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I started strength training for weight loss but the numbers on the scale are going up?

When stepping on the scale after incorporating strength training for weight loss into your routine, might have you wondering if strength training causes an increase in body fat. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In this article, we will explore the science behind the fact that strength training is not responsible for fat gain.

Additionally, we’ll discuss how combining strength training in personal training at Northglenn Health and Fitness with proper nutrition habits, such as increasing lean protein intake and staying hydrated, will help you drop fat faster and achieve your fitness goals vs strength training alone.

You Can’t Gain Fat by Strength Training

In our gym, during our personal training sessions, we incorporate strength training, also known as resistance training, into almost everything we do. Strength training is a highly effective method for building muscle and increasing your metabolic rate. When you engage in strength training, your body burns calories not only during the workout but also during the post-exercise recovery period. Here’s why you can’t gain fat by strength training.

Increase in Muscle directly Increases number of Calories your Body Burns

  • Muscle tissue is metabolically active, meaning it requires more energy (calories) to maintain compared to fat tissue. As you engage in strength training, you stimulate muscle growth. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body naturally burns at rest, helping you maintain or lose fat. In simple terms, growing your muscles grows the amount of calories your body burns each day. Muscle growth starts in the gym but ends in the kitchen and bedroom. (sleep silly, but more on sleep in another article)
  • Afterburn Effect: Strength training creates an “afterburn” effect known as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). This means that even after your workout, your body continues to burn calories to repair and recover muscles, further supporting fat loss. Helping your body with that recovery can be accomplished by hydrating throughout the day and increasing your lean protein intake.

Improved Insulin Sensitivity

  • Strength training enhances insulin sensitivity, which helps regulate blood sugar levels and helps prevents fat storage. This is a crucial factor in maintaining a lean physique. I am not a doctor and cannot provide medical advice, but you can do the research yourself, and talk to your doctor. I have also linked one of many scientific studies on the matter.

Strength Training doesn’t add calories to your body

  • Your food intake is the only thing that adds calories. When you have a surplus of calories that are not needed for your muscle, digestion, heart, organs, you know – your internal operating system – you body will store those as fat. Now this doesn’t mean that the answer is to go off and make drastic cuts to your calories in your diet. That won’t last and can contribute to the yo yo dieting situation that often puts us in worse shape than before we started dieting.

You Can Still Gain Weight while Strength Training for Weight Loss

While strength training is not responsible for fat gain, there are specific scenarios where it’s possible to gain fat while strength training. To avoid this, steer clear of the following pitfalls:

Overcompensating Calories

  • One common mistake is overcompensating for the calories burned during strength training by consuming excessive amounts of food. While you may need more protein and water to support muscle growth, an excessive surplus of calories will lead to body fat gain. Ensure you’re in a slight calorie deficit or maintenance range for optimal results. Otherwise, while you are still seeing the benefits of strength training (assuming those added calories include lean proteins and incorporate enough water) you will see the scale continue to go up in weight and body fat mass.

Poor Nutrition Choices – Even Inconsistently

  • Strength training doesn’t give you a free pass to indulge in unhealthy foods on a regular basis. Consuming high-calorie, processed, and sugary foods can lead to fat gain, even if you’re strength training regularly. Yes you might go one week with the perfect diet, but if the next week you have 3 donuts each day, you’ve most likely undone all the benefits of the week before.
  • Maintain a balanced diet that prioritizes nutrient-dense foods. This is because of a few things. One is simple – calories in vs calories out. While we can’t control how many calories your body burns specifically. We can help increase the amount it burns by incorporating activities that lead to muscle gain (muscle gain has a DIRECT correlation to how many calories your body burns), like strength training. The other thing that a balanced diet provides is the fact that your body will get more out of you eating quality foods than it will out of a Big Mac at McDonalds. That 1,000 calorie meal will leave you hungry later, as well as groggy and lethargic – which increases our desire to be sedentary – eating 1,000 in whole foods would be very VERY difficult to eat in one sitting.
  • If you consider that a chicken thigh has about 179 calories and 25g of protein (depending on the size), you would need to eat 5 chicken thighs and more than 3 full cups of chopped green peppers. The odds of you being able to eat all that in one sitting are slim to none. Whole foods fuel your body and they also fill you up in a natural way that foods with added sugar and are created to make you an addict of that food, just simply do not. Those foods are made so you continuously want more and crave more. Swapping even 2 meals a week for a healthier alternative can be enough to start seeing change and craving change. The big take away, is eat consistently in a balance. No, don’t skip out on celebrations with cake, but don’t “celebrate” getting up to go to the bathroom each time you do either.

Lack of Active Recovery Days

  • Strength training can be demanding on your muscles and central nervous system. Lack of active recovery days can hinder your progress. Incorporate activities like walking, swimming, or engaging in active recovery days at NHF to not only support muscle gain but also to burn additional calories. These activities promote blood flow, reduce muscle soreness, and contribute to overall fat loss. You want to become a person who is intentional about their activities to promote health and fitness increases while reducing body fat. It’s not one thing that will make a huge difference. It’s often a combination of many little things that build over time.
  • Inconsistent Habits: Inconsistent habits, including irregular training schedules and variations in protein and water intake, can hinder your progress. Steady changes and consistent habits are crucial for achieving your fitness goals. This includes maintaining a steady intake of lean protein, staying hydrated, and avoiding extreme diet restrictions followed by overindulgence in “bad” foods. Such fluctuations can disrupt your body’s metabolism and fat loss efforts.

You are still getting benefits of strength training, even without changing your nutrition

Keep this in mind. If you are only strength training and not making changes to your diet, you are still getting health benefits. You are moving better, assuming you are working with one of our coaches at Northglenn Health and Fitness to help you with form and technique. You are feeling less winded, and have more energy. You are also feeling stronger, which is a huge confidence booster. Being able to do things unassisted can give you the confidence that affects other areas of your life.

So while we all want to have the perfect body composition, the fact that you are showing up and making your body stronger is a huge win on it’s own. With or without nutritional changes to support body composition goals – the scale just can’t take away those wins. Feeing stronger, more confident, moving better – those things all affect your everyday life and deserve to be celebrated on their own! When you are ready to make nutritional changes to increase the effects of strength training, I’m here for you!

In summary, strength training itself does not lead to fat gain; in fact, it helps build muscle and boost metabolism – which leads to a greater calories burn. However, it’s important to be mindful of your nutrition choices, calorie intake, and overall exercise routine to avoid potential fat gain while strength training. If that increase in calorie burn is met with a surplus of extra calories, you are working against yourself. Incorporating active recovery days and maintaining consistent, healthy habits in both training and nutrition are essential for achieving lasting results. By staying dedicated to steady changes and consistent habits, you can achieve your fitness goals and maintain a lean, healthy physique.

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