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Monday, May 31, 2010

Weight Gain, despite increased exercise. What the H-E- Double Hockey Sticks?

In the last two weeks I have dramatically increased my physical exercise. I am doing Jillian Michael's 30 Day Slim Down Challenge.  I am making my way through it, currently on Day 11 (should be on Day 13 or 14 I think...not that it matters). I can't believe I am going to say this, but I am really enjoying it!  It is hard work...hard, hard work. I have been a hot, sweaty mess more times than I can count (ok.. I suppose 10 times, considering I am on Day 11).

Her videos focus on circuit training - an exercise method that combines high-intensity aerobics and resistance training. Circuit training is particularly useful for developing endurance and lean muscles. It isn't useful if you want to add bulk or significant strength to your body. This is because it focuses on working the muscles with less resistance, but more repetitions (I use 3-5 lbs weights only).  

Don't confuse Jillian Michael's circuits with places like Curves (or other "gyms" that use "circuit training" for 30 minutes). Curves is a great option for beginners, or those less mobile - however it is very difficult to improve or go beyond a certain level of fitness experience.

Anyway - I digress.

So yes. I have been doing her 3 workout videos, and feeling great. So you can imagine how utterly shocked I was last Wednesday when I did my weekly weigh in and GAINED 2lbs. Ugghhh.. And I certainly have not lost it yet. I stepped on the scale this morning out of curiosity and I had gained ANOTHER 1 lb.

I realize a weight gain of 2-3 lbs isn't anything drastic, but I can't help but feel like this is 2-3 weeks wasted and lost. 2-3 weeks of hard work that are all for nought...and now the additional 2-3 weeks it will take me to lose this weight.

All this hardwork, for nothing!

Well, thank the high heavens, not exactly.

People were telling me that, because muscle weighs more than fat - that must be the reason. This however, isn't really true. Muscle weighs the same as fat - think of that old trick question: "What weighs more, 1 lb of feathers or 1 lb of gold?"

Spoiler alert: they weigh the same amount. Yes, it takes many times more feathers than pieces of gold (i'll still take the gold) - but a lub is a lub (lb - phonetically).   Muscle takes up less space than fat, so for the same space you can pack in more muscle cells than fat.

Here is why I, and others may be experiencing a weight gain due to initial increased exercise:

The extra weight is most likely water retention. As a female, I am all too familiar with water retention - however, lately with Jillian's obsessive enjoyment of making me doing bicycle crunches, I have been feeling quite the opposite of bloated.  This also isn't water retention that can easily be flushed out with increased water consumption like I can when feeling bloated.

As you begin a new exercise routine - especially one that is resistance focused - your muscles begin to start storing fuel - so it is easily accessible for when they are worked. Your muscles need fuel in the form of glycogen. However, we get our sugar in the form of glucose (think carbs).  In order to convert the glucose into 1 molecule of glycogen it takes 3 molecules of water.

So thinking about this logically - as your body starts to store glycogen for your muscles, it is going to retain extra water.  This is why you can see the numbers on the scale stall...or increase.  Despite the want for immediate results - this is a good thing. You want your muscles to be well hydrated and well fuelled. When this is the case - you are able to work harder, longer - making weight loss and shaping up an inevitability.  When your muscles become adjusted to the increased level of activity, they will start to not need as many extra "stores" of fuel, and the water retention will decrease.

Even though you are gaining "weight", by regularly exercising you will still be losing fat. The scale ends up being a hindrance here. Better measures of success are your body fat % (i've already started to see a drop in mine), and inches lost.

To put it in perspective - I have gained 3 lbs these last 2 weeks, however, I am now too small for a pair of pants that when I bought them I was too big for. That made me far more happy than anything the scale had to say.

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