Nothing is more frustrating than stepping on the scale after consistently eating healthy and working out and gaining weight instead of losing.
Worse yet, you’ve crushed your longest run ever, yet the following morning Grrrrrr the scale has risen!!
WHAT THE F.
If you’ve been working out but gaining weight, let’s talk about the culprits and when NOT to worry.
Working Out and Gaining Weight: What’s Normal and What’s Not
First off, don’t panic. Second, we all KNOW that the scale isn’t the best measure of our bodies or our progress, right???
None the less, I know I’ve found myself wondering what the heck is happening and based on discussions with friends, you probably have too. Is marathon weight gain a must? And is all this running making us fatter?! Uh no.
1. Exercise puts stress on our body, which can lead to weight gain. Sometimes, the body just needs time to adjust.
2. That number on the scale could be misleading, like very, extremely misleading because it’s not showing you water, muscle and fat all separated out. A host of elements go into the weight loss game, which is why it’s so hard to keep the pounds off in the first place. Trust me, I know.
3. We KNOW that our workouts are about so much more than the scale, so don’t let it occupy too much of your brainspace. Keep focused on the way it’s making you feel more confident, stronger and healthier.
Here’s what could be happening.
Gaining Weight When You First Start Exercising
“I started exercising and I’m gaining weight” – it’s a bizarrely common refrain…let’s talk about why!
If you’re just starting a new exercise program or changing to a more intense training plan, then that could be the culprit for an initial increase on the scale.
The reason your body feels like it was run over by a truck when you start working out again after a lull is due to stress in your muscle fibers.
Exercise causes micro tears and inflammation, two culprits the temporary weight gain.
- Muscles repair damaged tissues through protein synthesis, which requires water retention.
- In order to properly heal the tears, the body retains fluid in the area.
- Voila we’ve explained your temporary weight gain.
As your body adjusts to the new program, this will become less frequent and suddenly one day you’re body will shed the water and you’ll also have found yourself losing fat from the work!
Busting the Muscle Weighs More Myth
We always hear that “muscle weighs more than fat” and therefore we shouldn’t worry when we see the scales tip in the wrong direction. Muscle weight gain is far harder than most of us realize (otherwise we’d all have Popeye arms after a few months of bicep curls).
SMH because you all intrinsically know this doesn’t sound right… I mean 1 lb is 1lb whether we’re talking about feathers, rocks or Swedish fish. Oh man, imagine a pound of Swedish Fish at aid stations, instead of gels! Yum.
A pound of muscle weighs the same amount as a pound of fat.
What we need to understand is that muscle is denser than fat.
I think @justget.fit shares this well on her Instagram. Here she weights 145 in both photos, showing that the scale isn’t telling the whole story.
What we need to look at is how much space each pound takes up. A pound of cotton balls takes up more space than a pound of magnets.
This doesn’t mean that strength training will make you bulky. In order to bulk up like a body builder, you need to do more than just lift weights. It takes years, supplements, heavy training, and specific super high protein/calorie diets. They are training to achieve that look.
“Why am I gaining weight from strength training?”
Again, inflammation and water retention needed for muscle repair.
- The average newbie cannot put on more than 2 lbs of muscle in a month
- That’s with consistent strength training and enough calories for muscle gain (often not happening with those on a diet)
- Those who have been strength training for longer can only put on .5 to 1 lb per month
Building muscle may increase your body weight, but you may still lose inches off your waist or thighs because it’s helping you to change the shape of your body. Worry less about the scale and more about performance, or if you’re in to measuring then focus on body measurements and body fat percentage.
Strength training results in muscle gain, injury prevention and more power in your stride. It should be part of every runner’s training plan and it’s a required part of everyone I coach!
Checkout this great post from my friend Tara on how running less and lifting more helped her create six pack abs.
Gaining Weight After Long Runs (Marathon weight gain)
“I ran 15 miles today, so I can eat whatever I want!”
