You’ve finally made it past the point of wanting to get healthy and lose weight. You’ve not only made plans for eating better and working out, but you actually put those plans into action. It’s been a month now, and not only have you not lost any weight, but you’ve actually gained some! Why?
Working Out But Not Losing Weight
Believe it or not, gaining weight at the beginning of a new exercise program is quite common. Not only is it common, but it is normal. If you have not exercised regularly in months, you can expect to add a couple of pounds at the beginning, but have no fear, this weight gain is good weight gain, and it will do nothing to keep you from reaching your goals as long as you understand what is actually going on.
Increased Energy Reserve Capacity
Let’s assume that your calorie intake isn’t 500-1000 calories above maintenance levels on a daily basis. This is a safe assumption to make, as most weight losers don’t come anywhere close to eating maintenance calories. In fact, they tend to under eat. So then, if your calories are below maintenance levels, how could you possibly be gaining weight – especially if you’ve been exercising too?
Your body stores energy in two main ways – fat and glycogen. Fat storage is fairly linear – meaning it fluctuates slowly based on your current lifestyle. However, glycogen storage can swing wildly on a day to day basis depending on the type of exercise you do, the amount you do, and how long it’s been since you’ve done any exercise.
Your body mostly stores glycogen in the muscles, but it also stores it in the liver. Glycogen comes from glucose, which comes from eating carbohydrates (or protein via gluconeogenesis). When we eat carbs our body breaks them down into glucose. That glucose enters the bloodstream, and any extra is taken up by insulin and stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver.
Here’s the thing though, that glucose is combined with water to form glycogen. In fact, every gram of glucose is stored with about 3 grams of water . Taking that one step further, the average person can store about 15 g/kg of body weight of glycogen . So, let’s do a little math:
- A 200 pound person weighs about 90kg
- At 15 g/kg, that person carries 1350 grams of glycogen (15 * 90 = 1350)
- 1350 grams equals 3 pounds (1350 / 453 grams in a pound = 3 pounds)
That’s right, 3 pounds of glycogen is what this person stores on average in their muscles and liver. If he were going from a sedentary lifestyle to a very active one, the swing in intracellular water weight could be several pounds. Your capacity to store glycogen increases as you increase your work load.
Water Weight and Fat Are Not the Same
You might think that is an obvious statement, but if it were, there wouldn’t be so many people wondering why they’re working out but gaining weight. This water weight is good weight. It is fuel within the muscles for high-intensity exercise. It is going to make your muscles look full, and keep the cells hydrated so they can do their job efficiently.
It is so important that you get over the idea of weight during your weight loss program. You’d be better off calling it a fat loss program. That’s what you’re trying to do anyways, isn’t it? Weight fluctuates drastically even during a small window of time. Fat loss is a much more stable process.
Before you freak out and quit your fitness program over discouraging scale readings, just remember that just because you gained weight, it doesn’t mean you didn’t lose fat. You have to measure fat if you want to know what is really going on. If you’re not measuring your body fat, you’re navigating in the dark. Measuring your body fat will tell you how much of that weight gain was lean body mass and how much of it was fat. Your scale won’t do that.
Be prepared for a little weight gain at the beginning of your weight loss program, but understand where it’s coming from. Take before and after body fat measurements, and have confidence that you are doing what you need to do to not only reach your weight loss goals, but to be healthy both on the inside and out.