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What Burns More Calories Running Or Mountain Biking?

This is an interesting topic of discussion for me because I enjoy running regularly but have been thinking of adding an additional sport that isn’t so hard on my knees.  Mountain bikers in general are able to put in more hours so it remains difficult to determine which of these two activities burn more calories.

Both of the sports are fast-paced and forceful; however, running is a weight-bearing activity and therefore should burn more calories in one session.  The intensity of running outweighs mountain biking in the sense that it uses the whole body to lift and propel itself throughout the entire activity.

Whether you are a runner or whether you are a mountain biker there are a couple of ways in which you can tweak the number of calories you burn, such as increasing your intensity or your speed.  Further on in this article, we will take a closer look and find out why mountain biking could potentially burn more calories in the long run

Why Running Burns More Calories Than Mountain Biking

Generally speaking, running will burn more calories than mountain biking.  The following table is an estimation of calories burnt on a male with an average weight:

ActivityCalories burnt per 30 minsCalories burnt per 60 mins
Mountain bike at a moderate pace+/- 160 calories+/- 320 calories
Running at a moderate pace+/- 290 calories+/- 580 calories
Athletic woman sitting

In general, running burns more calories than mountain biking because it is using more of the body and the muscles at any given time and one has to mountain bike roughly two times longer than a runner runs to get similar results.

ActivityMuscles Used
Mountain BikingQuadriceps
Core muscles
Calf muscles
Upper body
Core muscles
Hip Flexors
Calf muscles

Running is the cause of a lot more injuries than mountain biking because of the heavy and constant impact we endure when hitting the roads.  It is a lot easier for a mountain biker to cycle for long periods of time than the average runner runs.  This factor contributes greatly towards burning more calories in the long run on a mountain bike.

Injuries And Ways In Which To Counteract Or Avoid Them

Runners Knee:  This is a common injury that some athletes have suffered and recovered from without ever knowing they had had it, I included.  It can sometimes be so minor that it is hard to detect and can be put down to just everyday ‘wear and tear. Symptoms normally include any pain in the area especially when you lunge, squat, or go upstairs.

If you choose to be a runner it can definitely be a good idea to look at ways to prevent runners’ knees as far as possible by taking a couple of preventative measures such as investing in the shoes you spend hours in running.  A pair of quality running shoes do go a long way.

Joint pain

Shin Splints:  Shin splints can be very painful and refer to the pain we experience in the front of our lower legs and sometimes on the inside of the lower leg next to the shin bone (tibia).  It mainly occurs when we suddenly increase our running activity or run on hard surfaces.

One way of preventing shin splints is by stretching your calves and hamstrings and avoiding tight muscles in the legs as this puts one at risk for injuries such as shin splints.  Good quality shoes are another common preventative measure.

Hamstring Injuries:  The best preventative measure for hamstring injuries is strength training such as hip extension movements, leg curls, and deadlifts.  For ‘at home’ workouts lunges and squats are great too.  

Plantar Fasciitis:  This is a type of injury that needs to be addressed else it can become a problem later on that can stop your running altogether.  Supporting your feet with good shoes is always a number one preventative measure along with stretches.  Aim for softer surfaces too.

Stress Fractures:  Stress fractures are the result of excess weight or stress on an already weakened bone.  Luckily there are preventative measures one can take such as investing in your running shoes, supplementing with calcium and vitamin D, and being mindful of the surfaces you run on.

Mountain BikingSkin abrasions
Knee pain
Lower back pain
Joint sprain
Carpal tunnel
Broken collarbone
RunningRunner’s knee
Shin splints
Hamstring injuries
Plantar Fasciitis – a foot injury.
Stress fractures

Here are some of the factors which may influence how many calories we burn during activities such as running and mountain biking.

Boddy weight:How much we weigh is a factor that influences how many calories we burn during activity. Essentially if we carry more weight, we will need more energy to propel us forward.
Weather:Outside factors such as the weather can influence how many calories we burn during a run or a mountain bike session. For example, if it is windy our bodies will have to work harder to move forward against the wind if it comes toward us. The same applies to other conditions such as rain or heat which can also affect the number of calories burnt.
Speed:The speed at which we run or mountain bike may influence the number of calories we burn. We can choose our speed by the types of terrain we choose such as mountains, hills, or even sand.
Body composition:Muscle needs more calories than fat, even when not exercising. The more muscle mass you engage in the activity the more calories you burn.

How Can You Burn More Calories Mountain Biking Than With Running?

Running is a weight-bearing exercise and therefore we initially expend more energy with this exercise than we would if we were mountain biking.  The downside to running on the road is that it is not great on one’s limbs and the impact can be more harmful to your joints than not and make you more prone to injury.

Mountain biking does not suffer the consequences of the constant impact on a tar road or other hard surfaces like runners do.  This means that one can mountain bike for a couple more hours than a runner, depending on your level of fitness, thus burning additional calories.

If you what to know more about the muscles involved in mountain biking read the following article: Is mountain biking a full-body workout?

Combining Running And Mountain Biking In Your Fitness Regime

Both running and mountain biking are amazing sports and both can contribute to your cardiovascular health.  They both have the ability to bolster your moods and your appreciation for life by being in the outdoors.  Whether you are primarily a runner who wants to add a couple of mountain bike rides per week or the other way around, there are many benefits.

The main objective of combining any two sports would be for maintaining balance and also taking from the one what the other doesn’t have.  As competitive beings sometimes the repetition of hill repeats or a particular lap can be good but the repetition can cause injury.  This is when balancing out with another sport becomes handy.

If you are a mountain biker, riding 2 – 3 times a week, it has been suggested that replacing that last ride with a run instead could really be of benefit, particularly in balancing out the body.  Besides the fact that running is one of the best types of cardio, there are other benefits such as switching to a contra-lateral movement as opposed to the ipsilateral movement in biking. 

Likewise, if you are a runner and looking to cross-train with mountain biking it also has a couple of benefits such as giving your body a break from hitting the pavement and still being able to get in a good workout.

In Conclusion

In wrapping this up we see that both sports are power sports and have many benefits for the athlete.  Runners initially burn more calories and in mountain biking, you can cover more ground and time because of fewer injuries due to less impact, and therefore could burn more calories in the long run.

Combining these two sports is where it’s at and definitely your best bet, so if you have the means and the time – go for it.

You may also like the following articles:

Calories burned mountain biking

Lose belly fat mountain biking

Mountain bike or road bike for fitness?

Benefits of mountain biking

I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.