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Cycling vs Running: Which Is Better?

By Jiri Kaloc

Cycling causes fewer injuries and lets you explore farther. Running is cheaper and better for burning calories. Which one is better for health and for weight loss? Which one is more fun? What’s the ultimate answer to the cycling vs running question?

Does cycling burn more calories than running?

How many calories you burn depends on many factors such as speed, terrain, your weight, and pedalling or running efficiency. For example, if we consider an average 70 kg cyclist and runner doing their respective sport for 60 minutes, the calories burned would look something like this:

Light cycling 16-19 km/h burns 422 kcal
Moderate cycling 19-21 km/h burns 563 kcal
Vigorous cycling 26-31 km/h burns 844 kcal
Light running 8 km/h burns 563 kcal
Moderate running 10,8 km/h burns 774 kcal
Vigorous running 17,5 km/h burns 1267 kcal

Cycling and running
Looking to burn some calories? © Profimedia

It’s clear that running burns more calories when the intensity is equal. That’s because running uses more muscles than cycling; the runner needs to stabilise with every step and support their full weight. But there’s one caveat to this. The usual running training session might last between 30-90 minutes. On the other hand, cycling training sessions are commonly 2-4 hours.

To be more exact, we can say that running burns more calories per hour but it’s easier to burn more calories overall on a bicycle if you have the time to ride long enough. The winner in this category depends on how much time you have for sports.

Weight loss

When it comes to weight loss, you always have to consider the entire lifestyle. Eating habits have the most significant impact, but sleep quality, how sedentary you are, and what exercise you do play a role too. As you saw above, running might burn more calories per hour, but it’s easier to ride your bike for longer. So, it’s hard to find a clear winner here. One small study found evidence that both cycling and running suppress appetite. This helps if you’re trying to control cravings and improve what you eat. Overall, it’s a tie. Running and cycling will both help if you’re trying to lose weight.

Building and toning muscles

Both sports are very good at toning your muscles. Cycling can be better at building leg muscles, but neither sport is particularly effective at this. If you want big muscles, the best way to do that is to start lifting heavy weights. Interestingly, lifting weights can make you a better cyclist and a better runner.

Cycling and running
You can help your muscle building with lifting heavy weights. © Profimedia

Cardiovascular health

If you’re looking to improve your cardio fitness, then cycling and running are both great options. And they are also good for your cardiovascular health. A 2020 review found that running reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Similarly, a 2017 review showed that cycling to work reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. It’s a tie between the two sports in this regard.

Bone health

According to a recent study, cycling may not support bone health as much as running or other weight-bearing exercise. Running is a high-impact weight-bearing exercise that places mechanical stress on the skeleton. This stimulates bone formation and remodelling. Running is the way to go for stronger bones.

Which one hurts more?

Running is definitely the sport that does more damage to your body. A study that compared cyclists and runners exercising 2.5 hours a day for 3 days found that the runners had up to 404% more muscle damage, up to 256% higher inflammation levels, and 87% more muscle soreness than the cyclists. Go with cycling if you want faster recovery.

Cycling provides faster recovery. © Profimedia

Injury risk

On average, runners experience around 11 injuries per 1,000 hours in the sport. The most common are knee injuries, Achilles’ tendon, and foot injuries. These are typically overuse injuries. Cyclists experience only 6 injuries per 1,000 hours. Apart from overuse injuries in the knees, neck, back, wrist, and foot, they also have to account for injuries due to accidents. To sum up, running is more likely to give you an overuse injury, but cycling can cause more serious injuries if you crash.

Which one is more fun?

Running is one of the most natural ways for us humans to move. There’s something special about that feeling of covering a lot of ground just using your own body. Running also allows you to explore any terrain. You can jump over, climb on, or crawl under any obstacle. And that rush of endorphins at the end makes you feel like a million bucks.

Cycling has the “wheee” factor – whether riding really fast or just coasting with the wind in your hair, it’s easy to feel like you’re flying. Riding a bike also gives you the opportunity to explore a much larger area than you could on foot. And you can carry much more on your bike, which gives you the awesome opportunity for bikepacking or bike touring.

Which makes you happy? © Profimedia

There are good arguments on both sides, but fun is a very subjective thing so you will have to choose the winner in this category yourself.

So, what is the final verdict on the cycling vs running question?

There are a few advantages of running: improved bone health, more calories burned per hour, and cheaper equipment. Similarly, cycling offers advantages such as lower injury risk, less pain, and an easier way to burn more total calories per training session. But the most important takeaway of the cycling vs running comparison is that both of these sports share a lot of benefits. They can both contribute to weight loss, they are both good for your cardiovascular health, they will both get you fit and tone your muscles, and they can both be really fun.

All of this means one thing. You just can’t go wrong no matter which one you choose. Decide which one fits better into your lifestyle and follow your heart. We know one thing – We Love Cycling!