Get Lean on your Bike

Getting Lean on your Bike

The beauty of cycling is you combine the joy of cycling with the additional benefits of physical and mental wellbeing. Getting lean naturally through cycling will improve your health and your cycling performance as well as giving you loads of energy.


The question you’re probably asking though is do you have to cycle long and slow all the time to burn fat to get leaner? The simple answer is ….no!

Define ‘getting lean’:

By lean people mean losing body fat and building or preserving muscle naturally through the cycling we do i.e. gaining an athletic cycling body, rather than ‘losing weight’ and looking too thin. Getting lean is all about changing your “body composition” made up of fat and lean muscle.  You basically aim to lose fat, yet increase or maintain your muscle size and tone. Muscle weighs more than fat, so when you become leaner you can find your weight stays roughly the same even though your body composition may change significantly.

If you want to lose weight as well, you need to look at causing a calorie deficit. However, be careful as too much of a calorie deficit and you get tired quickly and you lose lean muscle because your body gets so hungry it actually eats itself! If you want to look athletic, toned, have loads of energy and ride fast, then ‘getting leaner’ rather than ‘skinnier’ is definitely the way to go!

So how do you get leaner riding a bike?

You get leaner by not only riding long and slow, but by ALSO tapping into faster work on the bike too (using more of what’s called your “anaerobic system”). When you rest after using part of your “anaerobic system”, your anaerobic metabolism remains high for a good few hours after a hard workout – something your aerobic system just can’t do for long, even after very long rides. With your “basal” metabolism (metabolism at rest) still running on ‘all cylinders’ and you at rest, it’s easy for the body to access that fat tank of yours and burn fat. Your body can easily be burning fat whilst you sleep!

How hard should these spins be?

Training needs to be short and intense (interval style).  The more intense the more you can tap into using your anaerobic system for energy, but remember to keep cycling goals in line with your plans at the various stages of the year e.g. sportives.

  1. A good bike session to do each week is your standard “VO2Max training” which is jargon for training your aerobic engine or also called, short term endurance.  Obviously, if you increase your engine size, you will see overall fitness improvements.

A typical VO2Max workout might be 5 minutes pushing through to near maximum effort with 5 minutes rest, repeated 1 or 2 times to start.  You build up over the weeks to no more than 25 minutes of accumulated hard efforts.

Although this is an ‘aerobic workout’ – you do tap into the anaerobic system and give your body a metabolism boost to burn more fat when you rest.  You also burn more calories during intense workouts, also aiding you to lose weight during these workouts.

  1. “Anaerobic threshold training” which helps you improve your steady state cruising speed you can hold for an hour.  Again this is an ‘aerobic workout’ training your “medium term endurance’, but the workout does use anaerobic metabolism, so you still get a boost in metabolism after these workouts.

Try: 10 minutes cruising as fast as you can, holding the pace, then 5 minutes recovery – repeat this 2-3 times. You don’t push to maximum, just hold a high cruising pace.

  1. Use pure anaerobic work (speed work is less than 2 minutes effort) to give your fitness and your body metabolism that extra boost nearing events in summer.

Use weight training to compliment cycling workouts

Alternatively, if time permits during your week, if you can get to a gym and work on lifting weights, then this form of anaerobic work is one of the best ‘catalysts’ to burn fat!

TIP: Don’t use weights on your legs unless you can recover in time for your cycling workouts.  You’re looking for an all round body workout (minus legs if you’re a person like me who doesn’t recover well from weight work on your legs).  You can’t “spot reduce” body fat (work on a specific area of the body to lose fat) so you don’t lose out by not working your legs!

So the key to getting leaner and faster on a bike is to combine both your long term slow “cardio” endurance rides once a week with your harder more intense aerobic workouts.  If you have time, then supplement your endurance workouts with all round resistance work at the gym in the evenings.

Recovery is key to fat loss

Recovery is key and is crucial to building you a leaner body.  Using the anaerobic metabolism requires REST to build you a leaner body or it don’t work! If you don’t exercise caution in how much you do, your body will wind up exhausted.

Protein – a key ingredient for fat loss:

You should increase your protein intake slightly to account for extra muscle growth and repair after training. You’re simply looking to use protein to build and maintain lean muscle and help your muscles recover from all your workouts.

TIP: Protein also happens to boost your overall basal metabolism yet again helping you to burn fat with your feet up!

To increase your protein intake simply make sure you have a little protein at each meal.  Don’t overdo it though – you are NOT bodybuilding – keep it in moderation!

Good sources of protein include nuts, an egg, tinned sardines for lunch, chicken, fish, steak…whey protein is also one of the best sources of protein but there’s no need to become a powder junkie with it.

Have a diet review:

Substitute fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits, fry ups – you know, all the bad things, for healthier options, upping your protein intake and fruit and vegetables, you’ll be well on your way to a ‘leaner, healthier you’ and losing healthy weight as well.

In addition, a coffee can help increase your metabolism too, so enjoy an expresso boost once a day to kick your cycling motor back into shape!

Put fat loss on autopilot: up your protein intake, watch unhealthy foods, and ‘do your normal training’ and you’ll be well on your way to getting lean and fast on your bike for 2016

Key points to remember:

  • Getting lean is all about losing body fat and preserving or increasing muscle size and tone.
  • Getting lean is about concentrating on your cycling by both combining your long steady rides with shorter faster rides – your normal training!
  • You can burn body fat by using your anaerobic system!  The most fat is burnt whilst you rest and recover, both between intervals and long after the workout is finished.
  • Weight training as resistance training is ideal for training your anaerobic metabolism to burn fat.
  • To help with muscle growth and repair, you should up your protein intake at each meal.
  • Remember to build in adequate recovery to all your training!
  • Eating healthily will also help you lose body fat, as well as help you lose weight.
  • Getting lean is something you don’t have to stress about calories!  Just ride your bike at various intensities and you can lean up on ‘autopilot’.
  • Becoming leaner will give you better health, more energy and improve your cycling performance.