Without a doubt, both running and cycling are great heart-pumping, calorie-scorching workouts. And as long as you’re getting your body moving on most days of the week—whether that’s hopping on a spin bike, lacing up your sneakers, or even taking your dog out for a walk—that’s a win. But which activity is better for fat loss—biking or running? For bones? For injury prevention? The answer: It depends. Both biking or running deliver unique health benefits, studies suggest. Here’s how they stack up in four key areas:
When done at the same intensity, running burns more fat compared to cycling, according to a small study in people who were well trained in the respective sports, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Running may recruit larger muscle groups and more muscle fibers to use up fat for energy.
Researchers at Appalachian State University compared intense cycling and running workouts, finding that long-distance runners experience more post-exercise muscle damage and inflammation compared to cyclists. One reason: cycling is a lower-impact exercise that’s easier on your body—and may be the better choice for newbies.
To keep bones strong, hoofing it on pavement might be your best option. In a group of healthy adult men, cyclists were 7 times more likely to have osteopenia of the spine (a condition that increases fracture risk) than runners, found a 2007 study from University of Missouri, Columbia researchers. Running creates a load on bones that strengthens them in the process.
Does working out make you hungrier? Turns out, it actually decreases your appetite, according to a 2012 UK study. Researchers looked at the hunger hormone concentrations of men after cycling or running. Hunger levels didn’t differ between the two sports—in fact, exercising lowered appetite in both.
Overall Winner: It’s a tie! Though it looks like running has the edge, both have their perks. Beginners new to a fitness routine might want to start out with biking, whereas running might be more effective if you’re looking to lose weight. The best option, though, is to fit both into your workout routine. You’ll slim down and reduce your risk of injury at the same time. Now get out there!