Can Exercise Make You Gain Weight?
Technically, if you exercise on a regular basis, you should be able to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. It helps you burn more calories, reduce stress (a major cause of overeating) and increase metabolism. Why on earth wouldn't it result in weight loss? That's just common sense, right? Well, in reality, it isn't always so. There are many people who can't lose weight no matter how intense their exercise routine is or how many hours they spend at a gym. Some even experience weight gain! Believe it or not, your workout may have something to do with that.
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Exercise and Appetite
Exercise affects hormones in our bodies differently. Some people may notice only a little increase in their appetite levels or none at all after a vigorous workout, whereas some others may feel like they could kill for a slice of pie! According to a Fitness Magazine interview of Dr. Barry Braun, Director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts, post-workout cravings are a lot more common among women than men. This is because the female anatomy is hardwired to reserve fat and energy for reproduction purposes. Once the body experiences energy loss, the hunger hormones will naturally surge. As a result, some women end up eating a lot more than they normally would. For example, you may usually have a sandwich for lunch, which contains around 350 calories. On the day of your workout, you may burn 200 calories on a stationary bike, but then you get hungry like a wolf and chow down a pan pizza along with a big soda adding 750 calories to your daily total. That not only negates the calories burned during the workout but also gives you 200 more calories than you would normally consume.
So should we just give up on exercise? Absolutely not. What you should do is learn how to prevent and/or handle your post-workout cravings. Here are a few practical tips.
- Have some healthy snacks before and maybe during a workout to prevent post-exercise hunger pangs. Go with snacks that are rich in protein and dietary fiber; they tend to help curb hungriness very well.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration can aggravate your food cravings.
- If you always experience post-exercise cravings, make sure you keep nutritious, low-calorie snacks and beverages handy.
- Use a calorie-counting app. This can help you avoid overestimating the number of calories you burn and underestimating the number of calories you put into your body.
- Always remember that exercise alone does not guarantee weight loss. It must be complemented by a healthy, balanced diet.
Exercise and Water Retention
Theoretically, exercise should reduce water retention in the body, as it helps you eliminate excess fluid through sweat. Sometimes, however, your body may gain up to 5 lbs. of water a few days after starting a new exercise routine. How can that be? One possible explanation is that when you adopt a new workout program or intensify your old routine, your muscle may become overworked and suffer from micro tears. In the process of repairing itself, your muscle tends to retain more fluid and thus causes the number on your scale to go up. In addition, mild dehydration from exercising coupled with a high-sodium diet can lead to more fluid retention as well. There is no reason to worry about those few extra pounds, though. Stick to your exercise program; watch your diet; and make sure you stay hydrated. Once your muscles get used to the routine, your water retention will go away, and your weight will also drop.
Exercise and Muscle Mass
Some of you may notice a slight weight gain despite having lost a couple inches off your waist. How could that be possible? Well, your exercise routine and genetic build may have a lot to do with that. If your regular workout includes both aerobic exercise and strength training, chances are you might have gained weight because your body is building muscle faster than losing fat, which isn't necessarily a bad thing! Aerobic or cardio exercise, such as jogging and biking, mainly helps you burn calories and lose body fat. It can strengthen your muscle as well but isn't considered a quick way to build muscle mass. On the other hand, strength training, such as weight lifting and push-ups, assists the body to build muscle much faster but doesn't burn a lot of calories.
Therefore, when you incorporate intense strength training into your workout routine, you may be able to increase your muscle mass more quickly than decrease body fat. And since muscle is denser than fat of equal weight (Think of a 5-pound dumbbell and a 5-pound bag of potatoes!), you may become leaner without seeing the scale go down. This also depends on your body type and genetic factors; it's easier for certain body types to build muscle than others. If nature has granted you the ability to gain muscle in a short period of time, be happy with that and don't fret over the number on your scale. Another option: you can adjust your routine by doing a little more cardio and a little less strength training to promote more calorie burning. Whether you choose to stick to your exercise program or tweak it, you should be able to lose weight and stay healthy in the long run. The greater your muscle mass, the speedier your metabolism.
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