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Why Am I Working Out But Gaining Weight?

It’s a frustrating conundrum: You’ve been hitting the gym religiously, putting in the sweat and effort to improve your health and fitness, yet the number on the scale keeps creeping up. You’re left wondering, “Why am I working out while gaining weight?” It’s easy to feel demotivated and disheartened, questioning whether or not all that hard work is worth it – don’t despair! In this blog, we’ll dive into the comprehensive, science-backed reasons behind this seemingly counterintuitive phenomenon, helping you understand what’s really happening with your body and how you can continue to make progress on your fitness journey.

Why Am I Not Losing Weight When I Exercise?

Here are a few possibilities:

  • You’re gaining muscle mass.
  • You’re not monitoring your calorie intake.
  • You have an underlying medical condition.
  • You’re not getting enough sleep.
  • You’re doing too much cardio and not enough strength training.
  • You’re experiencing water retention.
  • You’re not managing stress effectively.
  • You’re overestimating your workout intensity.
  • You’re not tracking your progress accurately.

To help you find the answer to your question, let’s dive into each of these points in more detail. 

You’re Gaining Muscle Mass

One of the most common reasons for weight gain while working out is from gaining muscle mass.

It’s important to remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so as you build muscle through strength training and resistance exercises, it’s natural for your weight to increase.

When you exercise, your body creates microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, which then repair themselves during rest periods. This process, called muscle hypertrophy, leads to an increase in muscle size and density (3).

As a result, you may see an uptick on the scale, even though you’re losing fat and improving your overall body composition.

To put things into perspective, consider this: A pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat, so even though you might be gaining weight, you could actually be getting leaner and more toned.

Understand that having more muscle mass also increases your metabolic rate, which means you’ll burn more calories even at rest.

Read More: Maximize Your Home Workout: 5 Plank Wall Exercises For A Powerful Core

What You Can Do About It:

Focus On Body Composition

Instead of solely relying on the scale, use other methods to track your progress, such as measuring your body fat percentage, taking progress photos, or monitoring how your clothes fit.

Incorporate Strength Training

Be sure that your workout routine includes a healthy mix of both cardio and strength training exercises, targeting all major muscle groups.

Be Patient

Building muscle and losing fat is a gradual process, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate changes. Stay consistent with your workouts and nutrition, and remember that the number on the scale doesn’t always tell the whole story.

You’re Not Monitoring Your Calorie Intake

Another possible reason for gaining weight while working out is due to not keeping track of calorie intake.

When you exercise, your body burns calories to fuel your workouts, which can lead to an increase in appetite. However, it’s crucial to maintain a balance between the calories you consume and the calories you burn during physical activity.

Many people tend to overestimate the number of calories they burn from exercising, resulting in consuming more calories than needed. This means that even though you might be exercising consistently, you could still be in a caloric surplus, which will ultimately cause weight gain.

It’s essential to remember that, regardless of how much you work out, if you’re consuming more calories than you’re burning, you’ll gain weight.

What You Can Do About It:

Track Your Calories

Use a food diary or a smartphone app to log your daily food intake. This will help you become more aware of the calories you’re consuming and make necessary adjustments to your diet.

Calculate Your Energy Needs

Determine your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) using an online calculator or by consulting with a registered dietitian. This will give you an estimate of the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight, taking into account factors like age, sex, height, weight, and activity level.

Adjust Your Calorie Intake

Based on your TDEE and fitness goals, adjust your calorie intake accordingly. If you’re looking to lose weight, aim for a moderate caloric deficit (around 500 calories less than your TDEE).

If you’re trying to build muscle, ensure you’re consuming enough protein and consider a slight caloric surplus to support muscle growth.

Prioritize Nutrient-Dense Foods

Focus on consuming whole, unprocessed foods that are rich in nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats.

These foods will not only support your workouts but also help you feel satisfied and full for longer periods, making it easier to manage your calorie intake.

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You Have An Underlying Medical Condition

Gaining weight while working out could be a sign of an underlying medical condition that affects your metabolism or hormonal balance.

Certain conditions, such as hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and insulin resistance, can make it harder for your body to shed excess weight, even with regular exercise (7).

Hypothyroidism, for instance, is a condition where your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones, resulting in a slower metabolism. This can lead to fatigue, weight gain, and difficulty losing weight (2).

Similarly, PCOS and insulin resistance can impact hormone levels and metabolism, making weight management more challenging (7).

What You Can Do About It:

Consult A Healthcare Professional

If you suspect an underlying medical issue may be contributing to your weight gain, schedule an appointment with your doctor. They can perform tests to diagnose any potential conditions and recommend appropriate treatment plans.

