Cardio Workouts Make You Fat

cardio workouts make you fat“I ride/run all the time and I cannot get the needle on the scale to budge. What the hell??!!”

Heard this before? Said it before? I feel your pain.

In 2007 I trained for and rode my first century with Team In Training. Our training group rode together every Saturday for four months doing progressively longer distances each week, then we got together every Sunday for a recovery ride at about half that distance. I also hit the road on my own at least three times a week. By the time the event was over I had ridden hundreds of miles. When I started, I was 60 pounds overweight. The Monday after the event I was 50 pounds overweight.

Hundreds of miles and I’d lost 10 pounds. Hundreds of miles and I still looked like an overcooked hot dog in my kit.

A huge part of how this was possible had to do with nutrition, or rather, my lack of a clue about it. I ate like a teenager. Lots of junk food and no attention to providing the nutrition my body needed in order to improve performance on the bike. Plus I’d bought into the notion that I was supposed to fill my bidons with sugary sports drink mixes and my jersey pockets with energy bars and gels. I was not doing my body any favors with the garbage that was going into my mouth.

But the other side of the problem was the nature of the activity I was engaged in. Sure, we were logging a lot of miles, but not at a particularly impressive clip. Most rides were done at an average pace of between 10 and 12 mph. Our only major efforts were on climbs, but even that was being done at a relatively leisurely pace. No KOMs for any of us, especially not me.

Early on during our training rides on climbs I would regularly get gassed, have to pull to the side of the road and catch my breath and let my heart rate fall into a more normal range. But my body adapted to this stress really quickly, and that’s the moral and point of this story – your aerobic system is really, really good at adaptation and finding the best way to become efficient, and efficiency is the last thing you want when you’re trying to lose fat.[1][2][3][4]

You might be riding daily, and that’s great for your heart and lungs, but unless you’re adding sprints and some maximal effort work into your rides don’t expect it to trim down your waistline.

Our bodies strive for homeostasis[5] and that drives your set points for body weight and body composition. The process of losing weight, losing body fat, gaining muscle, etc. is a process of introducing stress to the system which causes the system to react. If all you’re doing is cruising at a comfortable pace on your bike, or jogging the same few miles every morning, or taking the same Zumba class a couple of times a week your body has long ago adapted to that stress and it is no longer sufficient to produce a significant reaction.

To knock yourself out of this rut you need new stresses.

anti-cardioOne way to approach this is to add sprints to your rides or runs. Done as high intensity intervals followed by periods of rest this can greatly increase your calorie burn and the level of stress on your energy systems. Another method, and one that has worked well for me, is to add resistance training to your weekly routine. Push-ups, pull-ups, squats and lunges can be done with body weight or the addition of dumbbells (or if you’re super hardcore, a weighted backpack for the pull-ups and push-ups). Resistance training has the added advantage of building muscle mass, and since muscle tissue is metabolically active this causes your resting rate of calorie burn to rise.

If your goal is to alter your body composition you need to vary your activities so that you’re producing sufficient stress on your muscles and energy systems to cause your body to keep working to try to adapt. Quality nutrition that supports your level of activity and goals and sufficient rest is also important. Just spinning a long, mile after mile, ain’t gonna get it done.

The Rock-It Rider can help you select a program and nutrition plan to meet your goals. Contact us if you’d like to see what we can do for you.


[1] “8 Cardio Myths That Are Making You Fat – Shape.” 2013. 20 Mar. 2015 <http://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/8-cardio-myths-are-making-you-fat>

[2] “T Nation | Regular Cardio Will Make You Fat.” 2014. 20 Mar. 2015 <https://www.t-nation.com/training/regular-cardio-will-make-you-fat>

[3] “Too Much Cardio Can Make You Fat! by Mario Hostios.” 2007. 20 Mar. 2015 <http://www.fitness-nutrition-weightloss.com/too-much-cardio-can-make-you-fat.html>

[4] “Why Your Cardio Workouts Are Making You Gain Weight …” 2014. 20 Mar. 2015 <http://www.chicagonow.com/get-fit-chicago/2014/02/why-your-cardio-workouts-are-making-you-gain-weight-and-body-fat/>

[5] “Human Physiology/Homeostasis – Wikibooks, open books …” 2006. 20 Mar. 2015 <http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Human_Physiology/Homeostasis>

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