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Cycling and running are, without a doubt, the two most popular forms of cardio exercise on THE PLANET! But here’s a tricky question – which one burns the most calories?
When all other factors are the same, running burns slightly more calories than cycling because you use more muscles, which can help you lose weight faster. Cycling means sitting on a bike that supports your weight, so you move less, burning fewer calories.
This may be a shock to you!
I have to say, as an ardent cyclist, I know I burn a lot more calories cycling than running. I cycle literally for hours at a time, but with running I can barely get to the end of the street.
So maybe it’s not quite as cut and dried as all that!
In this post, I’ll look at:
- How many calories do you burn when running or cycling
- Types of running conditions that help you burn more
- How to burn more calories when you cycle
- Any other general advantages and disadvantages of cycling and running that could mean you’ll burn more calories doing one or the other
How Many Calories Do You Burn When Running Or Cycling?
Running burns approximately 566 to 839 calories per hour, while cycling burns 498 to 738 calories per hour. (Source)
However, the potential to lose weight depends on how you combine your exercise choice with a healthy diet and other habits.
Running may burn more calories and help you achieve weight loss more quickly – especially if you enjoy it and can keep yourself motivated.
On the other hand, cycling is a low-impact activity, so it is possible to exercise for longer and burn more calories.
If we were robots, running would be the best choice for calorie burning between cycling and running. This assumes an equal amount of effort at both, and an equal amount of time spent between both.
However, the vast majority of people reading this are human, so things are not that cut and dried. I’d say if you were more likely to do one more than the other, then that would be the one that will help you lose the most calories.
But I could be wrong!
How do You Burn Calories When Running?
Running burns more calories than most other types of exercise.
Low to moderate-intensity running, where you stay at the same pace at the same intensity for a specific time frame, can help with weight loss.
However, other factors determine the total caloric expenditure during a workout.
For example, a person weighing 160 pounds and running at a 12-minute pace of 5 miles per hour for 30 minutes could expect to burn around 290 calories. (Source)
If that same person ran at a ten-minute speed of 6 miles per hour, they could expect to burn 363 calories in the same period.
The increased speed results from the increased effort, requiring you to burn more calories.
Add hills to your run, and the number of calories you burn will increase even more.
That said, you will burn fewer calories coming downhill as there is not so much effort required.
Here’s a table that demonstrates how many calories you can expect to lose in an hour of running at 5 miles per hour depending on your weight:
|Weight in Pounds||Amount of Calories Lost In One Hour Of Running|
|130 lbs||505 calories|
|160 lbs||590 calories|
|190 lbs||739 calories|
|220 lbs||855 calories|
|250 lbs||972 calories|
I found these statistics from a brilliant calculating tool that you can find on this site – caloriesburnedhq.com.
Here’s a quick-fire youtube video from the Tips 4 Running channel, where they outline the kinds of calories you can expect to lose depending on several factors. He has a couple of extra interesting ideas to add to the debate:
Can You Burn More Calories Running in Hot and Cold Weather?
You would expect to use more calories running in the cold to keep warm.
However, if you dress appropriately to keep warm during your run, it will prevent your body’s natural warming mechanisms from kicking in.
Runners may also eat more after running in the cold due to the natural increase in appetite we often experience during the winter.
You burn more calories by running in the heat through sweating. However, the calories expended are low and won’t have much impact.
Running in the heat also risks heat stroke and dehydration so be careful!
If burning more calories is your goal, then running in moderate temperatures is most effective.
I know you can’t really dictate the weather, but choosing a time of day when the weather is most beneficial will often still be in your control.
Running Outdoors Vs Running on a Treadmill
Running outdoors burns between three to seven percent more calories than running on a treadmill, as there is no wind resistance or varying inclines. (Source)
However, with a treadmill, you have various functions, such as control of your pace and the incline, and it is suitable for those starting out or returning from injury.
High-Intensity Interval Training for Running
Using high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in your running sessions will burn the most calories per minute as you use various muscles at their maximum power.
It involves sprints, hill runs, and intervals.
This type of running continues to burn calories 48 hours after your training session as the many muscles you use require energy to recover afterward, known as the “afterburn effect.”
How Do You Burn Calories When Cycling?
One of the reasons people start cycling is to get fitter and lose weight.
Cycling is an excellent low-impact option for aerobic exercise, being easy on the joints, and many people find it far more fun than jogging or running.
So how can you use your bike rides to expend more calories?
Much depends on the type of bike you are riding and the speed.
You can burn around 300-400 calories when cycling at a steady, moderate pace for 60 minutes, but you will burn more if you increase the intensity.
For example, a person weighing 155 pounds can burn almost 298 calories in a 30-minute bike ride, provided they pedal at a 12 to 13.9-mile-per-hour pace. (Source)
If the same person then pedals at a faster rate of 14 to 15.9 miles per hour over the same time, they can expect to burn 372 calories.
