Your Exercise Routine Is Making You Gain Weight — and It Has Nothing to Do With Your Metabolism

You’re doing everything right — exercising every single day, eating healthy foods, and feeling great. But when you look at the scale, it doesn’t seem to budge. Or worse — you’re noticing your pants fit a little tighter around the waist, and the scale is slowly creeping up.

Exercise can help you build muscle and amp up your metabolism. This is true. But it turns out there’s another reason why your strict workout routine is making you put on the pounds. And if you already have a higher body fat percentage, find out why it’s harder for you to lose fat (page 6).

1. Studies show many people who start exercising more gain fat

group of friends or sportsmen exercising

Have you noticed a change since you started moving? | iStock.com/dolgachov

You’ve heard it before: The scale is going up when you exercise due to muscle (or perhaps water retention) — but certainly not from fat. But The New York Times says a study suggests many people who start a new workout plan wind up heavier than ever before. And the weight is coming from fat gain.

Losing weight seems like a simple formula: Take in fewer calories than you expend. That’s easier said than done, however — and the study proves it. Some of the women studied gained as many as 10 pounds in their first 12 weeks of exercising.

Next: Here’s one reason why many people gain fat when they hit the gym. 

2. Many people with strict exercise routines don’t move as much during the day

Man sitting on the couch and watching movie

You need a balance of both diet and exercise. | LightFieldStudios/Getty Images

We know the importance of exercise, and we’re doing it more than ever. The problem with strict routines is though you may be vigorously moving for an hour so, the rest of your day is most likely spent sitting.

Biomechanist Katy Bowman explains there aren’t many of us who consider the result of “exercising one hour a day and not exercising the other 23,” Quartzy reports. “This single bout of movement in an otherwise sedentary life doesn’t fully meet our need for movement.”

Next: Do you know how many calories your favorite activity burns? 

3. You aren’t burning as many calories from exercise as you think

It may look and feel hard, but is it working your body as much as you imagine? | Patchareeporn S/iStock/Getty Images

Your spin class or hot yoga session might make you feel like you’ve burned thousands of calories, but Vox explains exercise only makes up a tiny portion of calories burned throughout the day. Only 10% to 30% of your daily calories burned are from your physical activity. And while you may burn 500 to 600 calories during an hour-long workout session, you can eat that back in a matter of minutes when you’re finished. This makes creating a caloric deficit from just exercise alone a near impossibility.

Next: Yes, your hunger will sabotage you in the end.

4. You’re probably eating back more calories than you burned in the first place

Beautiful young lady eating a tasty burger

Do you treat yourself after a workout? | Matthewennisphotography/iStock/Getty Images 

Before you carbo-load right after your next gym session, it’s smart to grab a protein-rich snack that’s just a few hundred calories if weight loss is your goal. Eating foods high in fiber (think fruits and veggies) will also fill you up without filling you out.

Health also gives this tip to prevent overeating after a workout: Work out before mealtimes. If you’re prone to overeating after you exercise regardless of whether you ate beforehand, this will give you extra calories for wiggle room.

Next: This surprising factor also matters in how hungry you are after working out.

5. Gender also plays a role in how hungry you get post-exercise

Girl workingout in gym

Women may struggle with this more than men. | iStock.com/LUNAMARINA 

It turns out women may actually get hungrier post-exercise than men, The Huffington Post notes. Experts believe this may be because women are biologically more prone to hanging onto fat for childbirth. When your body sees you’re using up energy stores, it wants to fill them as quickly as possible to ensure you’re hanging on to fat.

Next: If you have a lot of body fat, we have bad news. 

6. Having a high body fat percentage means you’re more likely to feel starving after a workout

women increasing her body fat

You may feel starving after a large meal. | iStock.com/wckiw

Many believe the more body fat you have, the easier it is to lose weight. But that’s not always the case. The Huffington Post notes the hormone leptin helps suppress your appetite, but obese women may be resistant to it. That may be why women with a higher body fat percentage are often hungrier post-workout than those who fall within the “normal” range.

As for how to combat this, it turns out shorter workouts may not have as heavy of an effect on your appetite.

Next: Want to stop the hunger? Here’s how to do it. 

7. Here’s how to stop feeling starving after you exercise

Hungry women

A small, pre-workout snack may be in order. | AnaBGD/Getty Images

So what’s the real way to stop overeating after a workout? While drinking plenty of water, saving your calories for after your workout, and being mindful of what you’re eating is helpful, Self says keeping your blood sugar steady is really the key.

Your body burns glycogen — stored carbohydrates — when you work out. When your glycogen stores start to dip, your blood sugar levels also dip, which sends hunger signals to your brain. To stop this process, eat a healthy pre-workout snack an hour or two before you plan to exercise.

Next: Here’s one important fact you must remember about your weight.

8. Remember — the scale can’t tell you how healthy you are

young healthy girl on home scales

You should rethink how you gauge your health. | Ensuria/Getty Images

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff suggests “rebranding” how we think of exercise, Vox notes. It’s true it may not be the answer for weight loss — but that doesn’t mean we can forget its many other benefits. Freedhoff even calls exercise “the world’s best drug” because of its ability to prevent cancer and improve everything from blood pressure to your mood.

And let’s not forget the amount of body fat you have also doesn’t dictate how healthy you are. Don’t get too attached to the scale’s numbers, and remember to move your body for more reasons than just weight loss.

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