30 Day of Motivation: The Truth About Muscle Gains
Ok, so I’m actually giving you 31 Days of Motivation! Consider this a bonus day! I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s theme of daily motivational mantras and encouragement. Yesterday, in “Fat Will Surrender“, I talked about why we struggle with weight loss at the beginning of a fitness program. We talked about fat vs muscle, and I explain how there’s a lot going on inside the body that the scale will not report initially.
Today, I will talk more about muscle. I’ll talk about what the mysterious muscle weight gain is all about, and give you some red flags to look for as well. Hopefully, by the time you are done reading, you are fired back up to hit it even harder in the gym, and tackle February with the same fever as you had in January. Now, let’s get to it!
Muscle Gain vs. Bulking Up
The balancing act I talked about yesterday, between fat and muscle, typically only happens in the beginning of a program. Another words, you won’t continue to keep gaining 4lbs of muscle every few weeks. It is not that easy to gain actual muscle (without the help of serious supplements – and drugs). Also, don’t think of this weight gain as truly muscle – like a bodybuilder tries to “bulk up”. This weight gain is from loose, flat, out-of-shape muscle (picture a deflated balloon) filling back up and coming back to life (picture a fully-inflated balloon).
You see, the increased muscle weight comes from storing more glycogen and water in the muscle cells from the increased activity. It’s basically an initial gain of increased water weight – but the good kind. We want our muscles full because that’s what makes our muscles firm and shapely. That weight will level out and, then eventually as you lose weight, you should start to see your weight drop on the scale as your fat loss outweighs your muscle gain. If you don’t (red flag), then somethings wrong.
You Have to Consider, You Might Be Wrong
People LOVE to find a reason for why they are where they are. They want solution without making changes or working any harder. As a result, many people that read this will hear what they want to hear, and all they hear is “muscle weighs more than fat“. They lock onto that truth, and use it every time the scale doesn’t budge. Before you know it, they’ve used “i’m probably just gaining muscle and losing fat” as their ongoing excuse all year long – but this isn’t an ongoing process. Yes, it happens, but it won’t continue to happen all year long, so don’t use that as an excuse to convince yourself you are doing good, when you know good and well you need to crack down a little more. If your scale has been stuck for over 30 days, you are likely doing something wrong.
Unfortunately, people also LOVE to use that phrase to encourage people when the scale doesn’t move. Many times they are just wishing the person would shut up and quit their complaining, but telling someone what they want to hear isn’t helpful. That only enables them to continue doing what they are doing, and feel better about it. If you truly want them to quit complaining, tell them to do whatever it takes to figure out what they can improve on. While this weight plateau can definitely happen during a course of the first 3-4 weeks of a program – if the scale is sticking after that, it’s time to do some major troubleshooting. They may not want to accept they are doing something wrong, especially when they are doing so much right, but they will thank you later.
What to Expect
To give you an idea of what to expect, for an average person taking one of our 6-week boot camp programs, we often have people gain 4-6lbs of muscle and lose anywhere from 6-15lbs of fat (depending on how much they have to lose). Since we do a midterm analysis, we can see that the majority of the muscle gain is already happened in the first half of boot camp. So, by the midterm weigh-in, they normally have lost 5-6lbs of fat and gained 3-6lbs of muscle – but the scale might only show a small drop in weight – or none at all. However, after they see what’s REALLY going on inside, they get encouraged to push through to the end for the next step, which, normally, is primarily all fat loss. If they continue through boot camp at the same rate, they might end boot camp with another 3-6lbs of fat lost, but their muscle weight will be the same – resulting in 10-12lbs of fat lost overall.
What You Need to Know
1.) If you have ALREADY been training hard, you may not experience this muscle increase because your muscles are already full and tone. So, you should experience fat loss (and weight loss) pretty soon in the program compared to someone who might just be starting out.
2.) If you have a LOT to lose, you should experience fat loss pretty quickly in the program. If you aren’t, then you are likely replacing the calories burned with eating more. Since exercise does boost your metabolism, it’s easy to also boost eating without even realizing it. That’s why I preach counting calories. The fact of the matter is, if you have a lot to lose, you will lose a lot more than someone who has a little to lose – so expect bigger numbers.
3.) If you are NOT consistent with your exercise, your muscle weight can go up and down as you muscles fill back up when you exercise, and then “deflate” when you aren’t working out. If you want consistent results, you need to stay consistent in your routine, or the scale will be all over the place and drive you crazy!
The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn through out the day and the more energetic you’ll feel to go out there and burn even more calories. So, embrace that muscle – and know it will only help you to seriously kick fat’s butt!
Hi Bonnie, can you do some articles on aging. I’m reading your article and it’s been driving me crazy that for a few years now I just can’t get the muscle tone that I used to have. Yes, my workouts have evolved through the years but I have never stopped. I used to lift as heavy as I could without supplements and protein shakes and I did the occasional spin class. I had the body I wanted. Now I do HIITS and Interval Training and although I still weigh roughly the same I can’t get toned. It just evades me. When I was at my fittest I ate whatever I wanted. Now I watch what I eat and I can’t even come close to what I once had. To give you a mental picture, when I felt good about the way looked I once walked into a convenience store one late night after a workout with my partner and we bought tons of junk food – chips, snowballs, candy etc…. The counter guy looked at us incredulously and said, “You guys look like that, and eat that?” Sigh, I don’t look like that anymore and I’m thinking it has to with aging because I sure as heck don’t eat snowballs and chips anymore.
I like this. And I love your point about how figure competitions and fitness models are preaching that they are the epitome of fitness after they’ve been starving themselves for a month and taking diuretics for a week. Bottom line, a real athlete would never do that.
I’ve toyed with the idea of competing in fitness competitions from time to time for no other reason than for an outlet for my fitness passion (there are much fewer outlets for us gym rats than for runners and triathletes etc), but I wil never do it because I refuse to diet or do anything to my body that I don’t intend to maintain. Its a shame that that’s the reality of the industry.
Great post! I’m working out for quite some mostly HIIT and your online Bootcamp this month I try to go back to do weights as well and put 2-3kgs already:( I do try to eat healthy, even tho not every day is perfect) its very frustrating, but ill keep going on no matter what! No excuse I won’t surrender!!! Thank you for ur post xx
Remember, eating healthy isn’t enough when it comes to weight loss. You have to eat low-calorie, and the only way to make sure you are on track is to count calories 🙂 Keep up the good work!!
This is perfect, thank you. I’m doing an online bootcamp right now and was wondering why I was working out so hard, eating balanced, and not seeing the scale move downwards like I would like. I’m going to keep at it and fingers crossed something’ll change visibly. 🙂
As long as you are watching your calories too, you WILL get the results you want! 🙂