Cycling is a form of exercising and thus it’s often associated with fit people. Hence why people find it strange when they see an overweight cyclist.
Below are the factors explaining this phenomenon.
Calories In Calories Out
Illness aside, the main reason why people get fat is the consumption of more calories than the body needs to perform its daily tasks.
The surplus energy that comes from the food is stored as fat. Exercising increases one’s energy output and thus raises the threshold for initiation of that process but does not reverse it.
Or in simple words, if you eat too much, you will get fat regardless of how much you exercise.
Hence why it’s not that unlikely to see touring cyclists or commuters with potbellies. They may be cycling a lot, but their food consumption exceeds their caloric needs, and the organism has no choice but to store the extra fuel as fat.
Conversely, some people don’t exercise much or at all and yet remain quite skinny. Their secret? Low food consumption even for their sedentary lifestyle.
Quality vs. Quantity
Eating “clean”, healthy foods can result in fat accumulation too when the caloric intake exceeds the caloric expenditure.
One can lose weight even when eating junk food if the consumed calories are under the needed energy requirements.
Cardio Makes You Hungry
Cycling may not require petrol or electricity, but it’s not energy-free. Since the cyclist is the engine, bikes are technically running on fat and carbs (calories) too. Hence why you get so hungry after a long ride.
Other forms of cardio increase the practitioner’s appetite too and in some cases may stimulate a person to eat a caloric bomb.
When you add the fact that many people feel like they’ve earned a desert after exercising, you have a recipe for overeating while thinking that you’re losing weight. One time after a ride, I was so hungry that I ate 4 slices of pizza in combination with 2 donuts.
Conclusion: It’s really easy to “out-eat” the calories that you burn from cycling and remain at the same weight or even get fat.
For example, if you go on a ride and burn 500kcal, you could return home and eat two waffles which can easily be over 500kcal.
At the end of the day, the adage “you can’t out train a bad diet” remains true.
Initial Stages Of Weight Loss
Another reason why you may encounter fat cyclists is that some people join the sport precisely because they want to lose weight, but their journey is just starting, and you’re catching them in the before phase.
Cycling is a popular choice for losing weight for the following reasons:
- Low impact
Cycling doesn’t stress the knees as much because you’re technically seated and thus the stress on the knees comes only from the pedaling motion. If the gear is low enough, the knee stress can be minimized to very low levels.
Conversely, running does the exact opposite – it increases the stress on the joints. And when a person is overweight, the negative effect is even greater due to the extra mass that the skeleton has to support.
Perception & Association
When we hear the word cyclist, we often associate it with the professional athletes that we see on TV.
Professional long-distances cyclists are always very thin and have an underdeveloped upper body in comparison to their legs.
Why? Because the heavier you are, the more difficult it is to cycle, especially uphill. You will never see a long-distance cyclist who is either fat or extremely muscular because the extra mass makes it difficult to perform.
Conversely, track cyclists who sprint are very muscular because their discipline requires bursts of explosive energy. Large muscles help that goal and have no negative impact because the endurance element is small.
It’s also worth mentioning that long-distance cyclists are relying primarily on slow-twitch fibers which are the ones responsible for endurance and have a small hypertrophy capacity.
In different, sprinters use mainly fast twitch muscle fibers.
Fast-twitch fibers are activated during physical effort with high intensity (lifting heavy weight, sprinting…etc.) and have a much greater potential for hypertrophy than slow-twitch fibers.
Summary: What You Need To Know
- Some cyclists remain fat despite cycling/exercising because they consume more calories than they burn.
- Cardio burns extra calories and boosts the metabolism, but it increases one’s appetite too. Thus, it’s quite easy to overeat after a ride and negate the energy expenditure caused by the extra physical activity. This can sabotage one’s plans to remain in a caloric deficit and lose weight.
- Many overweight people choose cycling as a form of exercise because it’s low impact and doesn’t stress the knees and hips as much as running. If you meet such a person at the beginning of their journey, they will be a fat cyclist.
- On a professional level, cyclists are either skinny and lean (endurance riding) or big and muscular (track sprinting). A fat cyclist will always underperform because fat acts as extra baggage slowing him down.