I’ve been told many times by diet/fitness consultants that when you exercise, particularly when building muscle, you retain water and so not to rely on what the scale tells you. But many things I have been told have turned out to be wrong, so I figured I should verify that particular snippet of wisdom. In looking for confirmation, I found some interesting articles. First, adapted from WebMd, “5 Surprising Reasons You’re Gaining Weight” (read the article for details), is a list of five things that can effect the scale even if you’re eating right and exercising:

  1. Not getting enough sleep,
  2. Stress (couldn’t that be causing No. 1?),
  3. Medications,
  4. Some medical conditions, and/or
  5. Menopause.

Doesn’t answer my “retaining water because of exercise” question, but still interesting. Another article found on the search for confirmation that you may have water weight from exercising (from the January 2011 issue of Prevention magazine) reveals that exercise can

  1. Control appetite and cravings (not really news; have heard that for years),
  2. Boost the brain’s ability to learn new material (news to me),
  3. Improve your ability to plan (also news to me).

Interesting, but still doesn’t answer my question. But I find a glimmer of hope for finding the answer to my quest in an article from the October 2010 issue of American Fitness called “Electrolytes: What are they?”:

The concentration of sodium in your blood actually increases during exercise because you lose proportionately more water than sodium.

Well, sodium will make you retain water; that’s why the health care community tells people to watch their levels of salt, particularly those prone to high blood pressure. So exercising *could* increase sodium and therefore make you retain water. However, the same article argues that most people don’t exercise long enough for a significant sodium increase.

After several hours of scanning articles, I haven’t found anything explicitly saying that working out and building muscle will result in water retention, but I found this fabulous post by Leigh Peele, “The Science of Scale Fluctuation,” which begins

I have had the pleasure of training and consulting some of the strongest people in the world. Actors, doctors, coaches, athletes, government leaders, models, etc. These are people who can train for hours at a time. They spent years in school studying to better themselves and some run our lives with the decisions they make.

Put these leaders, these champions on a scale, and if that scale doesn’t say what they want it to, they will weep before your eyes. I have held a 6’2 and 230lb pure muscled man in my arms as he wept. All because of the scale.

She goes on to explain why your scale shouldn’t rule your self-esteem, which was really the point of my search. So there, scale. Bite me.


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