Running vs. Cycling for Weight Loss

Whether you prefer to get your exercise on two wheels or your own two feet, you'll be burning calories necessary for fat loss. Both running and cycling are challenging activities that get your heart rate up for maximum burn, and each has its advantages and drawbacks.

Cycling to work is a great way to burn extra calories. (Image: DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images)

How many calories you'll burn depends on how hard you work. How much fat you lose will depend on how you balance exercise and your diet.

Calories Burned Running

The number of calories you'll burn during a run depends on several factors, including duration, pace and your body weight. The longer and faster you run, the more calories you'll burn. The more you weigh, the harder your body has to work to propel you forward.

At an easy pace of 12 minutes per mile, a 125-pound person will burn 240 calories in 30 minutes and a 185-pound person will burn 355. At a moderate pace of 10 minutes per mile, those numbers increase to 300 and 444, respectively.

At a vigorous 8-minute-per-mile pace, calorie burn is 375 to 555, depending on weight. A sprinting pace of 6 minutes per mile raises the burn to 495 to 733 calories in 30 minutes.

Calories Burned Cycling

The factors that determine calorie burn for running are the same for cycling. How long you ride, how fast you pedal and how much body weight you need to propel forward are the main determinants. In fact, the calories burned at certain running speeds correspond closely with those at certain cycling speeds.

In 30 minutes, people weighing 125 to 185 will burn 240 to 355 calories cycling at a pace of 12 to 13.9 miles per hour, corresponding to an easy running pace. At 14 to 15.9 miles per hour, calorie burn potential is 300 to 444, equaling a moderate-paced run.

Cycling at 16 to 19 miles per hour, increases those numbers to 360 to 533, slightly lower than running at an 8-minute-per-mile pace. Cycling at a fast 20 miles per hour or more will burn 495 to 733 calories, the same as a sprinting pace in running.

The faster you ride, the more calories you'll burn. (Image: Pavel1964/iStock/Getty Images)

Terrain, Temperature and Tolerance

A variety of other variables determine whether you burn more calories running or cycling. Cycling on a flat road will burn fewer calories than running up a mountain trail. Running in hot climates will burn more calories than cycling in 60-degree weather.

Lastly, your current fitness level and exercise tolerance will weigh in: The fitter you are and the more adapted your body is to the particular exercise, the fewer calories you'll burn.

Best for Weight Loss

Doing either exercise regularly will help you burn the calories necessary for fat loss. The harder and faster you run or bike, the more calories you'll burn. Adding in some hills will also up the burn.

As an example, if you want to lose 1 pound of fat, you need to burn roughly 3,500 calories. If you weigh 155 pounds and run or cycle at a moderate pace for one hour five days a week, you could burn a pound of fat in less than a week.

But science shows that one exercise may be better for you than the other. In a study published in 2014 in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, researchers observed competitive runners and cyclists during a 3-day period of intense exercise.

The findings showed significantly more muscle damage, muscle soreness and systemic inflammation in the group of runners. Researchers concluded that cycling puts less stress on the body and cyclists are able to train longer because of this. The principal investigator Professor David Nieman said he recommends cycling over running for beginners looking to get in shape.

Don't Forget Your Diet

Diet plays a huge role in how much weight you'll lose. If you cycle daily at a vigorous pace but eat a lot of high-calorie junk food, you won't lose as much weight (if any) as the cyclist who trains regularly and eats healthy.

To support weight loss and an active lifestyle, your diet should consist primarily of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean meats, chicken and fish, nuts and seeds and small amounts of low-fat dairy. These foods are naturally lower in calories and higher in nutrients that give you energy.

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