All the pizza.
An extra post run beer.
A double bowl of Lucky Charms mixed with Coco Puffs.
Er, no, you can’t.
Yes, running, particularly long distance running, burns calories, however all those calories you just burned are immediately replaced if you have an attitude of being able to eat whatever you want because you run.
“How did I gain weight after working out?!”
Those new to running will probably have a voracious appetite at first as your body adjusts to the new intensity of exercise. While it’s important to replace those lost calories, it’s equally important to pay attention to the food sources you chose to replenish your body.
Checkout these tips on managing your marathon training hunger!
Say you ran 10 miles today and burned 1,000 calories. Good for you! That’s super!
Now, you go celebrate that evening over burgers and beer, and let’s not forget that ice cream afterward.
- A typical quarter-pound burger contains 450 calories.
- Add cheese to that, maybe bacon, plus other toppings and you’re looking at 700 calories.
- Ten fries total about 100 calories.
- On to your recovery beer. An IPA contains around 200 calories.
Now our total is a minimum of 900 calories, if you can somehow eat only 10 fries, and you haven’t even had ice cream yet.
Understand how easy it is to eat more calories than you burn?
It’s 100% OK to enjoy a slice of pizza, the occasional burger or your favorite slice of carrot cake. But if you’re celebrating every run with a feast, then you’re bound to consume more than the number of calories you burn.
Exercise alone won’t help you drop the pounds.
- You need to understand maximizing your fat burning cardio
- You need to eat enough protein for fat burning and to prevent muscle wasting as a distance runner
- You need to EAT ENOUGH to actually help boost your metabolism
- Learn how to correctly utilize things like fasted running or intermittent fasting
- Stop thinking the scale measures success
Still Gaining Weight While Working out and Eating Healthy?
A few other factors could be in play if you’re doing everything right, but still unable to lose weight. Or more notably, you see something odd like that scale going up the day after a long run or marathon. It’s NOT FAT.
You’re not drinking enough water.
It may seem strange, but dehydration actually increases water retention. When you’re not drinking enough water, your body retains more water as a safety mechanism to prevent water levels from becoming too low.
You need more beauty rest.
Catching enough zzz’s is so important for marathon training that I dedicated an entire blog post to the subject.
Sleep is key to recovery from exerted efforts, like long distance running or killer workouts in the gym. When we don’t get enough sleep, the hormones that regulate our hunger cravings get out of whack, causing intense cravings.
Speaking of recovery…
If losing weight is the impetus to begin a new exercise routine, then you may feel like you MUST workout every single day.
This is flawed thinking.
Rest days are crucial for the body to recover from the effort, which is when our muscles are able to grow and our endurance to increase. If our muscles cannot repair themselves, then our body is constantly inflamed and inflammation means the body holds on to extra water.
While exercise is a great way to prevent stress, if you work full time, have to make dinner, get the kids off to school, plus squeeze in that run, then it could be contributing to your stress levels.
When we feel stress, our brain releases a host of chemicals, including adrenaline and cortisol. Although adrenaline prepares us for fight or flight and may suppress hunger, once it wears off, cortisol takes over.
Known as the stress hormone, cortisol signals the body to replenish food supplies, which may cause us to eat mindlessly. Checkout this detailed post on understanding cortisol and why your stress is making you gain weight.
It’s ok to seek professional help.
If you still feel like you’re doing everything right, then consider seeing a registered dietitian, personal trainer, or running coach. They can determine if there are other factors contributing to the weight gain and help put together a plan to help you achieve your goals.
Gaining weight from working out isn’t an immediate sign that you are doing any thing wrong or that there is anything wrong with you!!! The reasons above apply to us all regardless of size or shape, so know that all progress takes time and patience.
We don’t run a marathon on day 1 of training and we don’t lose the weight in 1 week of training.
What is your experience with exercise and weight gain?
What tips do you have to share for keeping off
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