Why Am I Gaining Weight, When I Just started Working Out?

Article by Chalene Johnson


Probably the most common question I get when I release a new exercise program is, “Help! I’m gaining weight! Am I doing something wrong?” This is a common phenomena with any new exercise program, Turbo Kick, Turbo Jam, Hip Hop Hustle, you name it! It’s especially common (and temporary) with intense strength training programs like ChaLEAN Extreme or Tony Horton’s P90X.

The motivation to start a new exercise program is almost always to lose weight loss. However, what most personal trainers know and most at-home exercisers do not, is that a new exercise program often can cause an immediate (and temporary) increase on the scale. (Notice I didn’t say weight gain! I’ll explain.) This common increase in the scale is also the reason why perhaps millions of people start and then quickly quit their resolution to get fit.

The temporary weight gain explained: When someone starts a new exercise program, they often experience muscle soreness. The more intense and “unfamiliar” the program, the more intense the muscle soreness. This soreness is most prevalent 24 to 48 hours after each workout. In the first few weeks of a new program, soreness is the body trying to “protect and defend” the effected or targeted tissue. Exercise physiologists refer to this as delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.

This type of soreness is thought to be caused by tissue breakdown or microscopic tears in muscle tissue. When this happens the body protects the tissue. The muscle becomes inflamed and slightly swollen with fluid retention. This temporary retention of fluid can result in a 3- to 4-pound weight gain within a few weeks of a new program. Keep in mind that muscle soreness is not necessarily a reflection of how hard you worked. In fact, some people feel no signs of muscle soreness, yet will experience the muscle protection mechanisms of water retention and slight swelling.

Most people are motivated enough to put up with this temporary muscle soreness. Yet, many, especially those who really need immediate weight loss to keep them motivated in those first couple of weeks become discouraged and quit!

When I worked with a group of 70 test participants during the development stages of ChaLEAN Extreme, this happened. Who was the most upset and discouraged? You guessed it… the women! I’m happy to report with absolutely every single woman (and man) in our group, the weight increase was temporary and never lasted more than 2 weeks before they started to see a major drop in the scale. However, these people had the advantage of working with someone who was able to explain to them why this was happening and assure them the weight would come off if they stuck to the nutrition plan and stayed true to the program.

For those of you who are following the ChaLEAN Extreme phase plan, keep in mind that when you start each phase, your body will be “in shock” again. Don’t be surprised or discouraged if you experience a temporary gain on the scale the first week of each phase.

My own personal example of this is running 10K’s. I don’t do it very often, maybe 1 or 2x a year. Even though I run on a regular basis, when you run a race you push much harder. It’s natural for me to be “insanely” sore the next day. Its also very common for me to see the scale jump 4 pounds the next day from forcing fluids post race and the resulting DOMS. Even though I know the cause of it, it’s still a bummer. We’re all human and hard work should mean “results”. Hard work equals results, but our bodies are amazing machines and they know how to protect us from hurting our selves. Soreness forces you to give those muscles a break :) Ultimately you will lose the weight and you will change your metabolism in the process.

The key is understanding that this is a normal and temporary and stick with the program!!

When to be concerned: If you experience a significant weight gain (exceeding 5 pounds) which does not begin to decrease rapidly after the second week, guess what it is??? I’ll give you one hint… you put it in your mouth and chew it. You know it! You’re food (or calorie laden beverages). Newsflash friends.. exercise doesn’t make you gain weight. Consuming more food than you burn makes you gain weight!

So if after two weeks you are not losing weight, have gained weight that’s not coming off, it’s time to take a close and honest look at your food intake. It’s time to find out what youre burning in calories each day. Have your RMR or BMR tested. This can be done for less than $50 and the information is invaluable. It takes out the guess work. Google “hydrostatic body fat testing _______ ” and insert the name of the big city you’re closest too. Companies that do HBFT also do BMR testing. Knowledge is king.

I’m gaining weight, but I’m sure it’s muscle: Possibly, but if you’re following ChaLEAN Extreme correctly, you should be losing fat and gaining muscle and the fat loss should be much more substantial than the rate at which you can physically put on muscle. This is even true for they guys.

Of the 70 plus people in my test group, every single one of them lost body fat and gained muscle and not one of them gained weight. I believe the average weight loss after 4 months was 28 pounds with many people losing 40 plus pounds. Even the men, who as you can see put on a lot of muscle, were seeing huge drops in the scale. We tested their muscle composition at the beginning and at the end and 100% of the participants maintained or gained muscle while achieving substantial weight loss. That’s the key to keeping weight off long term, i.e. muscle. Muscle burns fat. But you’ve heard me say that before.

Moral of the story: Be patient young grass hopper. You’ll be lean and mean in no time!

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20 Comments

  1. elizabeth said:

    Thank you for posting this! I just started a work out routine and was shocked to see the dial on the scale going up and up when I thought I was doing so well! I saw several sites that explained that weight gain was natural when you first start working out but I still felt so upset. Reading your explaination of the weight gain was exteremly helpful! Thank you, I will continue to stick to it!

  2. elizabeth said:

    Thank you for posting this! I just started a work out routine and was shocked to see the dial on the scale going up and up when I thought I was doing so well! I saw several sites that explained that weight gain was natural when you first start working out but I still felt so upset. Reading your explaination of the weight gain was exteremly helpful! Thank you, I will continue to stick to it!

