When you first start exercising or starting a new sport, your muscles often feel sore 24 to 48 hours after a workout due to small tears caused by healthy tension on muscle fibers. As those tears heal, the muscles get stronger, which is a good thing. However, to heal, your body needs extra water. Muscle is already about 76% water, so healing process can make a noticeable difference on the scale.
The same process of stress and recovery can also cause inflammation after an intense exercise. Again, water retention helps your body heal after a hard workout, but research shows that regular exercise can reduce inflammation in the long run.
Glycogen is the energy that our muscles use for power. When we exercise more, we need to store more of it in our cells. Glycogen also needs water to nourish the muscle. Each gram of glycogen is stored with at least 3 grams of water. However, with consistent exercise, muscles become more efficient at using glycogen, so they need to store less of it — and less water as well.
A month or two after you start exercising, your body composition may start to change. You will probably gain muscle mass and maybe start losing some fat mass. Muscle weighs more than fat, but it also burns more calories. Tracking your weight carefully during this window can be confusing – your clothes may feel looser while the number on the scale stays the same or even rises a few pounds. How strong or energetic you feel can be a more meaningful measure of your progress at this point than your weight.
Research has been mixed on whether exercise increases appetite, but many studies show that exercise actually reduces hunger hormones, especially in the immediate aftermath of a workout. The result is a delay in signs of hunger, but over the course of a day, calorie intake often remains the same regardless of whether people exercise. This news may be motivating if your goal is to lose weight. If the amount you eat is stable and you burn extra calories by running, you may see slow, steady weight loss over time.
However, I have one note of caution about appetite. Anecdotally, as a trainer, I have seen many people follow long walking days with burgers and fries that they otherwise would not have eaten. Many factors influence appetite – physical, environmental and psychological. If you exercise more than usual, make sure you fuel your body regularly with high-quality carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats. A little goes a long way. You may find that a small snack before or after running can help combat overeating later in the day and give even more strength to your workouts.
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