You finally commit to a daily fitness program, either on your own or through one of the Athletic Rider Fitness Boot Camps. You have your program, your new (or revisited) fitness clothes, your playlist or online streaming that is operating flawlessly, and you have been 100% on the mark and accountable in each workout. Excited to check on your progress, you jump on the scale, and…you are gaining weight? How can this be? For most people, a fitness program is supposed to be the golden ticket to weight LOSS not weight gain!
While this usually quite unwelcome and odd phenomenon does not happen to everyone, I do know one thing that is always welcome: an understanding of the why behind the weight gain.
The most common cause for weight gain (for a rider who is new or returning to fitness) is inflammation. When you work out, you are actually causing little tears in your muscle fibers (called microtrauma). These little tears are responsible for the post workout muscle soreness that most of us feel after an unfamiliar or particularly stressful workout. When the muscle fibers tear, the body sends in substances to repair the tears. The repair process makes the fibers tougher than they were and you stronger than you were. During this normal and necessary process, the fluid required to create the inflammation that leads to the repair causes a temporary increase in the numbers on the scale. The most important point to remember is that this gain is NOT fat gain but fluid retention. So long as you maintain a healthy diet and provide for appropriate rest and recovery days, this temporary weight gain should pass in anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. You read that right-this increase in weight can actually last for a couple of weeks!
What if you notice weight gain after a month or so? If you have been really hitting it hard in your rider fitness program and maintaining a nutritionally sound diet, getting your rest and living an otherwise healthy life, you could actually be starting to develop muscle. Someone new to fitness can actually gain up to 2 pounds of muscle per month. If your muscle gains are beating your fat loss efforts, you may see a temporary increase in your weight. Once your body starts shedding fat (and it will if you are consistent and have no other medical conditions that need attention), the scale and inches will drop, revealing a lean and mean rider fitness machine.
Could something else be going wrong? Perhaps the biggest ‘negative’ reason for gaining weight after starting a fitness program has to do with excess stress. While a well-designed rider fitness program is a good thing, daily exercise does create stress for your body. The good side is when exercise is accompanied with proper nutrition, hydration, rest and recovery, your body adapts to the stress, making it stronger.
If, however, you are getting less than 7-8 hours of sleep per night, smoke, eat many processed foods (or eat too few healthy calories), drink more than 2 drinks per night, work over 12 hours a day, have 100+ pounds to lose or chronic pain issues, your body will body will not be able to work through the inflammatory response that we discussed above. If your body can’t work through that process, it stays in the inflammation phase and this is a really bad thing. When you body stays in the inflammatory phase for too long, it releases cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is responsible for fat accumulation, especially belly fat! Some horse owners may be familiar with cortisol because of its connection to metabolic issues and increased fat pads in horses.
Does this mean a busy person or otherwise stressed person should not work out? Of course not! It might mean, however, taking a personal inventory and re-establishing priorities so you can invest in your rider fitness. Yes, your horse will thank your for your investment in rider fitness, and your body will thank you for creating habits that lead to an enjoyable, healthy and fulfilling life.