Whether you've started jogging to lose weight or to build fitness, it can be dispiriting to see the scale trending up despite all the effort you're putting in. Take heart — sometimes that early weight gain is actually a good sign.
Started Running, Gained Weight
If you just started running and gained a little bit of weight, those extra few pounds might actually be a good sign. The Cleveland Clinic explains why: The new workout regimen can cause mild inflammation and micro-tears in your muscle fibers at first. Your body may retain extra water to help with the perceived injury of those micro-tears, or it may hold more water in your muscles as part of the process of fueling their contractions. That initial water weight gain, which the clinic says is usually 1 to 3 pounds, will start going away within a month or so of starting your new exercise program.
Even if you're used to jogging, if you suddenly start running longer distances, jogging much faster or covering significantly more difficult terrain than you usually do, your body still needs to adapt to the new stresses on your muscles and the increased demand on the glycogen-based reaction that fuels your muscle contractions — and a few pounds of temporary weight gain may be the result.
What about gaining weight from building muscle? Cardio workouts like jogging and running aren't necessarily associated with building big muscles. But as an analysis published in the April 2014 issue of Exercise and Sport Sciences Review points out, there's substantial evidence that aerobic exercise can create bigger muscles. That said, it takes roughly two months to see muscle growth from a new workout, so any immediate gains in weight are probably from either water weight, as already mentioned, or your eating choices.
Unexpected weight gain can also be a side effect of certain medications; talk to your doctor if you think that might be the case for you.
Read more: How to Lose Weight Jogging for 20 Minutes
How's Your Nutrition?
Okay — now it's time for some bad news. Running can be one of the most impressive calorie-burning exercises out there. But if you take that new workout regimen as free license to eat anything and everything you want, you could still gain weight.
Here's why: To lose weight, you must create a calorie deficit, meaning you have to burn more calories than you take in. That prompts your body to burn stored fat as fuel. But if you have a calorie surplus, which means you're taking in more calories than you burn, your body will store those extra calories as body fat — and that translates to weight gain.
There are three sneaky ways this can happen to you, even if you're paying attention to your calorie intake and output. The first is that fitness trackers are notoriously inaccurate in their estimates of calories burned. In a small study published in a May 2017 issue of the Journal of Personalized Medicine, researchers and a team of 60 volunteers evaluated seven different fitness trackers and found that their error levels ranged from 27 percent to a whopping 93 percent.
If your technology is failing you, using a calorie burn calculator from a reputable fitness organization, such as the American Council on Exercise, can help you get dialed back in to your calorie deficit.
The next way is: The amount of calories you burn at a run or a jog depends on your speed. Being realistic in your jogging pace is important, because if you overestimate your level of exertion you might also overestimate how many calories you've burned, and throw off that all-important calorie deficit.
And finally, the last issue is simple math. The calorie burn from jogging sounds pretty impressive — according to Harvard Health Publishing, if you weigh 185 pounds you could burn more than 350 calories in 30 minutes of running or jogging at 5 mph. That does give you some extra wiggle room in your diet while still maintaining a calorie deficit — but it doesn't mean you can eat anything you set your mind on. It's distressingly easy to obliterate that 350-calorie effort with a single cupcake or other sweet treat.
The solution? Either choose your food rewards more carefully — placing the highest priority on nutrient-dense foods, which usually mean lower calorie counts — or better yet, use nonfood rewards to keep yourself motivated. That could mean that you buy a new book after a certain number of runs, treat yourself to a spa day, or even buy a fancy new piece of clothing or accessory every time you meet a weight loss goal.
Read more: Is It Better to Eat Before or After Jogging?
How to Start Losing
Let's say you've double-checked your nutrition and chatted with your doctor about any health concerns, and you're certain that your post-jog weight gain comes from your body's natural reaction to new exertion, as already described by the Cleveland Clinic. In this case, the best thing to do is keep up the consistent workouts; your body will start eliminating that extra water weight within a few weeks or a month.
However, if you see that the scale continues trending slowly upward, you might need to make a few more changes. Weight loss and exercise are never a one-size-fits-all proposition, so there's no shame in finding that you need to fine-tune your routine to fit your body and your lifestyle.
It may help to break your weight loss activities into the four angles you can control. One is exercise — if you can't add more time to your jogging workouts, you might be able to add more intensity (speed) to burn more calories in the same time. The trick is to increase the intensity gradually so your body has time to adapt to the new demands.
Angle number two is nutrition. Don't starve yourself — you need nutritious food to fuel those long jogs — but do focus on nutrient-rich foods, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high-quality sources of lean protein.
Angle number three is a trip to the doctor to rule out medical causes for weight gain, which could include medication side effects, medical conditions and hormone shifts. Remember that you should always check in with a doctor before starting a new exercise program too; he can help you proactively spot, and address, any health issues that might affect your workouts.
And finally, angle number four is the broad category of self-care. Everything from hydration to stress and getting enough sleep can affect your weight — and sometimes those "silent" variables are the ones you need to pay the most attention to.
- Cleveland Clinic: "I Just Started Exercising — Why Am I Gaining Weight?"
- Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews: "Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy after Aerobic Exercise Training"
- Journal of Personalized Medicine:"Accuracy in Wrist-Worn, Sensor-Based Measurements of Heart Rate and Energy Expenditure in a Diverse Cohort"
- American Council on Exercise: "Physical Activity Calorie Counter"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"