How is it possible? You’ve been consistently exercising, but instead of weight loss, you are are experiencing workout weight gain?  It’s understandable that you’re both frustrated and surprised with the lack of results.  You’ve increased your exercise, so why aren’t you losing weight? Let me address some potential exercise “pitfalls” as well as strategies to make sure your eating and exercise habits are working together to avoid workout weight gain.

Workout Weight Gain: Why It Happens 

  1. Eating is Easy, Exercise is LESS Easy. Most people would agree, it is “easier” to eat 100 calories than burn 100 calories through exercise! 100 calories adds up quickly when we grab a handful of M&M’s from the secretary’s candy bowl or finish the French fries off our child’s plate compared to the work it takes to burn 100 calories in a 30-minute gym workout.
  2. Exercise-Induced Appetite.  For many, exercise will naturally increase your appetite to eat. AND…we should not ignore this! For example, if you are training for a 1/2 marathon, you require more energy to fuel those miles. However, most of the time, we can avoid working out weight gain by eating an additional apple with lunch and a larger portion of rice at dinner. The increase in food doesn’t usually require as substantial increase – like a pint of ice cream after bed.
  3. Over-Estimated Exercise.  Don’t let them fool you, that elliptical or on-line exercise calorie calculator almost always overestimates how many calories you burn.  These tools typically do not obtain enough personalized information to give you an accurate calorie count.  Even though more sophisticated tools such as Garmin or Polar watches are more precise, they still are likely to overestimate calories burned.
  4. Entitlement.  We’ve all said something of the following to ourselves at one time or another: “I can splurge on X because I trained for X minutes today.” It’s important to keep in mind the reasons that we exercise. If getting in better shape is a priority, reward yourself with some wireless ear buds, not a post run pizza to avoid workout weight gain.

Making the Most of Your Exercise

  1. Do Exercise, Don’t Extreme Diet.  Even thought we are trying to avoid workout weight gain, exercising is a great way to lose weight. It doesn’t slow your metabolism like slashing calories.  Commit to a healthy balanced diet or make small calories cuts such as 100-200 calories per day.  Significant calorie cutting has been shown to slow metabolism and it easy to regain weight later.
  2. Find Your Filler-UP Foods.  Certain food calories fill us up more than others. Forty calories of broccoli are much more filling than 40 calories of chips.  Figure out what foods fill you up.  A simple eating strategy to use called the “plate method,” recommends that  ½  your plate be filled with fiber-rich vegetables (i.e.: broccoli, spinach, zucchini), ¼ with lean protein (i.e.: chicken, fish, soy), and ¼ with a fiber-rich grain or starchy vegetable (i.e.: brown rice, quinoa*, sweet potato). A well-designed plate such as this, is not only satisfying, but also helps manage calories.
  3. Re-direct Your Focus: If you find yourself slaving over the elliptical machine or dragging yourself to Zumba class just for the sake of burning calories, pick another mode of exercise.  Workout weight gain is less likely to happen if you are consistent to your exercise. Therefore, you need to look forward to it! Commit to exercise that you enjoy. Pair exercise with a friend or an enjoyable podcast. A healthy “pairing” keeps you motivated.
  4. Move Beyond the Numbers. Focus on other benefits of exercise beyond calories or your weight on the scale.  Monitor body fat and muscle mass changes by having your body composition tested.  Commend yourself on the new definition you notice in your arms, or your smaller pant size.  Enjoy increased energy and/or better sleep. These are all worthy benefits related to being more active.

Continue to be patient with yourself and realize that long-term weight loss is a journey.  Enjoy the process and the exercise that gets you there.

 

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.