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Why Does Exercise Retains Water?

Eager to see the pounds building up or disappointed by the results? Check out how water flows to build muscles!

Starting an exercise program triggers several physiological changes in the initial months.

A new exercise routine stresses muscle fibers, inducing microscopic tears (microtrauma) and inflammation. These conditions can lead to a temporary increase in weight.

The body responds to these micro tears and inflammation in two ways that cause temporary water weight gain.

Primary Weight Gains – Temporary

Healing response

The stress and micro-tearing damage to muscle fibers induces water retention in the body. There may be a small amount of inflammation around the micro tear, and the body retains fluid there to try to heal it. These are short-lived changes in the muscle.

Additionally, delayed onset muscle soreness is likely to be experienced within 24 to 36 hours after exercise. This is the body’s natural response to the micro muscle tears and the breakdown of muscle tissue.

Therefore, moderation is key. Proper nutrition and adequate rest are crucial for muscle healing and rebuilding.

Increased Muscle Fuel

The way the body fuels muscles can also contribute to an initial weight gain.

Muscle cells convert glycogen, a form of sugar, into glucose for energy. Regular exercise prompts the body to store more glycogen to support this activity.

Glycogen binds with water as part of the fueling process for muscles. This stored water adds a small amount of weight.

As muscles become more accustomed to exercise and more efficient, however, they begin to need less glycogen to maintain the same level of energy output. Consequently, water retention decreases, leading to weight loss.

The initial water weight gain (roughly 1-3lbs / 0.5-1.5kg ) typically starts to shed within a few weeks or a month of commencing an exercise program.

Secondary Weight Gain from New Lean Muscle Mass

Lean muscle mass gained through exercise or weightlifting contributes to weight gain. However, this doesn’t happen immediately.

It takes at least a month or two to build any lean muscle mass that would register on the scale. By that point, the exercise program will likely be leading to a positive weight-loss trend.

People may not consider the early changes to their bodies as positive but there will be positive changes later, so adherence to the exercise program is essential.

Strategies for Managing Post-Exercise Water Retention

Water retention following exercise signifies a healthy recovery process. Allowing the body to recover at its own pace with adequate rest, hydration, and nourishment is crucial.

  • Prioritizing Rest
    Integrating dedicated rest and recovery days into workout routines is vital for ensuring muscle repair before the next training session. Active recovery options like stretching, yoga, and walking promote muscle repair while facilitating blood and water flow through tissues.
  • Maintaining Hydration
    Proper hydration is essential for muscle recovery. Regular water consumption throughout and after workouts is key. Individual water needs vary, but urine color can be a helpful indicator. Ideally, urine should be a light yellow, almost clear color. Darker urine suggests a need for increased water intake.
  • Nutritional Focus
    A balanced diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods provides muscles with the necessary nutrients for recovery, potentially reducing inflammation. Every meal and snack should include one source each of carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, vegetables), protein (meats, dairy, soy), and healthy fats (fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, avocado). A vibrant plate brimming with colorful foods, like pink salmon, purple potatoes, and green beans, ensures a diverse range of nutrients.

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