When most people embark on an exercise programme, it’s either to lose weight or to get healthy and fit. Or they have to or want to fit into a dress or pants of a certain smaller size. But what if you start gaining weight instead with all that exercise? Is that reason to worry?
The changes in your weight does not mean that you’re going to balloon all out of proportion or that something is wrong. A lot of factors can influence your weight, and working out is one of them. Some of us lose or gain weight faster than others – it all depends on our body type, metabolic rate and genetic makeup.
Here are some reasons why the scales show you’re getting heavier despite exercising.
Initial weight gain
When you exercise, the body is put under stress. For those who are embarking on a fitness journey after a long lay off or for the very first time, the stress level is higher on the muscle fibres. This causes small microtears, also known as microtrauma, and some inflammation, which is the reason you may gain some weight in the initial stages.
According to the Cleveland Clinic in the US, your body responds to the microtears and inflammation in two ways that can cause temporary water weight gain.
The first is a healing response. As the muscle is stressed and damaged slightly from the microtears, it induces water retention in the body. The small amount of inflammation around these tears naturally causes fluid to be retained in the area as the body tries to heal.
Secondly, you will most likely experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in the 24-48 hours after exercising. Again, this is your body’s natural response to the micro muscle tears and breakdown in muscle tissue.
Once the body adjusts itself to the stress load, the fluid disappears and your weight should go back to normal. So, don’t be too gungho and overdo things in your first few sessions, because the longer your body hurts, the less likely you are to continue working out.
Drinking too much water during and after a workout will also see the scales going up immediately. Ideally, if you’re well-hydrated, the colour of your urine should be a transparent yellow.
Although most people believe clear urine is the sign of ideal hydration, having urine with no pigmentation or colour at all may be a sign that you’re drinking too much water.
We’ve all read that drinking eight glasses of water daily is the norm, but this suggestion varies depending on an individual’s height, weight and exercise patterns. The harder you exercise and perspire, the stronger the urge to satiate your thirst.
When you drink too much water, the salt concentration in your blood reduces, causing cells throughout your body to swell. Therefore, you may gain weight suddenly due to the cell swelling and excess water in the bloodstream. You might also notice swelling or discolouration in your hands, lips and feet.
If this happens, consider cutting back on water and the swelling should subside.
Eating too much
Just because you’ve started exercising, it doesn’t mean you now have the right to indulge in extra food. Newbies often complain they’re ravenous after a workout, so they end up consuming more post-workout, to compensate for burning the extra calories.
Many of my friends are weekend warriors, and after a morning hike, they load up on all kinds of food because they believe they have earned it. I also have a student who works her body really hard just so she can enjoy a molten chocolate cake afterwards.
And she treats herself to this dessert after every workout – that’s four times a week. Her face reflects ecstasy with every mouthful of chocolate! It’s her weakness, but thankfully, she is pretty trim and healthy otherwise. If you’re on a weight-loss journey, how can the kilos be shed if you’re binging, pray tell?
To keep track of what you’re eating, perhaps keep a food diary for a week or two, noting down every-thing that goes into your mouth – small snacks and drinks included. You’ll be surprised how much the calories add up, which will likely be more than what you thought.
Muscle is denser
Contrary to what people believe, muscle is not heavier than fat. One pound of muscle weighs the same as one pound of fat. However, muscle is denser than fat, and therefore, heavier for the same volume. It is estimated that a pound of muscle occupies 22% less space than a pound of fat.
This explains why when you start doing strength training, you build muscles and the scales go up. Also, your total body weight isn’t a clear indicator of how you look or what health risks you may face.
Two different people who weigh the same can look very different when one has a high percentage of fat and the other has a high percentage of muscle.
Keeping your body fat percentage low is important to prevent obesity-related conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and cardiovascular (heart) disease. That doesn’t mean that you need to build excessive amounts of muscles by lifting heavy weights.
In fact, unless you’re a bodybuilder or are on a specific protein diet and take supplements, you can never develop too many muscles. Work on keeping the muscle and fat ratios at healthy levels.
Don’t get discouraged and hang up your training shoes if your weight goes up, but adjust your fitness programme to ensure you’re getting enough cardiovascular exercises, which will promote faster weight loss.
Then focus your strength training workouts on muscular endurance by keeping the repetitions between 12-16. The good thing is that more muscle means improved strength and energy, and a higher metabolism. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn when you’re at rest.
When it comes to losing weight, forget about the scales and focus on the way your body feels as your clothes get looser. The weighing scale cannot tell whether you’re gaining fat or muscles, so it’s not the best indicator to measure progress.
Stop obsessing over standing on it, and instead, observe if your clothes are getting looser. After a month or two, you may drop a size or two. You might also weigh more, but appear thinner.
Ultimately, you should feel fitter and more energetic. More importantly, eat healthily, exercise regularly, reduce your stress levels and get adequate sleep.