When you are striving for weight loss, hopping on the scales (or gently tip-toeing on) to see you’ve dropped a few pounds is great for keeping you motivated and focused. Unfortunately, it can also tip the other way, but I’m here to talk about why that change is often down to fluctuations in water weight rather than body fat.
Here’s how to know if your efforts are paying off and why you should be mindful when you step on the scale.
WHAT IS WATER WEIGHT?
What we see as a decrease in body weight on the scales is a change in muscle, fat and water. Water makes up 60% of your body weight, and it’s one of the first things you lose.
Fat mass doesn’t change overnight, but you can lose as much as five pounds of water in a day. Average 24-hour urine loss ranges from 0.8 – 2ltr of fluid. That may sound like a lot but you do also replenish this through food and drink.
However, it’s virtually impossible to burn off a pound of fat in a day. Let’s do the math: A pound of fat is 454 grams, and assuming each gram of fat yields 9 calories, you’d need to burn 4,086 calories to lose one pound. I’d rather not be a part of that session!
WHY WATER WEIGHT COMES OFF FASTER THAN FAT
Most people with a weight-loss goal eat fewer calories, carbs or both and exercise more often. When you cut calories and carbs for weight loss, the first place your body dips into for extra energy is glycogen (AKA stored carbohydrates), in the liver and skeletal muscles. Glycogen is usually stored with lots of water (3 parts water to 1 part carbs), so tapping into it releases a lot of water.
Exercising more often will also cause you to lose water weight through sweat. You’re still losing fat, but at a slower rate than water.
WHAT AFFECTS WATER WEIGHT
Carbohydrates – Just like I highlighted above, if you ingest more carbs you will need more water. I’m not saying to avoid carbs….these babies are life! But if you do have a bag of chips the night before weigh-in that’s the reason for an increase in water weight.
Salt intake – More salt leads to more fluid retention, you do need sodium for bodily functions but perhaps lay of sprinkling it on every meal. Takeaways are prone for their high sodium levels, as are ping-meals (microwave meals)
Pre-menstrual cycle – you can’t avoid it, it’s a normal part of life but you need to be aware that your weight will fluctuate. Try keeping a record of weight changes around this period (excuse the pun) to understand how much you normally gain.
Caffeine – Caffeine is a mild diuretic, meaning it increases urination and water loss. Research shows this effect is strongest in individuals who are new to or deprived of caffeine. If you regularly fill up of caffeine, drinking coffee and tea does little for your water weight
Alcohol – Alcohol increases how much water is lost through urine (yes, your thinking ‘I’m constantly peeing when I drink’). Water loss (and dehydration) is a side effect of drinking alcohol, though it’s definitely not a good solution to get rid of water weight.
Weight Training – If you’ve had a good session with lots of volume then your muscles will need to recover/repair. Water is essential in transporting those essential nutrients to the muscles to help with growth and repair. If you’ve trained legs for example, your body will store more water whilst those legs recover
So What Should You Do
It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate from day to day. This is why weighing yourself weekly is better than weighing yourself daily when you want to gauge progress, or working out weekly averages.
Long-term changes in body weight result from changes to lean muscle and/or fat, which is what you want to see. Finally, avoiding drinking water won’t help you lose weight — the opposite is true. Good hydration helps your weight-loss efforts by curbing hunger.