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Why Women Gain Weight When They Start Exercising

Dec 17, 2018
Ashley Ann Lawrie

So you’ve decided to start working out and eating a more balanced diet. You make it to the gym even on the days you don’t want to be there, you choose the side salad instead of the fries, and you have really up-ed your water game.

A few weeks in you wake up feeling great and decide it is time to step on the scale. To your dismay, you have actually gained weight!

How could this be possible when you are doing everything right? Is the pain of the workouts and the resisting of temptations really worth it if your weight is just going to go up?

Yes – definitely, 100% yes. This weight gain after starting a new exercise routine and changing your eating habits is actually very common, and it is especially common in women due to shifts in our hormones when we start exercising.

Why the weight gain?

We have spoken many times about the body’s ability to adapt to new stressors. Exercise is definitely a new stressor, or stimulus, that the body must adapt to. These adaptations are what will eventually lead to increased strength, increased bone density, healthy body composition, and improved cardiovascular health.

When you first begin to exercise, your body has a few ways that it adapts. The first is via micro-tearing in the muscles. These micro-tears, or micro-trauma, are perfectly normal. These tiny tears in the muscle tissue become the sites for repair and recovery.

In the process of repairing these microtears,  inflammation in the body increases around the sites of the microtears. Inflammation can cause the body to feel “puffy” and be the cause of a larger number on the scale.

Your muscles will also be going through quite a bit of fuel while exercising, as well as the  recovery process. The muscle’s source of energy is glycogen, the stored form of glucose.

In order to deal with the increased demand for energy, the body will store glycogen in the muscles. Glycogen requires water in order to be stored in the muscle cells, and so some of the initial weight gain when you begin exercising can be attributed to water weight gain in order to manage the new energy demands for the muscle.

As for that diet – decreasing your caloric intake by too much can lower the metabolism. This sets your new baseline for caloric expenditure much lower, meaning you’d have to restrict your calories even more to see any weight loss from dietary changes.

Patience will pay off

All of this should hopefully help to reinforce the idea that any change that is worth it will take time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so take your time and be patient with your new workout routine.

The inflammation and water weight should begin to level off and decrease after 3-5 weeks of regular exercise, so don’t worry about the number on the scale until 2 months into your fitness journey.

Stay consistent and celebrate your consistency along the way. Make sure your nutrition fuels you, instead of leaving your feeling depleted and deprived. If you keep working away at improving your health every day, those small actions will add up to big change.

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