I’ve started working out regularly (3-4 times) for the last two weeks and have been noticing that I’ve gained weight instead of losing it. I’m started to feel a little confused because I haven’t been eating more than I did before. Is this normal?
In a word: yes, it’s pretty normal, but that doesn’t mean it has to happen. Ask yourself the following questions to find out why you could be gaining weight instead of losing.
- Are your workouts intense enough?
Many people who’ve just started to work out think that all physical activity is created equal. While any movement is better than no movement, 20 minutes of walking leisurely on the treadmill and a few crunches just isn’t going to facilitate weight less quickly. According to this MSN article, to lose 10 pounds of fat by doing only yoga and ab workouts 4 days/week for 30 minutes would take almost 3 years. Doing moderate-intensity walks, it would take a little more than one year.
If you’re doing low intensity exercise and not watching your calorie intake, weight gain is a definite possibility. My motto is if it’s not work, it’s not working out. Sorry, I know a lot of you don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. Sure, you can have fun while you work out, and it’s great if you do. But if what you’re doing isn’t difficult at all, you probably need to step it up if you want to see a change in your body. Don’t be afraid to break a sweat.
- Along the same lines, are you doing cardio AND weight training?
There’s no way to get around it. You need to do BOTH to get the best results. I recommend doing an equal amount of each to get the benefits of both (30 minutes of cardio, 30 minutes of weight training, etc.). However, if you’re training for something specific, the ratio of cardio to weights might be different.
The reason for this is simple: cardio burns calories while you’re engaging in the activity, while strength training builds muscles that burn calories AFTER you’re done working out. Weight training also burns calories while you’re engaging in it as well, but not quite as many as cardio does, depending on what you’re doing. This article from Women’s Health explains the benefits of each type of workout clearly.
I used to hate weight training. Really. I could do cardio for hours without getting bored, but weights were torture. Finally, I got a plan that varied my strength training workout every day (there are many available both for a fee and for free online), and now I feel like I have a personal trainer with me in the gym every time I go. The variety and specificity of the workouts is key for me, but find out what works for you by trial and error.
- Are you overcompensating in your eating or the rest of your lifestyle?
You can’t use working out as an excuse to eat whatever you want and/or be totally sedentary the rest of the day. Unless you’re doing intense or prolonged exercise, you’re probably not burning more than 300-500 calories in one session. Eat 2 extra cookies and you’ve just cancelled it out. Track your eating just as carefully when you work out as when you don’t.
I’m always hungrier on days I exercise, so I usually have a protein shake after my workout as part of my small meal plan. It definitely helps prevent me from becoming ravenous later in the day.
- Are you eating enough?
In some cases, people don’t eat enough if they’ve just started a workout regimen. You need to make sure you’re getting enough nourishment to fuel your workout and the rest of your day. If you’re working out intensely, you should be able to safely add 200-300 calories to your meal plan (calculate your daily calorie needs here). Try to get those calories from protein and complex carbs rather than fat or sugar. If you don’t eat enough, not only do you run the risk of slowing down your metabolism, but you also put yourself in the position to binge because your body is badly in need of fuel.
On workout days, I know if I don’t get enough of the right food, I’ll be absolutely starving by the end of the night and more prone to eat just about whatever I can get my hands on.
- How do your clothes fit?
Muscle is heavier by volume than fat. Meaning, if you have 5 pounds of fat, it will look much more bulky than 5 pounds of muscle. So if you’re building muscle, you can remain at the same weight or even gain a few pounds, but your clothes will fit better than they did before. Look at how your clothes fit as a gage of your success rather than the number on the scale.
If you’re answering these questions honestly, you should have a better understanding of why the number on the scale might be going up. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong, but it could mean you need to make some minor adjustments. Let me know if you have any questions!