Everyone wants you to forget about the fat-burning zone. And for casual gym goers, who would be better served to pick up the pace and scorch as many calories as possible (including a healthy afterburn) than whiling away their precious gym time at 120 beats per minute, it’s good advice. But endurance athletes like cyclists reap special rewards by spending a good portion of their training in this relatively easy realm.
Elite cyclists become world beaters by spending a high percentage of their training time at “endurance” intensity, says kinesiologist Dr. Stephen S. Cheung of Brock University and co-author of Cutting Edge Cycling. “A critical physiological adaptation for cyclists is sparing glycogen during long rides. This cannot be trained with short intense rides that rapidly drain glycogen stores.” Endurance-paced rides also train your body to be a better fat burner by building hundreds of thousands of capillaries in your legs, increasing the size of energy-producing mitochondria, and boosting production of fatty-acid binding proteins and fat carrying enzymes. Long steady rides also teach you pacing and condition your body (and mind) to be comfortable on the bike for hours, says Cheung.