Ask an Expert: Weight gain after workouts

Q: "I’ve been working out for about three weeks now, and I have actually gained weight. Is this normal? What should I do if it isn’t? I eat right, and my workouts consist of 30 minutes of cardio followed by 30 to 40 minutes of weight lifting, five days a week.”

Answer from Mike Boggs, BS, MBA, CSCS (certified strength-conditioning specialist), fitness specialist, Providence Fitness Services: 

It is very common to notice some weight gain when beginning an exercise program. Although this can be frustrating, take heart: The extra weight is evidence that your body is adding some lean muscle mass to meet the new demands that you are placing on it.

Some people describe this weight-gain effect as the result of “converting fat into muscle,” but that’s not really what is happening. Fat and muscle are two different types of tissue, and one can’t turn into the other. However, each type can shrink or expand, depending on your state of fitness.

The more fit you become, the more your fat cells shrink (“burning body fat”) and your muscle cells expand (“increasing muscle mass”). Muscle weighs more than fat, which accounts for the initial weight gain. As you continue to shrink your fat cells, however, you should begin to see the scales tip in your favor.

I do have one recommendation that may help you start shedding pounds sooner. Your workout program sounds like it focuses a little too heavily on weight training; it’s not generally recommended to strength train the same muscle groups five days a week.

Try cutting back your weight lifting to two or three days a week, and use the extra time on the non-lifting days to add a few more minutes to your cardiovascular sessions. If you do this consistently for the next four weeks and maintain proper nutrition, you should start to see some weight loss.

January 2009