I know. It sounds crazy, right? After all, we are taught that if you lower your caloric intake, you’ll lose weight. So surely it can’t be possible that you can gain weight if you don’t eat enough.
Well, think again.
When you get into dangerously low calorie zones, your body goes into panic mode. It starts to operate with the only goal of surviving – I mean, it thinks you’re starving to death, and it certainly doesn’t want that. When you don’t eat enough, you aren’t properly fueling what you’re doing, and this is especially true for athletes and dedicated gym-goers. Your body develops a type of defense mechanism to protect itself against the perceived threat of starvation – and that causes you to retain or gain weight.
This is likely to make you scratch your head if you’re cutting calories and instead of seeing the number on the scale go down, you’re seeing it go up. It’s actually extremely common for athletes to over-perform, under-fuel, and as a result, gain weight.
So here’s the science behind it…
After you work out, the hormone ghrelin is released. It’s what boosts your appetite, slows your hormone down, and signals to the brain that it’s time to eat. Ghrelin production is moderated by eating before and after exercise. When ghrelin increases, a hormone called leptin decreases. Leptin signals to the body that body weight isn’t too low and starvation isn’t impending. Without enough leptin, the brain actually thinks body weight is too low, so metabolism will drop and the body will hold onto fat. Endurance training, especially among women, is related to suppressing leptin levels – which is why endless cardio doesn’t quite make you thin and toned like you’d think.
Not getting enough food over-pronounces these fluctuations in ghrelin and leptin. Sometimes it’s because people are purposely restricting calories, while other times, people just simply aren’t – by accident – getting enough food around their workouts. This could be a problem if you work out really early in the morning and don’t eat before, or you rush to work after the gym and don’t have time for an adequate meal. Even if someone eats the way they should throughout the day, but they don’t get adequate nutrition before and after exercise, these hormonal problems can still occur.
So what do you do?
The best thing you can do is treat pre- and post-workout nutrition as essential rather than optional. Even if you don’t feel hungry, get something in your system before and after a workout – your body and hormones will thank you for it.