rate that I can sustain with the higher breathing rate. Of course, you must avoid hyperventilating, but if you do start breathing at a consistently faster rate, you'll be able to pedal harder and burn more. And, obviously, use your gears to match your increased power output.

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    Welcome to the site! I haven't tried this but read some good stuff, believe it's known as 'intermittent fasting'
    – Swifty
    Oct 5, 2018 at 14:38
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    Skipping a meal once or twice a week is also a good way to get yourself ravenously hungry and binge-eat reversing your progress. Oct 5, 2018 at 20:34
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    @whatsisname Only if you have nothing much happening to distract you from thinking about food. I often skip eating (but not drinking water!) for a full 24 hours simply because I'm too busy doing other things, and I don't even notice that in terms of hunger.
    – alephzero
    Oct 6, 2018 at 9:50
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    @whatsisname If you don't eat obviously unhealthy foods (i.e. lots of fat and short carbs), then there is a point when you just biologically don't want to eat any more because it becomes uncomfortable and it's not that high. I don't think I can comfortably fit more than 8MJ (i.e. one daily energy ration for a mostly sedentary average person) in my stomach eating a single balanced meal. If you have a tendency to fill your stomach to that point during meals, then skipping meals has a great effect.
    – Nobody
    Oct 6, 2018 at 12:14

I found that getting more rides in (by bike commuting instead of bus+walk) made me lose quite a bit of weight even though it meant I spent less time in the gym. I wasn't weighing myself but it was visible to others. That may be an option for you.

Another approach is a goal, and not a weight-based one. If you're currently doing up to about 100 km/week, why not try to find an event of 100 km or a little more in one go, a couple of months away? Try to get a couple of long training rides in before that.

I find that I can out-ride my appetite, and I need lots of feeding on long rides. Last year I went from doing a similar weekly distance to you, plus occasional rides up to about 60 km, to riding 200 km rides. The first few of those lost me around 1 kg each based on weighing myself a week before and a week after each ride, (fully recovered); overall the trend held for several rides. I've since become more efficient or eat more on the rides, and there's no permanent drop from a single ride, which is just as well or I'd be wasting away. That indicates that it's possible to plateau again.

I don't know what your climate is like or even which hemisphere you're in, but if winter is approaching, keeping riding is important, and dressing for the conditions tricky. The chances are you will burn some extra energy keeping warm if you're not overdressed for the uphills - winter riding canbe quite fatiguing. It's also easy to get dehydrated if you push yourself too hard in the cold so be careful.

Summarising in a way that answers the new title: More or longer rides, rather than trying to go faster.

  • Maybe put the summary at the beginning? And I agree, speed is for gaining weight (muscles) and distance is for losing weight (fat).
    – Nobody
    Oct 6, 2018 at 12:16

Weight loss means burning calories you don't eat. With regard to cycling, this means cycling in a manner that sucks, not taking in sufficient food for getting your exercise done. That is going to affect your speed and your motivation, both being your body's response to balance calory intake and use.

So with a view towards weight loss, it may be more effective to reduce your eating on the days you don't exercise. And cycle for longer than you want to and/or refrain from eating directly afterwards. Your body might be more willing to pardon you for dieting in exchange for not cycling if it is more used to some give-and-take in calories.

Without using your cycling to supercharge your dieting, you are just getting more fit rather than slimmer. That's good in itself.

The good thing about activity while dieting is that your body has no reasonably effective way to save calories by turning down your default consumption, making you more tired and cold, and turning up the efficiency of your food processing. Mechanically burnt calory output cannot be reduced by optimizing your processes, so your body has no effective way of fighting your weight loss and doesn't try as hard. That reduces the yoyo effect when you stop dieting. Of course, you get a separate yoyo effect when you reduce bodily activity.

  • If you fuel smart it doesn't need to have an impact on rides. Someone trying to lose weight, will have a lot of stored fat to to burn, and riding at the correct intensity levels can use this as the primary fuel. Intense rides, are about providing 'just enough' fuel to get the workout done. Even on a calorie controlled diet, there will still be some glycogen stored in the muscles available to burn, and for a very intense session, there's no harm in taking ~300kcal (as much as you can absorb in an hour) of carbs shortly before the ride if you are going to be burning 800-1000kcal during it.
    – Andy P
    Oct 8, 2018 at 9:25

Others here point out things like fat getting replaced by muscle - this is good advice your body can change for the better whilst your weight doesn't change. Also it's hard to see improvements in your heart and lungs when looking at the scales.

However I don't think any of them are looking at the serious long term i.e. losing weight and keeping it off for 10+ years. There was a recent BBC article "I was on a diet for 18 years":

Genetics, your aerobic capabilities and whether you spend all day sitting down are all better signifiers of internal health than what you look like on the outside. This, out of all of them, feels to me like the only truly radical idea to come out of any modern conversation about diet, bodyweight and health.

So rather than using weight as a proxy for whether you're doing better, perhaps aim at improving your cycling performance. I used to do this by entering triathlons, but if you'd rather stick to pure cycling there's often cycling clubs that you can join that should help you improve your cycling, keep you involved in the sport and give you advice on cycle races in the local area.

This might only be true for me, but one of the things I find when cycling regularly is not that I lose weight but that I am generally fitter all the time. This means that I can do lots of other activities like swimming, hiking, tennis, triathlon, skiing and enjoy the benefits of having a good base fitness from the cycling.

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    Concur - here's where strava works well. If you log your rides, even privately, you can see performance progression over time.
    – Criggie
    Oct 7, 2018 at 1:17

One problem you'll have is weight-loss is not the only thing happening here.

As you ride long distances, you're building slow-twitch muscle fibres. These are the "endurance" parts of your engine.

If you do intervals, sprints, and short hard efforts then your muscles will work to build fast-twitch fibres, which work better/harder/faster but get tired quickly and need to rest.

So the underlying point here is Muscle weighs more than Fat and weight loss may not be as evident as you might expect.

Second point is weight-lost is not necessarily fat. When on a decent ride in whatever the locals might call a "nice warm day" you will loose mass to sweating and breathing.

I've had rides where I have lost 1% of my weight over the ride and most of that goes into sweat. This is called Water weight and means you need to drink more water. Its fake-weight loss.

A couple of hot rides over a week might show you several percent body mass drop, but take a day off and you shoot back up. This is disheartening, but its not real loss in the first place.

Regarding weighing yourself - do it once in the morning as soon as you get up, but after having a morning wee. Wear as little clothing as possible, and use the same scales every time. Log it.

If you want, you can measure yourself post-exercise-ride too, before showering and re-hydrating. Again, log it.

Some say that daily weighings are meaningless, and its the overall trend that matters. Don't worry too much about peaks and troughs in the graph line.

To answer on the question - to loose weight you need to burn more energy than you take in, and avoid/minimise building muscle mass. It doesn't really matter if you ride fast or slow, long or short, far or near.

Personally I'm happy to slowly drop weight while building muscle. I'm now down 5% from January, so in 8 months I've lost 5 kilos. Doesn't feel like it, but the records don't lie. Pants fit better, I can ride on the drops without my belly getting pushed around by my thighs. And I'm now slightly faster up a hill.

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