Nothing is more frustrating than gaining weight while you're working hard to maintain or lose it. If your weight is inching upward despite a clean diet and faithful adherence to your resistance training regimen, don't freak out. The weight increase you're seeing may be nothing more than a little fluid retention. Before you write off exercise and drown your frustrations in a hot fudge sundae, consider some of the leading causes of exercise-related water retention and what you can do about it.
You've probably bumped your head or scraped your skin at some point and watched as the injured body part became swollen and red. Swelling is a healing response to many types of injuries, including muscle trauma. When you perform resistance training exercises, your muscles experience microscopic tears. This breakdown causes your body to rebuild with larger, denser muscle tissue -- a process known as hypertrophy. Though this is a vital part of building strong, toned muscles, all those little muscle tears can result in fluid retention from swelling.
Your resistance training routine may be inadvertently causing fluid retention from increased carb intake. Carbohydrates have gotten a bad name from fad diets and misinformation, but they are still the body's primary energy source. When people begin resistance training programs, they often increase carbohydrate consumption because of elevated hunger from exercising. There's nothing wrong with that -- your body needs carbs in order to perform intense weight training, and a diet with insufficient carbs can have adverse effects on your training. Keep in mind that carbohydrate intake can cause fluid retention as stored carbs in the body hold water.
It may sound contradictory, but dehydration can cause you to retain water. If you're not consuming enough fluids to compensate for the loss from sweating during workouts, you can enter a state of dehydration. When this happens, your body clings to any water reserves it has to prevent further dehydration, causing fluid retention.
Precautions and Tips
If you have fluid retention related to muscle hypertrophy, you'll probably just have to deal with the process. However, if increased carb consumption is bloating you, ditching the pasta and rice for a few days can fix the problem. When dehydration is the culprit, increase your water intake and your body will release the excess fluid it's holding on to.
Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. If you're experiencing prolonged water retention, see your doctor to make sure it isn't a sign of something more serious.
- UNM.edu: The Mystery of Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy
- CNN: How is it Possible for My Weight to Fluctuate So Much?
- Bodybuilding.com: All About Water Retention
- Journal of Applied Physiology; Carbohydrate Exerts a Mild Influence on Fluid Retention Following Exercise-Induced Dehydration
- NOLA.com: How to Reduce the Water Weight that Gives Us that Puffy, Bloated Look
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle
Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.