3 Basic Tips to Avoid Weight Gain with a New Exercise Regimen

By Ruth Frechman, MA, RDN, CPT
Getting on the Scale - How to Avoid Weight Gain with a New Exercise Regimen

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After two or three weeks of working out, stepping on the scale and seeing a bigger number can be shocking and extremely discouraging. Negative thoughts may race through your head: "It's not worth it. I give up."

Before you quit, research confirms that you are not alone. In fact, working out doesn't guarantee weight loss. Truthfully, it's very easy to overcompensate and consume more calories than burned for a variety of reasons. However, it is possible to avoid gaining weight by being aware of what you are doing.

Some people become voracious after physical activity. It's fine to eat if you are hungry, but don't eat so much that you feel full or stuffed. Remember that the calories in beverages or snacks marketed to athletes quickly add up.

  • 24-ounce sports drink     160 calories
  • Protein bar                    220 calories
  • 1 cup frozen yogurt        230 calories
  • 3-inch brownie               430 calories
  • 1 cup trail mix                700 calories

Beware of the Post-Workout Dinner

After dragging yourself to the gym and sweating for an hour on the treadmill, do you deserve a big dinner? Maybe not. Are you brand new to exercising? Walking a mile three times a week may seem like a lot to you, but walking one mile only burns around 100 calories. That's a total of 300 calories burned in a week. Meanwhile, one restaurant meal could rack up 1,000 or more calories.

"It's not uncommon for individuals to overestimate the number of calories being burned via exercise, and as a result consume additional calories, not realizing that, in doing so, it may be shifting the energy balance to promote weight gain," says Jessica Matthews, MS, professor of exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego.

To help determine what is actually happening in your body, calculate the energy expenditure. For instance, a 5-foot-10 male weighing 154 pounds burns approximating this amount of calories per hour:

  • Weightlifting: 220 calories
  • Walking 3.5 mph: 280 calories
  • Aerobics: 480 calories
  • Jogging 5 mph: 590 calories

Myths of Protein and Muscle

Have you ever heard that you can eat unlimited amounts of protein and not gain weight? The fact is both protein and carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, and too many calories from any nutrient will increase weight. Make sure that there is sufficient protein in your diet to build muscle mass, but not excessive amounts.

Or, maybe you've heard your weight gain is because muscle weighs more than fat. This explanation is often used to explain weight gain, says Matthews, but it's a fitness myth. Actually, muscle weighs the same as fat. According to research studies, the increased poundage is mostly fat, not muscle — unless, perhaps, you developed bulging muscles after only a few weeks of lifting weights.

When to Weigh

Here's a sports nutrition tip: Weigh yourself before you start exercising and again afterward. If you gained weight immediately after exercising, you may be drinking more fluids than you need. Don't fret. Water weight is temporary.

Physical activity has many health benefits and should be part of a healthy lifestyle. To work out and not gain weight, track the calories in meals and snacks, always listen to hunger cues and keep an eye on the scale, and take immediate action if your weight starts creeping up.

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