Fat Burning – Running vs Cycling

In a previous post I took at look at the exercise intensity which produced the maximum fat oxidation rates (Maximal Fat Oxidation Rates in an Athletic Population). A study took a look at the fat oxidation rates which happen when exercise is performed at the FATmax rate with cycling and running.

There was a significant difference in the rate of fat oxidation between the two (Juul Achten, Michelle C Venables, Asker E Jeukendrup. Fat oxidation rates are higher during running compared with cycling over a wide range of intensities. Metabolism, Volume 52, Issue 6, June 2003, Pages 747-752.).

Maximal fat oxidation was 28% higher when walking [ed: did they mean running?] compared with cycling, but the intensity, which elicits maximal fat oxidation, is not different between these 2 exercise modes.

These are interesting results. Although both exercises were done at the same intensity level (as measured by heart rate) they resulted in different amounts of total fat oxidation.

This leads me to conclude that although cycling and running can be both done at the MAF heart rate they are not equal for fat oxidation rates.

What About Rowing?

It would be interesting to see what the fat oxidation rate at FATmax is for rowing (ROW) and other modes. Turns out there’s a study for that too. (Egan B, Ashley DT, Kennedy E, O’Connor PL, O’Gorman DJ. Higher rate of fat oxidation during rowing compared with cycling ergometer exercise across a range of exercise intensities. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2016 Jun;26(6):630-7. The study found that:

…FATox is higher during ROW compared with CYC exercise across a range of exercise intensities matched for energy expenditure…

The details show:

Despite similar oxygen consumption, rates of fat oxidation (FATox ) were ∼45% higher during ROW compared with CYC (P < 0.05) across a range of power output increments.

The crossover point for substrate utilization occurred at a higher relative exercise intensity for ROW than CYC (57.8 ± 2.1 vs 42.1 ± 3.6%VO2peak , P < 0.05).

Putting the Pieces Together

  • Rowing is ~45% better than cycling.
  • Running is ~28% better than cycling.
  • Rowing should be ~17% better than running.

Mechanism to Explain Differences

The degree to which an exercise engages muscles determines the maximum fat oxidation. Rowing has more muscle involvement than running which has more muscle involvement than cycling.




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