cardio, in general, has been known to cause muscle loss. Muscle loss occurs when your body enters a catabolic state. So how does this happen?
This is mainly caused by long workout periods which leads your body to tap into muscle stores to convert to as an energy source as opposed to glucose.
Can cycling burn muscle?
It depends on the type of riding you do. If you cycle with moderate intensity for an extended period of time around 2-3 hours then yes you are at risk of burning muscle whereas if you cycle with low-intensity for an extended period of time your body will utilize fat stores instead of muscle for energy.
Although there are various ways to stop your body from reaching a catabolic state while cycling. We detail the full list below on tips on how not to lose muscle while cycling.
What Type Of Cardio Should You Do? & Which Ones Should You Stay Away From?
M.I.S.S (Stay Away)
Moderate intensity steady-state cardio (MISS) will definitely put you at risk of entering a catabolic state and experience muscle loss. MISS is the type of cardio done in marathons that involve a moderate intensity for a long period of time. This is why marathon runners are typically very skinny in order for your body to keep up a moderate pace for long hours it will need to tap into your muscle stores to convert to energy and that’s what causes you to lose muscle. Stay away from this kind of cardio if you want to maintain muscle mass.
Low-intensity Steady-state cardio is one of the best cardio to preserve muscle mass. This is the preferred cardio for most bodybuilders because it involves keeping your heart rate at around 50 to 65 percent which makes it difficult for you to enter a catabolic state, therefore, using fat stores as energy opposed to muscle mass. LISS cardio allows you to cycle for an extended period 1-2 hours without putting your muscles at risk this works because you limit the amount of energy your body needs in a short period of time but in an extended period. Because you’re not elevating your heart rate much your body can continue to convert fat to fuel instead of muscle for as long as you cycle.
Performing any type of Hiit exercise on your bike will not only preserve muscle but will also help you build muscle. HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. This involves 20-30 seconds of maximum effort and 30-60 seconds rest this should be repeated 8-12 times.
In addition, studies have shown interval training to be more beneficial compared to moderate cardiovascular activities.
The benefit of Hiit is once your done you will still continue to burn calories throughout the day. This occurs from Excess Post Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) produced by HIIT which will force the body to consume more oxygen post-workout in order to recover your muscles and in turn this will increase your metabolism and burn fat throughout the day while maintaining muscle mass.
HIIT on a bike involves cycling 20-30 seconds as fast as you can and taking a 30-60 seconds rest period this and done within 8-12 sets.
Tips To Ensure You Don’t Lose Muscle While Cycling:
Sip On BCAA’S While You Cycle
Branch Chain Amino Acids prevent your body from converting muscle to energy. They are found in food that contains high protein but the benefit of getting a BCAA supplement is the fact that you’re able to sip on it while cycling or drink it on an empty stomach.
Bring Along Some Energy Gels
Energy Gels can be a lifesaver your able to easily consume around 82 calories and around 20-60 carbohydrates in a matter of seconds this will keep your body at an anabolic state which will prevent muscle breakdown.
Stick With Low Intensity On Longer Rides
If your planning to ride for an hour or more stick with low intensity and try to keep you not to elevate your heart rate too much for an extended period of time here is a Heart Calculator Chart which details what your heart rate should be for low-intensity cardiovascular exercises depending on your age.
Make Sure You Consume Enough Protein
0.8g to 1g of protein per pound of body weight is enough to keep your body replenished and prevent muscle breakdown. Consuming low amounts of protein throughout the day will not provide your muscles with the right amount of amino acids to keep you anabolic while you ride.
Make Sure You Consume Enough Carbs
Consuming carbs before cycling will ensure your body utilizes the carb source as energy rather than muscle. This will keep you in an anabolic state for a longer period allowing you to cycle for longer hours without entering a catabolic state.
Carbs are your body’s preferred energy source. If you consume enough carbs you face less risk of your body breaking down muscle as an energy source in longer rides.
So there you have it, cycling can burn muscle if done with moderate intensity for a long period. Although if you cycle with a low-intensity pace your body will not need to break down muscle as a source of energy as it will be able to handle the intensity by breaking down stored fat.
As mentioned above there are several ways to stop your body from entering a catabolic state this includes sipping on BCAA’s, have an energy gel handy, cycle with low intensity if going on longer rides, make sure you’re getting enough protein in, consume enough carbs before you cycle. These tips will minimize the risk of your body entering a catabolic state while cycling and thus burning fat for fuel rather than muscle mass.