Here’s a table of the quantity of calories you can expect to burn depending on your weight. In this example, I have assumed the riders are:
- 5 foot 10 inches in height
- Travelling at 9 mph (a comfortable speed)
|Weight Of Rider||Number Of Calories Burned|
|130 lbs.||377 calories|
|160 lbs.||421 calories|
|190 lbs.||465 calories|
|220 lbs.||509 calories|
|250 lbs.||554 calories|
I found the calculator for these results on this site. You can use it to play around with your height, weight, gender, speed, and distance traveled.
Comparison Of The Two Sets Of Data
You can see that between the two sets of data I compiled above, running burns more calories for all weight categories.
For the lighter 130 lbs individuals, the cycling burned about 75% of the calories that the runner did at the same time.
For the heavier 250 lbs individuals, the cyclist only burned 56% of the calories of the runner.
However, these are just numbers in a spreadsheet. The heavier you are, the harder running becomes. On the other hand, there are plenty of heavier cyclists. I see them daily on my commute to work!
Long moderate-intensity rides are ideal for calorie burn.
Cycling for two hours or longer while your heart rate is 80% of your maximum heart rate will expend more calories and can be done more frequently without the risk of injury.
However, you should cut down on coasting as your body won’t work very hard if you are free-wheeling down a hill, burning fewer calories.
High-Intensity Interval Training for Cycling
Like running, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an excellent way to challenge your body and lose weight.
It involves short bursts of intensive cycling followed by intervals of low-intensity training.
It could include cycling as fast as you can for 30 to 60 seconds, followed by two to three minutes of easy, low-resistance cycling.
You would repeat this pattern for 20 to 30 minutes. This intense exercise helps you burn more calories in less time and is also a good option for fat reduction.
Cycling off the Beaten Track
If you want to burn some serious calories, then going off-piste is the way to go. Cycling on different and varied terrain requires more energy than riding on smooth roads.
The rougher the surface, the more demanding the workout.
Mountain biking can burn 100 calories more than your average road ride.
Cycling Up Hills
If you wish to burn even more calories, include hills on your route.
Aim to split your incline between sitting and standing for the ultimate workout.
Outdoor Cycling Vs Indoor Cycling
Outdoor cycling generally burns more calories than riding a stationary bike indoors as you will have to encounter different terrains and conditions, which expends more energy.
How Do You Start Running as a Beginner?
You only need the bare minimum when starting out as a runner, which includes good running shoes, running shorts or pants, a light, comfortable top, and a water bottle.
Aim to run 3 to 4 days per week, which will allow for recovery time between sessions.
You must warm up and stretch before your running workout to help prevent injuries and strains.
Start with stretches, followed by 5 minutes of walking at a leisurely pace, building up to a power walk. You can then run for 20 minutes.
It is equally important to cool down at the end of your run with five minutes of walking, decreasing the pace.
You can gradually increase your sessions as you become fitter.
What are the Health Benefits of Running and Cycling? (And How They Link To Calories)
1. Cardiovascular Health
Both running and cycling offer an excellent cardio workout.
A cardio workout increases your heart rate and gets your blood pumping, strengthening your heart and improving the blood flow to all body parts.
Better blood circulation helps reduce blood pressure and lowers cholesterol, reducing the chances of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. And it’s good for weight loss!
Your lung function also improves, allowing you to take in oxygen better.
2. Suppress Your Appetite
Although this certainly doesn’t work for everyone, both running and cycling can suppress your appetite, which can help you control your food intake if you want to lose weight.
Other components also affect how many calories you burn during exercise, such as your age, gender, and body weight.
3. Building Muscle
Pushing pedals when cycling is resistance training that builds muscle in your lower body, particularly the quadriceps, and hamstrings.
Running uses all your muscles at the same time and is better for muscle tone.
The key muscles involved in running include the quadriceps, hamstrings, plantar flexors, and gluteus maximus.
4. Mental Health
Any aerobic exercise like cycling and running can positively impact your mental health because it releases ‘feel good’ hormones known as endorphins that relax your mind and make you happier.
Exercising outside can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Studies link a happier mind to enhanced weight loss.
Cycling Vs Running Conclusion
Cycling and running are excellent forms of exercise for burning calories, but you should choose the one you enjoy the most, so you will be motivated to exercise regularly.
If you are a fan of both, then there’s always the option to integrate both into your routine so that you can work different muscle groups.
Exercising for Health and Longevity vs Peak Performance: Different Regimens for Different Goals
Energy expenditure of walking and running: comparison with prediction equations
American Council on Exercise. (2009). Calorie burners: Activities that turn up the heat.