It’s not uncommon to see the numbers on your scale go up when starting a new workout program, but it can definitely be disconcerting if your goal is to slim down. Today we tackle why that happens and what it may mean if this happens to you…
REASONS WHY SCALE NUMBERS CAN INCREASE EVEN IF YOU’RE WORKING OUT
- Muscle inflammation & recovery – As you push through new workouts, new demands are made on your muscles that create little tears or “microtrauma”. In the hours after your workout, your body goes to work to repair the damaged muscle fibers. This cellular process of patching up muscles is what makes them bigger and stronger (and it’s part of why rest days are so important). As part of this recovery process, natural inflammation and fluid retention occurs in your body that can add a deceiving 2-4 pounds of weight on the scale. It will organically clear your system, so the best advice is just to keep with your program, stay well hydrated, limit sodium consumption and eat these foods.
- Muscle energy – During the first month of a new workout program, your muscles are working to understand what is happening and how they can best prepare for the physical demands you make of them. In the beginning, muscles increase storage of energy (glycogen) so they can be ready for your increased activity habits. Glycogen needs water to fuel your muscles, thus the more glycogen stored, the more water weight you carry. Good news is that this (just like the recovery inflammation) is just a temporary phenomenon. Dr. Gary Calabrese from the Cleveland Clinic explains, “as your muscles become more accustomed to the exercise and more efficient, they begin to need less glycogen to maintain the same level of energy output. Thus, your water retention becomes less, so your weight will start to go down a few weeks or a month after starting an exercise program”.
- Muscle weight – If you are gaining muscle faster than you are losing fat, it could be useful to increase your cardio workouts and get nutrition guidance from a professional. However, it’s critical to acknowledge that muscle weighs more than fat. Accordingly, using a scale as the sole determinant of your progress is not smart. In the long run, it will serve you better to focus on a combination of factors, e.g. how your body feels, fits into clothing and perhaps occasionally, what you weigh.
- Poor diet – No amount of working out can undo the effects of a poor diet. Exercise burn calories and our bodies respond by increasing the release of ghrelin, a hormone that promotes hunger. Without proper planning and mindfulness, hunger pangs can lead you to make meal choices that compromise your efforts. The honest truth is that you are only going to get where you want to be by making smart nutrition choices and smart exercise decisions. On the food side, this means eating as healthfully as you can and not using food as a reward for completing a workout. On the exercise side, it means setting goals, challenging yourself and allowing your body to rest so that exercise does not become a source of stress.
WHAT TO FOCUS ON INSTEAD OF THE SCALE
I do not weigh myself because a number on a scale doesn’t give me a full picture of how my body is doing. I know that regular weigh-ins can be a very useful tool for some folks who are trying to maintain long term weight loss for health, thus generally encourage you to do what feels right but never makes you feel bad. Unless you’re using a bioelectrical impedance scale that measures body fat, weighing in is not as indicative of your progress as other methods can be. Here is what we suggest you focus on:
- How you feel (energy level, confidence, alertness, sleep habits)
- How your clothes fit (e.g. your measurements)
- How your athletic performance is improving (per the short and medium term goals you set)
- Eating habits (bodily responses – what makes you feel good/bad, emotions, social situations)
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