When I started on my weight loss journey, I thought the hardest part was the workouts. I would wake up the day after leg day and feel like my legs were made of Jello. The day after arm day would leave me wincing just to lift my water bottle. I often questioned my sanity for returning day after day for more of this. But the weight was falling off, and my motivation was solidified — until suddenly the progress stopped. Hmmmm … what gives? Why is the weight not falling off and even a few pounds are creeping back on!
I hired a personal trainer to up my game with my workouts. I explained my frustration with my plateau and expected her to physically push me even harder. She handed me a little notebook, one with the spiral wire at the top. I thought it would be to track my workouts so I could see my progress. Nope, she explained the notebook’s purpose was to log every single thing I ate. I was a bit annoyed – I need to change my workouts, not my nutrition.
Turns out I was suffering from “train gain.” My trainer explained this is very common – it happens when people increase their physical activity but fail to address their body’s changing nutritional needs. Oooooh the clouds parted and suddenly my problem became crystal clear! The problem really was with my nutrition and not my exercise! That little notebook that initially annoyed me suddenly became my bible. In today’s world, that notebook would be replaced with an app – my personal favorite is My Fitness Pal (I get nothing from saying that; it’s just my personal opinion).
When you work out (i.e., expel more energy), your body needs additional fuel. Think of your body like a car – if you normally drive five miles a day, a tank of gas is going to last a while. If you suddenly increase to 20 miles a day, that same tank of gas is not going to last as long. If you are incorporating more physical activity, think about how you need to adjust your nutritional intake. When you are done with a workout, your body needs to be refueled. If you reach for a bag of chips after your workout, you just sabotaged your efforts. I call this nutritional arrogance: I work out a lot, I can eat whatever I want. Ummmm no, I cannot. No matter what you think, you absolutely cannot out-train a bad diet.
It cannot be said enough … keeping your body properly fueled is critical. My favorite saying is, “garbage in, garbage out.” When you go grocery shopping, look at where your food comes from. Is your cart full of fresh ingredients or bogged down with processed foods? Is your diet lacking fiber and protein or is it full of sugar? The My Fitness Pal app will track your food and break down for you what your nutritional strengths and deficits are. There are many apps out there which will do this. If you are not tech savvy, go old fashioned with a little notebook where you track everything (and I mean everything) you eat and drink. Schedule an appointment with your doctor and get some feedback from her/him.
Train gain is a real thing. It does not necessarily only happen when you work out either. If you are somewhat sedentary in the winter and your activity increases during the spring or summer, you will need to accommodate that increase in your energy pull. It comes down to preparation. Be prepared for the hunger pains – have healthy snacks readily available. If you are doing the work, enjoy the benefits, which may or may not include weight loss. If you are doing the work and are not seeing the results you hoped for, look at the potential reasons why you are not reaching your goals. Do not let train gain be the reason you are frustrated!