Have you recently added hours of exercise to your regiment but haven't seen any results? Do you feel like you are always in the gym yet the weight is not budging or even worse, you may have put some on? If this sounds like you and you want to find out why this could be happening, keep on reading.
In this article I will be explaining some of the most common reasons why people are not seeing results (in weight loss, performance, strength) while they may be working out harder than ever. This list is by no means exclusive, but it's a good starting point in troubleshooting your progress.
You are using the scale as the only measurement
When you first join the gym or change your workout routine to include more weight training, you create a lot of stimuli (through muscular stress) that encourages muscle growth. Assuming that your diet has not changed, and you are eating sufficiently (or even more than you should), the excess calories may turn into additional muscle mass, thus the scale goes up.
You may even be able to trade some fat mass for lean mass, and still end up heavier if the lean mass increase is higher than fat mass lost.
To know exactly what's going on with the body composition, skin fold measurements and/or girth measurements are a much better way to gauge progress than the scale alone (and that's what I use with my clients).
Additionally, look for other signs of progress such as clothes fitting better, improved mood and energy levels, better sleep, improved performance at the gym (lifting heavier), better sex drive, improved blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose or lower resting heart rate.
You are over-eating your training
I've caught myself doing this many times when after a tough workout I would go home and allow myself extra junk that day (bigger dessert or more wine), or I would meet a friend for a big lunch. Or whenever I knew I would go out at night I made sure I did workout that day so I wouldn't feel guilty for eating more.
The problem with this kind of behavior is that often times the calories consumed vastly exceed calories burned. Additionally, most of the time the excess calories come from totally empty calories such as desserts, french fries, wine, lattes, chips, etc. instead of protein, vegetables, unprocessed carbs or healthy fats.
If you work out 3-4 x a week and do this every time you train, you are overeating 50% of the time.
If your goal is to lose weight avoid the fall trap of giving yourself extra junk food credit for the hours spent at the gym.
You are out-training your diet
On the other side, you may be training so much that your appetite is very large. You may be so hungry after you work out that even if you are eating a healthy and nutritious diet, eating too much (especially fat) can lead to a weight gain.
In my practice, I've been increasingly seeing that clients who do a lot of cardio seem to have a delayed hunger response the day after the activity. They can't explain why especially since they tend to be more sedentary. So now not only they are sitting all day but their hunger is through the roof. They end up under-eating on the activity day and over-eating the next day (off day). Perfect scenario for muscle loss and fat gain.
This is where varying your exercise modalities comes into play. Some forms of exercise stimulate hunger more than others. Strength training tends to be less appetite stimulating than cardio, but think about how you feel after certain kinds of exercise.
You are not eating enough protein
This is by far the biggest issue I see with people who are physically active. In general people overestimate the amount of protein they eat and underestimate the amount of carbs they eat. If you don't eat sufficient protein you will not be able to get stronger. Period. Protein is a building block to most things in our bodies and unfortunately unlike extra fat, we are not able to store protein (it is constantly being used, recycled and excreted). Therefore we need to eat it regularly.
Another perk from eating protein is that it requires 30% more energy to digest (than fats or carbs) therefore increasing your protein intake automatically increases your metabolic rate.
A general rule for physically active individuals (3-5 hours of exercise a week that includes strength training) is 0.8-1 g of protein per pound of desired body weight.
Without counting calories, a good starting point is to consume a palm size portion of protein (think chicken, steak, turkey, eggs, tofu, fish) with each meal.
You are not eating enough for the amount of exercise you are doing
In a calorie deficit (when you under-eat and workout a ton) situation your body will rather sacrifice muscle mass than fat mass. This is a protective mechanism that was very helpful in time of famine as fat is essential to survival, muscle not so much.
So not only you are burning muscle instead of fat, but this scenario puts a tremendous amount of stress on your body. Your metabolism slows down and multiple hormones are disrupted. Women may even stop menstruating.
Too much exercise doesn't differ much (on a biological level) than stress from work or running from a bear.
Stress is stress.
When stress is high, your hormone levels change. One of the major stress hormones is cortisol.
If you have elevated cortisol levels due to under-eating and over-exercising you will not be able to lose weight. You may actually put the weight on (especially in the midsection).
You are not sleeping enough
Lack of sleep is another stressor (that raises cortisol and hunger hormones) and a well recognized factor in weight gain. Sleep disruption is definitely one of the reasons affecting weight loss in my clients who are going through menopause.
You are not eating enough carbs
Really? Yes, I said it.
If you are working out hard and not replenishing your glucose stores with carbohydrates, you may feel like you are working intensely but in reality your power output and performance is much lower.
Carbs give you energy to perform at your best. The more you can lift, the stronger you will get.
Low-carb diets although all the hype these days, are not designed for physically active individuals.
If you work out regularly, make sure you include a variety of carbohydrate sources in your diet such as fruits, vegetables and unprocessed complex carbs such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, beans and legumes.
Additionally, if you are trying to lose weight, consume most of your carbohydrates for the day post-workout.
You are eating too much fat
Unhealthy fat and healthy fat gets stored the same way. Fat is absolutely essential to life however, in excess, both french fries and avocados will end up in the same place, not allowing you to lose weight. Fat is the easiest macronutrient to store, it requires exactly 0 energy to turn fat into fat.
Since fat is the most calorie dense macronutrient, the grams of fat in your diet quickly add up. Most women do well on 50 to 60g of fat a day. To put that in perspective 2 pieces of Ezekiel bread with 1 slice of cheese, 2 poached eggs and 2 tbs guacamole rounds up 23 g of fat.
And let's clear this up - nuts are a source of fat, not protein.
1 oz which is about 12-15 almonds packs up 160 calories, of which 72% is fat - 14g.
You are over-eating on the weekends
Logging for the first time has been a big eye-opening moment for a lot of my clients who never realized just by how much they overeat on the weekends. Between Friday pizza nights, Saturday dinner out and Sunday brunch you can easily pack an additional 2000-3000 calories a week of mostly empty calories.
If you're trying to lose weight, work on balancing out the food and drink intake during the week and the weekends. Your body will thank you for it.
In the end of the day, your body seeks balance. Right combo of food and exercise that keeps you happy, healthy and moving well.
If you are struggling with finding the right balance, give me a shout - I can help you figure it out.