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Weight Management > Heart and Stroke Foundation > I work out. I gain weight. What's up with that?
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I work out. I gain weight. What's up with that?

From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Have you recently started a new physical activity routine hoping that you'll lose weight only to be frustrated? Or maybe you've been at it for a while and the scale says you're gaining weight? You're not alone. There may be a number of possible factors – and myths – that may explain what's going on. See if any make sense to you and learn how to work around them.

Workouts make me hungry!

You swim laps for 30 minutes, get out of the pool and feel ravenous. You also think that because you burned so many calories, it's OK to splurge on a 1,500-calorie milkshake with 15 g of fat. This kind of thinking can lead to weight gain because you may be overestimating how many calories you've actually used up. Your body is meant to conserve its energy in order to function. In fact, you'd be surprised how few calories it takes to exercise. For example, those laps in the pool used up about 250 to 350 calories depending on how much effort you expended and how much you weigh. If you had that milkshake, you'd still need to burn another 1,000 calories at least to come out even. See the chart below.


Activity (30 min)

60 Kg/130 lb

68 Kg/150 lb

85 Kg/190 lb

Aerobics- general




Bicycling, moderate effort




Golf, walking and carrying clubs




Ultimate Frisbee




Circuit training, general




Running, 15 km/6 mph (10 min mile/ 6.4 min km)




Swimming, freestyle, moderate




What you can do: To stave off hunger and watch your food intake, pack a snack to have after you work out that you know is within your calorie output, say 10 almonds and an apple. Total calories: 210. Better yet, exercise right before lunch or dinner – just watch your portion sizes.

Strength training makes me heavy!

It's true: muscles are more dense than fat tissue. However, you should be aware that muscle mass only builds up on a small percentage of people who pump iron on a regular basis and are in top form. But for the majority of people who work out, muscle mass wouldn't make that much of a difference to your weight.

What you can do: Continue to strength train because it's good for your overall physical fitness and health. However, to tell if you may be gaining a lot of muscle mass, take your measurements. Also, check to see if your clothes still fit you. If they're loose, it may mean you are toning up, which is a good thing. Keep to your exercise routine, watch your food intake, and you'll more than likely start seeing results.

I work out hard. Why don't I see results?

You may get the most out of your time at the gym, or playing your favourite sport, but what do you do for the rest of the week? You should be physically active 30 to 60 minutes a day, every day. Ask yourself: do you sit at your desk most of the day? Do you flop on the couch and watch TV or play videogames at night or most of the weekend? If that's the case, it's time to reassess.

What you can do: Get creative about ways to be active as much as possible, even if it's 10 minutes at a time: go for walking meetings with your colleagues, take the stairs, rollerblade to your local grocery store, bike to work. Do shorter, 30-minute workouts on your “off” days.

There may be other reasons that may be sabotaging your weight-loss efforts. Check out our Healthy Weights Action Plan to learn how lifestyle habits impact your ability to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Remember: weight loss takes time, patience and persistence. Don't forget that there are many benefits to being physically active, not the least of which is improving and maintaining your heart health.

Before starting any activity program, be sure to talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional.

This physical activity column was written by a Certified Personal Trainer Professional and Fitness Instructor and reviewed by a specialist in kinesiology.

Posted: July 2010

Heart and Stroke Foundation


Your use of the information in this article is subject to the Heart and Stroke Foundation Terms and Conditions of Use and therefore you agree to be bound by the implied terms and conditions in each of the following statements.

This article has been independently researched, written and reviewed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and is based on scientific evidence. The information is for reference and education only. This web article is not intended to be a substitute for a physician’‘s advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should consult your physician for specific information on personal health matters. The Heart and Stroke Foundation assumes no responsibility or liability arising from any error in, or omission of, information or from the use of any information or advice contained within this article.

™ - All trademarks, service marks, logos and articles are owned by and are the exclusive property of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada ("HSFC") and authorized use is only granted under license. Such trademarks, service marks, logos and articles may not be reproduced, copied, imitated or used, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of HSFC.

© - 2010. Reproduced with permission of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


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