We all know how important diet and exercise are when it comes to weight loss. So it might sound puzzling to hear exercise can actually lead to weight gain, but if you’ve been following a rigorous workout regime and not seeing your success reflected on the scale, there may be a reason why.
A healthy life is all about balance; we want to avoid overeating without being so restrictive that food isn’t enjoyable, and we want to exercise in a way that is enjoyable, boosts our metabolism, and burns calories efficiently.
Whether you’re new to working out or are feeling frustrated with a lack of progress, read on as I guide you through a few ways exercise can impact your weight.
Can I gain weight even though I exercise regularly?
While no individual exercise will directly cause you to gain weight, it’s worth making sure you’re doing it the right way. Here are five ways you might be thwarting your weight loss progress even if you’re exercising regularly:
Consuming extra calories without thinking: When we exercise and burn calories, our appetite often increases. While it’s never a good idea to ignore your body’s hunger cues, it is important to be mindful of what you eat if weight loss is your goal. Depending on what you eat and how much of it, you might end up consuming more calories than what you burned off earlier. So, if you feel hungrier when starting an exercise regimen stick to clean food, like lean meats, fruits and vegetables to address your hunger.
Not drinking enough water: Hydrating before and after a workout is important. Sometimes our body signals may feel like those we receive when we’re hungry, but in actuality, we need hydration. This misinterpreted signal may lead us to eat more throughout the day, so we can minimize this issue by drinking enough water.
Eating sub-optimal post-workout snacks: Protein bars and snacks might seem like a smart choice post-workout but they often have more calories, sugar, and fat than we need after exercise. Over time, these items could be sabotaging your efforts, so think about what you’re grabbing after a workout.
It’s also worth mentioning the drinks we often crave after the gym. While the idea of an iced latte or sports drink sounds great after a workout, these drinks often contain lots of sugar and caffeine, causing an insulin spike and subsequent crash. (Not to mention the extra calories!)
Rehydrate and save those calories for a hearty, vegetable-filled meal. If you absolutely need a snack, try replacing a store-bought snack bar or sugary coffee with something simple like a protein shake.
Allowing your workout to lull you into a false sense of security: You ran for half an hour at the gym, so you must be fine to sit the rest of the day, right? Unfortunately, this is incorrect. Your body needs more movement than you are likely expending at the gym, and little movement might be hurting your weight efforts in the long run. Walking around the block as you take phone calls, taking the stairs, and even spending a little less time sitting down can boost the burn without hitting the gym.
Losing out on sleep in favor of gym time: When you’re in the zone and are feeling the passion for getting fit, losing weight, building muscle, and improving your cardiovascular health, it can be tempting to fall into a “hustle” mentality.
Here, we convince ourselves that in order to succeed, we must work constantly and never rest. This never-ending drive can hinder our progress; we tend to operate on far less productive levels if we’re not sufficiently rested and make ourselves more vulnerable to colds and other illnesses. So get those 7-9 hours each night if you can - you’ll feel rested enough for good workouts and likely see your desired results earlier than if you burn the candle at both ends.
Just doing cardio: Cardio is an important factor in promoting good heart health, but mixing in resistance training is just as important for weight loss. This is because muscles use more energy and burn calories more efficiently (even when we’re at rest) when we lift weights alongside running or cycling. Try adding a few more reps during your workout routine for the optimum burn!
Not realizing you’re putting on muscle: If you’re not really seeing the scale move, despite working out and eating clean, there’s a good chance you’re putting on muscle.
If you’re not seeing the scale move, try using a scale that also measures your body fat. While home scales aren’t as accurate as something like a body composition scan, you’ll be able to get a good idea about whether you’re burning fat and putting on muscle, or if there’s something else going on that’s preventing you from losing weight.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.