Follow Your Doctor’s Advice

If you’re diagnosed with a medical condition, adhere to the prescribed treatment plan, which may include medications, dietary changes, or lifestyle modifications. Work closely with your healthcare team to monitor your progress and adjust your treatment as needed.

Adjust Your Fitness Routine

Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may recommend specific types of exercises or activities that are more suitable for your condition. Be open to modifying your workout routine to better support your health goals.

Be Patient And Compassionate

Managing a medical condition can be challenging, and it’s essential to give yourself grace during this process. Remember that progress may be slower than expected, but with the right treatment and consistent effort, you can still achieve your fitness goals.

You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep

Lack of sleep can be a sneaky culprit behind weight gain, even when you’re working out consistently.

Inadequate sleep can disrupt your body’s hormonal balance, leading to increased hunger and cravings, as well as decreased satiety signals. This is primarily due to the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which regulate appetite (6).

Ghrelin stimulates hunger, while leptin signals fullness. When you’re sleep-deprived, ghrelin levels rise, and leptin levels drop, making it harder to control your food intake (6).

Furthermore, insufficient sleep can affect your workout performance, causing fatigue and reduced motivation. This may lead to less intense workouts or skipping sessions altogether, ultimately impacting your overall progress.

Read More: 10 Plank Alternatives For When You Want To Switch Up Your Core Workout

What You Can Do About It:

Prioritize Sleep

Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Establish a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

Create A Sleep-Friendly Environment

Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet. Consider using blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine to minimize disruptions.

Develop A Bedtime Routine

Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. This can include activities such as reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing gentle stretches or meditation.

Limit Caffeine And Screen Time Before Bed

Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, as it can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Additionally, limit exposure to electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime, as the blue light emitted from screens can disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle.

Seek Professional Help If Needed

If you’ve tried various strategies but still struggle with sleep, consider consulting a sleep specialist who can help identify and address any underlying issues.

You’re Doing Too Much Cardio And Not Enough Strength Training

While cardio exercises are great for burning calories and improving cardiovascular health, focusing solely on cardio can lead to weight gain in the form of muscle loss (1).

When you engage in excessive cardio without incorporating strength training, your body may break down muscle tissue for energy, leading to a decrease in muscle mass.

A lower muscle mass can slow down your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight. This is especially true if your calorie intake is not balanced with your activity level.

By incorporating strength training into your fitness routine, you can build muscle mass, which not only helps improve your body composition but also increases your metabolic rate. This means you’ll be burning more calories even when you’re not exercising.

A well-rounded workout program that includes both cardio and strength training can help you achieve your weight management goals more effectively.

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What You Can Do About It:

Balance Your Workouts

Aim for a mix of both cardio and strength training exercises in your workout routine. For example, you might include 3-4 days of strength training and 2-3 days of cardio each week.

Include Compound Exercises

Focus on compound exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups, which work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. These exercises are more efficient in building muscle and burning calories.

Use A Variety Of Resistance Tools

Incorporate different types of resistance equipment, like dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, or your own body weight, to challenge your muscles and keep your workouts interesting.

Progressively Increase Intensity

Gradually increase the weight, reps, or sets of your strength training exercises to continue challenging your muscles and promoting growth.

Fuel Your Body Properly

Be sure you’re consuming enough protein and overall calories to support muscle growth and recovery. Eating a balanced diet with adequate nutrients will not only fuel your workouts but also help you maintain a healthy weight.

You’re Experiencing Water Retention

Water retention, also known as edema, can cause temporary weight gain and make it seem like you’re not making progress despite your efforts in the gym.

There are several factors that can contribute to water retention, including high sodium intake, dehydration, hormonal fluctuations, and inflammation caused by intense exercise (4).

When you consume too much sodium, your body tries to maintain a balance by retaining more water. Similarly, dehydration can also cause your body to hold onto water as a protective mechanism (4).

Additionally, intense workouts can lead to temporary inflammation and fluid retention in your muscles as they recover and repair themselves.

What You Can Do About It:

Monitor Your Sodium Intake

Reduce your consumption of processed foods that are often high in sodium, and opt for whole, unprocessed foods instead. Aim to stay within the recommended daily sodium intake of 2,300 mg or lower, as advised by the American Heart Association (8).

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help flush out excess sodium and prevent dehydration. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily, and adjust your intake based on factors like exercise, climate, and individual needs (5).

Manage Post-Workout Inflammation

Incorporate recovery techniques, such as foam rolling, gentle stretching, and proper nutrition, to help reduce inflammation and promote muscle repair after intense workouts.

