If you’ve recently joined a fitness center and started a new workout program, it’s normal to pay closer attention to the scale for proof that your hard work is paying off. When those numbers not only don’t budge, but go in the opposite direction, it can be frustrating – and confusing. After all, getting more active and burning more calories is supposed to result in weight loss, not weight gain.
If this is your experience, don’t get discouraged! There are at least 4 explanations for gaining weight near the beginning of a new workout program, and with the right response – but mostly time – they’re only temporary.
Challenging your body in new ways usually causes trauma in the form of micro-tears to your muscle fibers. It won’t feel like you tore your muscles apart –it will usually just feel like muscle soreness, stiffness.
You might also notice a few extra pounds on the scale due to inflammation — the body’s first response to trauma. Bringing fluids into the area helps quick-start the process of healing and repairing muscles so they’re stronger than they were before. You can look at it as a necessary step to progress. The good news is that, if extra inflammation is the cause of your weight gain, it will likely subside within a few weeks are your body heals and adjusts to the new demands you’re placing on it.
2. Increased Glycogen Storage
When you start a new fitness gym routine, you might also gain weight because your body starts storing more glycogen (fuel) in your muscles. After the first few days, your body will take notice of the increased demands for energy and start preparing for it in the form of glycogen and water. Again, this is a temporary response that might show up as weight gain, but should subside within a few weeks as your body becomes more efficient at predicting your fueling needs and burning calories more efficiently.
3. Gaining Muscle Faster Than Losing Fat
A less common reason the scale might go up near the start of a new strength training workout is that you’re gaining muscle faster than you’re losing fat (since muscle is denser and heavier than fat). This might also be reflected in the mirror or how your clothing fits. As you continue to work out, your muscle gains will improve your metabolism and burn off that fat layer to reveal the lean, mean muscle underneath.
Keep in mind that the most muscle weight the average person (aka, non-bodybuilder) gains in a month is about two pounds, so if your weight gain is greater than that, other things could be at play.
4. Dietary Opportunities
Exercising increases metabolism and overall calorie burn, but, thanks to a hormone known as ghrelin, it also increases your appetite. If you’ve noticed the scale creeping up and there’s no other explanation, take a closer look at your calories. Are you grabbing snacks more frequently or eating larger portions? Even if you’re not overeating, what are the quality of your calories? Eating processed and high-sugar foods that trigger hormone reactions and blood sugar fluctuations can seriously interfere with the scale.
This is where a personal activity tracker can be a huge help. Dial in your diet, and you’ll see your results gradually reflected on the scale.
If you’re gaining weight despite your new fitness center commitment, don’t get discouraged. Consider which of these 4 things might be interfering with the scale, and remember that, as you stay the course in your fitness journey and dietary choices, you’ll ultimately see the results you’re working for.