Gaining Weight With Exercise: 6 Reasons You’re Exercising but Still Gaining Weight
6 Reasons You’re Exercising but Still Gaining Weight
People start to exercise for many reasons. Some want to improve their stamina and energy level. Others enjoy the disease preventive benefits that exercise offers. But one of the most common reasons people work out is to lose weight. However, it’s frustrating if you’re doing it for weight loss and you’re gaining weight instead! You might wonder what you’re doing wrong and how to correct it.
The reality is you may not be doing anything wrong. If you’re working your muscles against resistance, you could be gaining muscle rather than body fat. Muscle weighs more than fat and it’s pushing the needle on the scale up. Your body composition is improving but the scale doesn’t reflect it. That’s why measuring body fat percentage gives you more information than body weight.
However, it is possible that you are gaining body fat since you started exercising. Let’s look at some reasons why.
1. You Reward Yourself with Food
Using food as a reward and overeating after a workout is the most common reason people gain weight after starting an exercise program. Studies show people are notorious at overestimating the calories they burn during a workout. It’s true of men and women.
In one study, researchers asked men and women to estimate how many calories they burned during an hour-long workout. The subjects said they burned 400 calories but objective data showed they expended only 250 calories. If you adjust your eating habits around that optimistic estimate, you’ll more than compensate for the calories you burned off.
The truth is it takes a lot of exercise to burn off a chocolate chip cookie or a Frappuccino with whipped cream from Starbucks. Even worse, people often don’t count the calories they drink, such as sugary beverages they hydrate with during a workout. It all counts! Also, don’t use food as a reward for working out. Exercise because it makes you feel good, not to earn a brownie. Replace those after-workout snacks with more nutrient-dense fare. How about a container of plain yogurt with fruit?
Studies also suggest that more intense exercise stimulates appetite in some people but the research is conflicting. Some show intense exercise reduces the desire to eat afterward. Take note of how exercise affects your appetite after different workout intensities. Once you know, you can devise strategies for not consuming more calories than you burned off.
2. You’re Not Strength Training Enough
Don’t fall into the trap of only doing cardio exercise to lose weight. Cardio burns more calories while you’re doing it but strength training builds metabolically active muscle tissue that increases the amount of fat you burn even when you aren’t exercising. It’s an investment in a healthy metabolism. The effect of building muscle is modest but it all counts. Plus, strength training is less likely to boost your appetite than cardio. Switch some of your focus toward strengthening your muscles.
3. You Use Exercise as an Excuse Not to Change Your Eating Habits
Exercise and nutrition go together. Sometimes people think if they exercise they don’t have to address their eating habits. A little voice inside your head might tell you that if you’re burning more calories you don’t have to watch what you eat. But, as mentioned, you may overestimate the calories you expend during exercise and eat enough to gain weight. Plus, your body has different nutritional needs when you work out. Make sure you’re supplying your muscles with the macronutrients and micronutrients they need by eating a nutrient-rich diet. Skip the junk food. It won’t nourish your body and the sugar and empty calories will lead to weight gain.
4. You’re Sitting Between Workouts
All movement counts! After exhausting yourself with a workout, do you head for an easy chair for the rest of the day? Working out can’t make up for hours of uninterrupted sitting, not to mention sitting more than 6 hours per day increases all-cause mortality. Add more movement to your day by taking short walks and stretching breaks. Find opportunities to add more motion to your day – take the stairs, park further away, do housework with more vigor. A fitness tracker can help you track your movement when you aren’t exercising. Also, don’t exhaust yourself so much during a workout that you don’t feel like moving the rest of the day.
5. You’re Weighing Too Often
Bodyweight fluctuates on a daily basis and not all weight gain is body fat. You may experience water weight gain during certain times of the month or gain a few pounds due to constipation or eating a large, salty meal. In fact, it can take several days for your weight to return to baseline after eating overindulging at a buffet. Medications can contribute to weight gain too. Stop weighing so often and pay more attention to how your clothes are fitting and how you feel. Ultimately, that is the most important.
6. Your Workouts are Stressing You Out
One of the most common reasons people overeat and gain weight is emotional eating or stress eating. That can happen if you’re pushing yourself so hard during your workouts that it’s stressing you out. Exercising too long and too often can work against you by elevating the stress hormone cortisol. In turn, cortisol can contribute to muscle breakdown and an increased appetite. Switch some of those high-intensity exercise sessions with mind-body exercises like yoga and light stretching to help your body recover from the more strenuous sessions. It’s all about balance. Also, consider taking your workouts outdoors on a sunny day. Exercising in nature is a stress reliever and exercising in natural light will help optimize your biological clock for better weight control. You’ll also get a dose of vitamin D.
The Bottom Line
Now you have a better idea of why you’re exercising and gaining weight or not losing weight. But remember, even if you aren’t satisfied with your weight loss, you’re gaining health benefits and building more strength and stamina. That’s worthwhile too.
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