Consider Natural Diuretics

Some foods, like asparagus, cucumber, and celery, have mild diuretic effects and can help reduce water retention. Incorporate these foods into your diet to help manage bloating and fluid balance.

Be Patient

Remember that water retention is often a temporary issue and may resolve it on its own as your body adapts to your workout routine and dietary changes. Keep an eye on your overall progress and body composition, rather than focusing solely on the number on the scale.

You’re Not Managing Stress Effectively

Stress is a common issue that can significantly impact your weight management efforts. Chronic stress can cause hormonal imbalances, particularly with the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to weight gain, increased appetite, and cravings for high-calorie comfort foods (9).

When you’re under stress, your body goes into a “fight or flight” response, releasing cortisol to help mobilize energy stores. However, if you’re consistently stressed, elevated cortisol levels can lead to an increase in fat storage, particularly in the abdominal area.

On top of everything, stress can negatively affect your motivation and energy levels, making it difficult to stick to your workout routine and healthy eating habits.

What You Can Do About It:

Identify Your Stressors

Take some time to reflect on the sources of stress in your life and recognize any patterns or triggers. This awareness can help you develop strategies to cope with or eliminate these stressors.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

Incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness practices, to help manage stress and reduce cortisol levels.

Prioritize Self-Care

Make time for activities that bring you joy and help you recharge, such as spending time with loved ones, engaging in hobbies, or enjoying a warm bath. Prioritizing self-care can help build resilience against stress.

Seek Professional Help If Needed

If you’re struggling to manage stress on your own, consider consulting with a mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, who can provide guidance and support tailored to your needs.

You’re Overestimating Your Workout Intensity

It’s not uncommon for people to overestimate the intensity of their workouts, which can lead to an inaccurate perception of how many calories they’re burning.

This misconception can result in a false sense of security, causing you to consume more calories than you expend, ultimately leading to weight gain.

What You Can Do About It:

Educate Yourself

Learn about different exercise intensities and the corresponding heart rate zones to accurately gauge your workout intensity. Understanding these concepts can help you be confident that you’re working at the appropriate level for your fitness goals.

Use A Heart Rate Monitor

Invest in a heart rate monitor or a fitness tracker with heart rate monitoring capabilities to obtain real-time data on your workout intensity. This information can help you adjust your effort accordingly and ensure you’re burning the desired number of calories.

Mix Up Your Workouts

Incorporate a variety of workout intensities, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), steady-state cardio, and strength training, to create a well-rounded fitness routine that effectively targets different aspects of your overall health and fitness.

You’re Not Tracking Your Progress Accurately

Focusing solely on the number on the scale can be misleading when it comes to tracking your progress.

Weight fluctuations are normal and can be influenced by factors like water retention, muscle gain, and hormonal changes. Relying on weight alone may cause you to overlook other positive changes in your body composition and overall fitness.

What You Can Do About It:

Use Multiple Tracking Methods

In addition to monitoring your weight, track other metrics, such as body fat percentage, waist circumference, and progress photos, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of your progress.

Track Your Workouts

Keep a workout log or use a fitness app to record your exercise sessions, including the type, duration, and intensity of each workout. This information can help you identify patterns, track improvements, and adjust your routine as needed.

Focus On Non-Scale Victories

Recognize and celebrate other signs of progress, such as increased strength, improved endurance, better sleep quality, or enhanced mood. These non-scale victories can be powerful motivators that keep you committed to your fitness journey.

Be Patient And Consistent

Remember that sustainable weight loss and improved fitness take time and consistency. Don’t be discouraged by short-term fluctuations or plateaus; instead, focus on maintaining healthy habits and staying committed to your goals.


Gaining weight despite working out can be attributed to various factors, including underestimating calorie intake, lack of sleep, imbalanced workouts, water retention, food rewards, stress, overestimating workout intensity, and inaccurate progress tracking.

By addressing these issues and implementing the suggested strategies, you can better manage your weight and achieve your fitness goals. Remember that consistency, patience, and a holistic approach to health are key to long-term success.


This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. 3 Kinds of Exercise That Boost Heart Health (n.d., hopkinsmedicine.org) 
  2. Hypothyroidism (2022, nih.gov) 
  3. Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods (2019, nih.gov) 
  4. Physiology, Edema (2022, nih.gov) 
  5. Water: How much should you drink every day? (2022, mayoclinic.org) 
  6. Weight Loss and Sleep (2022, sleepfoundation.org) 
  7. Why Aren’t You Losing Weight? 92004, webmd.com) 
  8. Why Should I Limit Sodium? (n.d., heart.org) 
  9. You Guessed It: Long-Term Stress Can Make You Gain Weight (2023, clevelandclinic.org)