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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