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Can Exercise Make You Gain Weight?

Updated on November 2, 2013
Gym Goers
Gym Goers | Source

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.

Post-Workout Cravings
Post-Workout Cravings | Source

Quick Survey

What gender are you? And do you often have a bigger appetite after a workout?

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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.

Water retention can give you a false alarm
Water retention can give you a false alarm | Source

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.

Weight training can increase your muscle mass
Weight training can increase your muscle mass | Source

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.


Submit a Comment
  • C L Mitchell profile image

    C L Mitchell 

    6 years ago

    I really needed this hub today after weighing myself this morning and finding out that I had gained weight after several months of regular exercise. Depressing! I get major hunger pains after exercising, but I'm really trying hard to work through it without eating more. I am also trying to focus on all the positives, like the muscle I've built up in places I didn't know I had any, and how much more energy I now have. Its nice to see all the comments and know that I'm not the only person that struggles with this.

  • Om Paramapoonya profile imageAUTHOR

    Om Paramapoonya 

    7 years ago

    @W1totalk - You're very welcome. Thanks for dropping by.

  • W1totalk profile image


    7 years ago

    This is a good article. Between hydrating, muscle gain and eating to get back calories , you can't win. Thank you.

  • Om Paramapoonya profile imageAUTHOR

    Om Paramapoonya 

    7 years ago

    @anglnwu - Hehehe. Well, I didn't mean to discourage people from exercising! Just saying it isn't a sure way to lose weight. But yeah, in your case, you probably don't need to feel guilty for not exercising regularly; you already look so slim and healthy!

  • anglnwu profile image


    7 years ago

    Hah, good reason to not exercise. Actually, I agree with you, sometimes, exercise can increase appetite and that may not be a good thing. Now, I don't feel so guilty not exercising much. Rated up.

  • Om Paramapoonya profile imageAUTHOR

    Om Paramapoonya 

    7 years ago

    Thanks, Emma. Glad you stopped by :)

  • Emma Harvey profile image

    Emma Kisby 

    7 years ago from Berkshire, UK

    Interesting - I always eat loads after exercising. I never really thought about it though - I just believed I was working up my appetite! Now I know how to curb those hunger pangs. Very informative.

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    7 years ago from Washington

    Yes and some of us are just better suited to be a pear than a piece of celery unfortunately~ I keep saying bring back the rack! If we could just grow a little least in my case it might help~

  • Om Paramapoonya profile imageAUTHOR

    Om Paramapoonya 

    7 years ago

    @Kathryn Stratford - Greek yogurt and smoothies are smart choices! I usually go with fruits when it comes to post-exercise snacks. Just a little more filling. As long as we don't munch on fatty/high-calorie stuff like ice-cream or salty potato chips, I think it's all good!

    @pinto2011 - Thanks a lot!

    @greatstuff - Ah, she is just like me!

    @gypsy48 - Yep, that's a great strategy - curbing your appetite by drinking more liquid. I have tried that and it works very well for me.

    @kitkat1141 - That's very interesting. Maybe for some people, the length of workout time could actually be a factor that leads to an increased appetite. Thanks a lot for sharing your friend's story with us!

    @akirchner - I agree. We shouldn't be too obsessed with the numbers on our scale. Two people of the same height and weight might look totally different; one could be athletic and very muscular while the other could be overweight and unhealthy.

    @livingsta - You're very welcome. Thanks for the comment and votes!

    @randomcreative - Thanks, Rose!

  • randomcreative profile image

    Rose Clearfield 

    7 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    This is such an important topic. People seem to assume that exercise always results in weight loss, which simply isn't true. Great overview!

  • livingsta profile image


    7 years ago from United Kingdom

    Some really interesting facts about weight gain after exercise, which I did not know of before. Thank you for this useful and informative hub.

    Voted up, interesting and sharing!

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    7 years ago from Washington

    I'm sure that's my problem, Om--I exercise ALL the time--that's why I can't lose weight...

    Seriously those are all good points and many people do get discouraged. I also found that when I was doing weight training and soccer as an old(er) lady, muscle tends to weigh more than fat...or so I told myself--but I did look the best that I ever did while doing it so felt it was worth it. I don't go by scales much--I go by clothes and how I feel--only wish my doctor would agree~ They really are fixated on the numbers and it definitely can be very discouraging~ Great article!

  • kitkat1141 profile image


    7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    I have been reading recent studies that seem to show exercising more than 40 minutes causes a surge in cortisol- the stress hormone that stores belly fat. A good friend of mine was devastated when training for her first half marathon recently, and she didn't lose a pound! She has started doing more sprint training, and running less than 30 minutes, and now is starting to see some weight loss. Also, beware of the big Gatorade like drinks post workout- they can pack a lot of calories- usually there are 2 1/2 servings in one bottle.

  • Gypsy48 profile image


    7 years ago

    Useful information. I usually spend 45 minutes on the treadmill and when I am done I am absolutely starving. I don't eat though. I drink lots of water and then have a cup of green tea. Voted up and useful.

  • greatstuff profile image


    7 years ago from Malaysia

    Om, this is an interesting article and I will have to forward this to my daughter. She complained of having 'better appetite' after a workout and now I know why. Thanks for sharing.

  • pinto2011 profile image


    7 years ago from New Delhi, India

    Hi Om Paramapoonya! Surely being a hardcore exercise enthusiast, your article drew my attention and I really enjoyed going through your article.

  • Kathryn Stratford profile image


    7 years ago from Windsor, Connecticut

    When I read the title, I had to read this to see what you meant!

    I always have an increased appetite after working out, but have managed to curb my appetite by drinking a good homemade smoothie, or a Greek yogurt, as well as stay hydrated. It has helped me avoid overeating after a workout.

    It's interesting to learn why some people have an increased appetite afterwards. I never knew why.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Voted up and sharing.


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