  3. Jennifer said:

    Yes, thank you. My tip off was that I gained a pound in one day without any dietary changes. Is there any way to counteract the inflammation? I’ll start chugging the water now, lol!

  4. Jennifer said:

    Yes, thank you. My tip off was that I gained a pound in one day without any dietary changes. Is there any way to counteract the inflammation? I’ll start chugging the water now, lol!

  5. Maria said:

    Hello, i have been working out and have gained 5lbs and i eat very healthy so i am still trying to figure out what is going on, i think it might be water i am retaining for what reason i don’t know, but yes it is driving me nuts because i don’t fit in my clothes and i am not sure what i am doing wrong, maybe i am working out the wrong way i do mostly classes.

  6. Maria said:

    Hello, i have been working out and have gained 5lbs and i eat very healthy so i am still trying to figure out what is going on, i think it might be water i am retaining for what reason i don’t know, but yes it is driving me nuts because i don’t fit in my clothes and i am not sure what i am doing wrong, maybe i am working out the wrong way i do mostly classes.

  7. Robert Harden said:

    Maria, As the article suggests, I would look at two things. If you have experienced a 5 lb increase, and its been more than 2 weeks, then you need to take a look at your food intake. I’m sure all of us have a few things we can “clean up”, but even if you are eating healthy, “too much” healthy food is still going to get stored as fat, if you are taking in more calories than you need. I would suggest a couple of things at this point. Find out how many calories you burn per day, then reduce that number 300-500 calories to see a weight loss. (If its been more than two weeks as the article suggests). You might even look at getting tested too.

    The other thing I am recommending HIGHLY is the Beachbody Meal Planner. I completely reviewed this option in this article, and I also tossed in some videos. Take a look, this could be exactly what you need. :)

    Beachbody Meal Planner Review.

  8. Robert Harden said:

    Maria, As the article suggests, I would look at two things. If you have experienced a 5 lb increase, and its been more than 2 weeks, then you need to take a look at your food intake. I’m sure all of us have a few things we can “clean up”, but even if you are eating healthy, “too much” healthy food is still going to get stored as fat, if you are taking in more calories than you need. I would suggest a couple of things at this point. Find out how many calories you burn per day, then reduce that number 300-500 calories to see a weight loss. (If its been more than two weeks as the article suggests). You might even look at getting tested too.

    The other thing I am recommending HIGHLY is the Beachbody Meal Planner. I completely reviewed this option in this article, and I also tossed in some videos. Take a look, this could be exactly what you need. :)

    Beachbody Meal Planner Review.

  9. Maria said:

    Yes it has been 2 months.. I am going to have to count my calories and what test a fat test? I have thought of that also, it’s only about 50.00. and thanks i love beachbody i did tony horton PX90 and that’s how i lost 25lbs…

  10. Maria said:

    Yes it has been 2 months.. I am going to have to count my calories and what test a fat test? I have thought of that also, it’s only about 50.00. and thanks i love beachbody i did tony horton PX90 and that’s how i lost 25lbs…

  11. Robert Harden said:

    Maria, yes just search for a place that will do hydrostatic body fat testing. I would check out the club, it takes the guesswork out of the nutrition. As an alternative, figure out your calories per day, and then track all calories for at least 2 weeks. This will help you get an idea what your daily calorie level is food wise.

  12. Robert Harden said:

    Maria, yes just search for a place that will do hydrostatic body fat testing. I would check out the club, it takes the guesswork out of the nutrition. As an alternative, figure out your calories per day, and then track all calories for at least 2 weeks. This will help you get an idea what your daily calorie level is food wise.

  13. rachel said:

    i am on my 3rd week and gaind 4lbs,i will be honest i stuck to adkinks diet whilte doing the program then just started eating little by little more carbs to retrieve more energy for the program and also thinkng that i needed more calories ,i am not a fan of counting calories ..but i havle eliminated junk foods completely!…and also i have not lost any inches,my fiancee says he has seen a diffrence,but the scale does not ,ugggh very frustrating!
    DONT GET ME WRONG BECAUSE I AM ADDICTED TO THE PROGRAM,I LOVE IT!

  14. Robert Harden said:

    Rachel, It takes consistent and persistent actions in your nutrition and workout. Keep pushing play, and eat clean. I know counting calories may not be fun, but a lot of people over estimate or under estimate. If you’re eating more than you burn in exercise, no weight LOSS. Keep doing right with the clean food, and I would recommend you count calories at least for a couple of weeks, to make sure you are in the right calorie range. :)

  15. Kate said:

    Oh, I’m so glad I found this article this morning! I started a new workout routine last week & lost 3 pounds. After the weekend off (part of the routine) I gained it all back after I ate clean all weekend. I don’t have a lot to lose but certainly didn’t want to GAIN any! I was hoping it was just the inflammation of my muscles, which are being worked super hard. I was about to give up but will see what happens during this 2nd week. I’ll keep watching what I eat & am hopeful the weight will fall off as quickly as it came back on. Thank you, thank you!!

  16. Robert Harden said:

    Kate, I hope you hang in there, no matter what a clean diet is what’s best for you! Don’t give up, if anything you may just need to make some small changes to make this work.

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