Cycling is an excellent way to lose weight. It’s a low-impact activity on your joints, offers variety in terms of length and intensity of training, and perhaps best of all, you can’t beat the views. However, depending on things like how often you’re riding, how your body builds muscle mass, and your diet, the scale may not reflect the positive changes your body is undergoing—otherwise known as the dreaded (and all-too-common) weight loss plateau.
It can be easy to feel discouraged when you stop seeing the numbers on the scale tick downward. But the truth of the matter is if you’re cycling your way to a healthier weight, there are plenty of other signals that indicate your weight loss and overall fitness are right on track.
“We have measures of success beyond the scale,” says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, CSSD. Bonci is the owner of nutrition consulting company Active Eating Advice and co-author of Bike Your Butt Off ($19.99 at bicycling.com). “‘I feel like I have more energy, I feel more confident, I feel more engaged’—those are really indicators of making progress that have nothing to do with the number on the scale.”
Here are six things you should look for that mean you’re still making positive body changes, even if the scale doesn’t show it.
Your Kit Fits Differently
For a cyclist who is losing weight while training, the first sign of progress could be your kit fitting slightly looser, according to Joy McCullough of Southern California-based Big Wheel Coaching. “This is always exciting and something that one can feel and see quickly,” McCullough says. “Since they are most likely also gaining muscle mass through their training, the scale may not show a shift, but how they feel in their Lycra can be the first sign of improved body composition.”
Your Breathing and Heart Rate Aren’t as Labored
Another positive sign: You’re not huffing and puffing quite so hard, particularly during hard efforts or big climbs. McCullough says that that once you’ve completed an effort, your heart rate may also drop more quickly. This is a sign of your improved fitness and conditioning—which is more important than what’s on the scale anyway. This may be accompanied by weight loss, as well.
Overheating at Night
You used to sleep with three blankets, but now you’re so warm you’re kicking them off in the night. Your basal metabolic rate is a term that describes how much energy your body burns at rest, and this rate is actually key to weight loss: It’s responsible for up to 75 percent of your daily caloric expenditures, and your body temperature is related to this rate. Typically, as body temperature increases, so does your metabolic rate. The fact that you’re feeling warmer at night is a good signal that your body is at work burning more calories than it used to.
Noticeable Weight Loss
If you’re losing fat and gaining muscle mass, you may start to notice subtle changes in the way your body looks: Perhaps your cheekbones are more prominent, or there’s more definition in your arms. These changes may be barely perceptible from day to day, but if you take a photo of yourself on a regular basis, you’ll more clearly see the evolution your body is making. A measuring tape may also prove handy for documenting these changes. “Chances are your thighs will get a little bigger, but at the same time your waist may get smaller and your abs may get flatter—you can’t put that on a scale,” Bonci says.
Your Getting Faster
After participating in sports most of her life, British athlete Hayley Simmonds spent a year focusing on finishing her degree (and unintentionally gaining some weight) at Cambridge. Then she discovered cycling. In 2015, after five years of training, she became the British national time-trial champion—an achievement accomplished after she had lost more than 99 pounds since the start of her journey. Simmonds began to see her efforts paying off in race results after just a few years of training, garnering top ten finishes at the RTTC National Time Trials in 2012, a fourth place in 2013, and wins in the 10 and 50 mile races in 2014.
Regardless of where you are in relation to your goal weight, if your speed is improving—whether that’s on Strava segments, results, or your ability to hang with faster riders—you are definitely on the right track.
You Feel Better
Ignore what the scale says for a moment, and think about how you feel. Do you feel like you have more energy? Do you feel leaner? Do you feel more fit? “I can’t equate ‘fit’ with a number of pounds—it’s different for everyone,” Bonci says. Signs like this, along with feeling more confident or more engaged in your day-to-day activities, are positive indicators that you’re not only healthier, you’re still fueling yourself properly, too. If you start feeling sluggish, tired, or weak all the time, Bonci says those are red flags that you’ve cut too much weight for your body.
Article by: Christina Bonnington