You decide to weigh yourself straight after a workout but instead of your weight going down, it has actually risen. It isn’t necessarily because your workout was suddenly ineffectual or that you’re cheating on your diet. The fat that you have been consistently burning off for a couple of weeks doesn’t stop being burned but this loss could be masked by fluid retention. This effect is only temporary but can last for a few days so don’t start looking for a new diet plan, especially if you have been sticking to your healthier food choices.
How do you know that water retention is the problem?
You might experience bloating or swelling as fluid collects in the tissues of the stomach, chest or lower body. It might appear in your feet or legs: you’ll notice it when you take off socks or shoes and they leave indentations on some days and not on others. It is difficult to tell whether the weight around the belly is due to water retention or fat but people generally say that water weight makes your flesh feel softer and squishier than hard fat.
Why do I retain fluid?
When hypertrophy occurs your body begins to work straight away to repair the microtears. This results in an increase in the volume of muscle cell fluid which can account for as much as 30% of the muscle size. Fluid increases around the muscle fibre too which is thought to be to minimise further damage to the muscles by cushioning them. Another explanation is that the extra fluid rushes white blood cells in and helps to flush out toxins to help with the healing process.
Cortisol: dieting raises cortisol levels since your body reacts as though it is being put under stress. High cortisol levels are linked to water retention since it causes the body to retain sodium.
Sodium and potassium: higher levels of sodium cause your body to retain water whilst potassium causes the fluid to be removed from cells. Many people have a diet which is high in sodium and low in potassium. Changing the proportions of these minerals in your body can affect water retention.
Carbohydrates: if you have been maintaining a low carbohydrate diet, as soon as you start eating carbs again your water weight will increase since carbs retain water. Your body needs water to process carbohydrates so we recommend that you eat whole grains and plenty of fibre so your body gets used to a balanced diet which doesn’t exclude any food groups. The fibre needs water to help it pass through the digestive system and finally leave the body.
How do I prevent water retention?
Fluid retention can’t be completely avoided but it can be minimised by warming up, gradually increasing the intensity of your exercise and allowing recovery time between workouts. Since exercise causes rises in cortisol levels it is important to have reasonable rest periods between workouts. Reducing stress by taking time to relax and getting a good night’s sleep will also reduce cortisol levels. During rest periods don’t give up on exercise altogether but try stretching exercises such as Pilates or yoga.
Reduce sodium intake by eating fewer processed foods, seasonings, gravy, sauces and salad dressings and cheese. Increase your potassium intake by eating more beans, green, leafy vegetables, bananas, yoghurt, salmon, avocado and mushrooms.
Drink more water. This does seem counterintuitive, add more water to your body when you are trying to get rid of it? Your body adapts to a lack of water by causing your cells to hold on to the water they have. If it has enough water your kidneys and liver can work efficiently. Since the liver is the main organ involved fat-burning, processing and release you want it working at full capacity. Make sure that your water intake is spaced out throughout the day so your body is used to a constant level and doesn’t start hoarding for the next time there isn’t enough.
A high fibre diet will also encourage the use of water to ease the passage of food through your digestive system. This will help to keep your metabolism working efficiently and keep your gut bacteria healthy.
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