Can mountain biking help lose weight?

Yes regular vigorous mountain biking can certainly help you lose weight. In fact, it is widely regarded as one of the better physical activities to do so. The calories burned per hour do vary widely however, depending on numerous factors such as intensity, the weight of the rider, and how much climbing is involved in the rides.

Today we’re going to look at how effective regular mountain biking can be at helping burn off unwanted body fat, and helping keep you in good shape once you’re there.

Keeping active regularly

Without a doubt, one of the most important factors of whether we’ll succeed in losing weight (and burning off unwanted body fat) is how consistent we are with our exercising.

If we’re going to the gym every so often and running on a treadmill, maybe once every week or two, that is going to be dramatically less effective than an intense treadmill running session every second day.

And the same applies to something like mountain biking of course, however I would argue that we’re far more likely to stick with a regular physical exercise activity if we actually enjoy the experience – even if we’re expending a large amount of energy in the process!

How many calories does mountain biking actually burn?

As every avid mountain biker knows all too well, it depends!

Just in the last year I’ve been on very mellow casual rides with the family, to very fast rides through cross country trails, to lift-assisted days at the bikepark, through to all day epic rides climbing and traversing multiple mountains!

While it is all classed as “mountain biking”, all of these rides used vastly different amounts of energy.

And that’s not even taking into account different types of mountain bikes ridden, wind conditions, different riders weights, tire pressures, and a hundred other factors.

But as a rule of thumb, a rider of average weight biking vigorously for an hour might expect to burn somewhere between 550 and 800 calories.

High intensity riding, and climbing steep gradients are going to make the biggest impact for sure in how many calories you’re burning each time you ride.

What type of mountain biking burns the most calories?

I know I’m certainly not alone in riding a wide variety of “mountain bike trails” – which are all very different from one another.

If I think over the different types of mountain bike rides I typically go on, the biggest calorie burner has to be the epic all day rides in the mountains.

Despite loading up on a huge amount of food and drink throughout the day on one of these rides, by the end of the days riding with many thousands of metres of elevation climbed, and 40+ km of trail ridden, I’m toast at the end of it.

Throughout the day you’ve been soaked in sweat, your heart and lungs have been working over time, and the large muscle groups of the legs in particular have been powering you up and over literal mountains.

Now of course there is one big caveat here – and that is that consistency is key.

It’s unlikely that even the most obsessed mountain biker is going to be climbing mountains every day.

I know in my case that (sadly) these type of MTB rides are scattered throughout a year – but let’s say even if I got out to ride the mountains every couple of weeks for an epic ride like this, it’s just not frequent enough to have a sustained impact on your weight.

Then we’ve got casual low intensity rides with the family – which is not going to be the case for every family of course, maybe your family are all triathletes!

But with our toddler riding shotgun on the bike, I’m not going to be setting any land-speed records, OR be out out riding for more than an hour or two at most before she is tired out and needs to head home. (Side note, if you’re wanting to work out some rough numbers, try my bike speed calculator!)

And naturally there are all the other more common types of mountain bike rides – heading out for some bike park laps, or riding fast around an XC loop – or traversing the nearby hilly singletrack.

These are all using some decent amount of energy, but again a wide range of calories are being burned off.

Of course a lift-assisted bike park is doing most of the strenous hill climbing for you – but as any rider who aggressively rides enduro or downhill trails can attest to, if you put in the hours for a big day on the bike, you’ll still get a solid workout in, plenty of sweat will be shed and you’ll be feeling virtually every muscle group in your body that evening.

And as for the fast XC loop riding or traversing singletrack trails in the nearby hills – both of these will burn plenty of energy, and can be great regular exercise to keep fit and stay in shape (and lose weight if that’s needed).

Changing to a mountain biking lifestyle helps too

Speaking from experience, changing up your lifestyle to include regular mountain biking often brings with it other changes to how you live your life.

Maybe before you might only unwind playing video games or watching Netflix for example.

And once you’ve developed a love of bikes through MTB you’re far more likely to want to commute by bike as well.

I do, rain or shine, well – I did before 2020 changed everything – but still, the principle stands.

I find travelling by bike every morning and every evening before and after work is welcome exercise, a positive de-stress that clocks up many thousands of kilometers on the bike every year, and helps keeps me lean and fit (although loading onto muscle mass can be tricky if you’re doing additional strength training with so much cardiovascular exercise).

As well as this, the type of foods you’re drawn to can start to change.

I’m no saint when it comes to food – I will eat a donut if it’s on offer.

But equally, I’m unlikely to want to eat a bucket of chicken before I go ride my bike, as that would just make me feel hideous!

And I might grab a couple of tacos and a cold beverage after a ride, but I’m not likely to drink a dozen bottles, as it’s just not the lifestyle that I want to live. Though, that could be my age starting to show too perhaps, putting those years behind me.

Ok, yes, mountain bikers and savouring a variety of craft beers do have an undeniable affiliation. But I stand by my point.

It’s these sorts of changes that all stack up to mean that on average, mountain bikers get a solid amount of high intensity exercise, don’t eat giant amounts of high sugar/fat foods on a daily basis, and are more likely to be active in other areas of their life.

How does mountain biking compare to other sports in calories burned?

As we’ve covered, there is a wide range of energy usage possible across different types of mountain biking, but if we assume a moderately intense ride, it is right around the level of vigorous hiking, or cross country skiing in terms of calories burned.

Running will usually burn slightly more calories per hour, while walking or slow jogging will use less.

I should also mention here that it’s worth keeping mind that mountain biking (or really any cycling in fact) is low impact on your joints, which if you’re heavier and wanting to burn off excess body fat can be a major benefit vs something like jogging.

This should allow you to put in more regular exercise, and lose more weight as a result. As long as you stay injury free. So, yeah, there’s that. Stay rubber side down folks, and get out there and hit those trails!