Many people start to work out in order to lose weight. However, it is common for working out, especially for those who are new to it, to have an entirely opposite effect and in fact may result in weight gain. So why are you sweating it out at the gym and still gaining weight and how can this be prevented?
Reasons you may gain weight when working out
When you start working you for the first time or maybe even change your routine and start a new type of exercise, you are likely to gain muscle. It may be that you are losing fat, but as the muscle you are obtaining weighs more than the fat you are burning, you will not see any results on the scales. In fact, you may even see the opposite result. If this happens, do not panic and certainly do not give up working out. Remember that weight is not the be all and end all when it comes to how you look and feel.
Try using an alternative measurement to gauge your progress such as your dress size or waist circumference as often these will reflect differences that are not apparent on the scales. Also judge your progress by looking at yourself in the mirror; it is likely you will see the results of your hard work in a more toned, stronger body.
Muscle is also more metabolically active that fat, so over time having more muscle can help you burn more calories even when you are not working out, which may help with longer term weight loss.
Many people use hitting the gym as an excuse to indulge in their favourite types of unhealthy food, with the rationale that they have burnt the calories off and can now eat whatever they want. However, this is unfortunately not the case. Most people overestimate the amount of calories they are actually burning at the gym, and do not realise that by eating a lot or very high calorie foods afterwards they can still end up consuming more calories than they burn and thus gain weight.
To lose weight, a combination of working out and healthy eating is the best way to achieve results.
Ever seen people sitting on a bike at the gym with a magazine barely moving their legs around on the setting with the least resistance? Or others that are not even bothering with the machine, but simply reading the paper or chatting with friends in their workout clothes? These are extreme cases, but it is important to remember that just by going to the gym, you are not going to burn sufficient calories to lose weight. You need to work out too!
Many people do not achieve enough intensity or put in enough time to burn the calories required to lose weight. For this reason, although they are working out, weight loss is never achieved. To avoid this trap, it could be useful to get help from a personal trainer, who can help you find the level of intensity and type of workout that best suits you, or join a class where you are constantly pushed, such as spinning.
The wrong type of exercise
Many people, in particular men, hit the gym and only lift weights. Whilst this type of resistance training can certainly aid weight loss, it is essential to remember that to aerobic and cardio type exercise that gets your heart going is far more effective for burning calories. For best results, a combination of cardio and resistance is usually the most effective.
When you start to work out, particularly if you have been inactive before, you will probably find that your appetite increases. This is only natural due to the extra energy you are burning, but can lead to weight gain if you find yourself eating a lot more.
To avoid this choose healthy snacks and meals that keep you fuller for longer, such as low GI carbohydrates and high protein foods. Try to time your workout so that you eat a meal afterwards as this will eliminate the need to add extra snacks, or if this is not possible choose healthy snacks that are high in protein, have some carbs and not too many calories.
Good options include low fat natural yogurt with fruit or a small serve of high fibre cereal with low fat milk.
Weight loss plateaus
If you have been working out in the same way for a while, it is quite common to reach a plateau with your weight loss, even if you are still working out. If you do not vary your workout, your body becomes used to it and starts to burn calories less effectively.
To avoid this, try to mix up your workout by doing a mixture of different activities, including some strength training, activities using different muscles and different intensities. You may also be able to kick start weight loss by making some changes to your diet.
There may be other contributing factors that can lead to weight gain, even if you are working out. Certain medical conditions may cause weight gain, as may certain drugs, so check with your doctor if you suspect either of these reasons.
Stress and tiredness can also lead to weight gain due to the hormonal changes they can bring about in the body. Although exercise can help to alleviate stress, if you feel that your workout is contributing to your stress levels, it may be a good idea to look to different exercise options that are easier to fit into your day.
Similarly if you are sacrificing sleep in order to work out you are unlikely to perform at your best and you may need to find a better balance between working out and rest.
Sports foods and drinks
Remember that unless you are an elite athlete doing very long distances or intense workouts you are unlikely to need sports products such as energy bars, protein shakes and electrolyte drinks. All of these are very high in calories and can easily cancel out the calories you burn. For the majority of people, water and natural foods will provide all the nutrients and energy you will need.