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Water Retention and Weight Loss: You Can Lose Fat, But Not Weight?

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Water Retention and Weight Loss: You Can Lose Fat, But Not Weight?

Water retention can really mess with your head when you’re dieting to lose weight. It can hide fat loss and even make you feel fatter, but fortunately, it’s easy to fix.

 

Have you ever been rolling along nicely on a cut and then, out of nowhere, had your scale freeze up on you? That is, you go one, two, even three weeks without losing any weight, and without looking any leaner?

Weight loss plateaus like these are usually caused by accidental over-eating or under-exercising, and there are simple dietary and exercise strategies you can use to remedy those issues.

That said, increased water retention can also be the cause of “mysterious” weight stagnation. Women can really suffer from this due to the fluid retention that comes with the menstrual cycle.

If you’re not familiar with water retention and what to do about it, it can really throw you for a loop because cutting calories further and increasing cardio–the two simplest ways to get the scale moving again–can actually make it worse. This can then lead to a nice, greasy bout of frustration binging, which sets you back even further.

So, let’s learn more about fluid retention and weight loss, and how to defeat it so you can avoid this aggravating pitfall.

When a Weight Loss Plateau isn’t a Fat Loss Plateau

In a perfect world, we would always lose weight in a neat, orderly manner.

We would do our daily exercise and follow our meal plans and wake up a little lighter and leaner every morning. On we would go until we eventually have our six packs, we would celebrate with our favorite cheat meal, and that would be that.

Well, it usually doesn’t work out like that.

It turns out that weight loss can be quite erratic sometimes. You can sit at the same weight for several weeks, and then lose 3-4 pounds overnight, and it can sometimes occur after pigging out.

How is that possible? I mean, as long as you maintain a daily caloric deficit, your body is going to mobilize fat stores, so why would your weight stay the same?

The answer lies in water retention. If you lost a pound of fat in one week, it can be obscured–both on the scale and in the mirror–by an extra pound of water that your body is holding.

While daily fluctuations in the amount of water you drink and sodium you eat account for most of the water you retain, simply being in a caloric deficit can cause water retentionA major reason for this is the fact that it raises cortisol levels, which in turn increases fluid retention.

So, let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon and what we can do about it.

What a World War II Starvation Experiment Can Teach Us About Water Weight

Scientific knowledge of this phenomenon goes back decades.

A good example of this is the “Minnesota Starvation Experiment” conducted by Dr. Ancel Keys during World War II, wherein 36 men willingly submitted themselves to a semi-starvation diet of about 1,500 calories per day for 6 months. The purpose of the experiment was to study the physiology and psychology of starvation, and to work out a proper regimen for gradually helping starved war prisoners back to normal diets and metabolic functions.

While there is plenty of interesting information among his findings, I want to call your attention to one observation in particular.

Weight loss progressed in a nice, linear fashion in the beginning. Men lost about 2 lbs per week, every week. Eventually, however, it became erratic. Weight would remain stagnant for weeks with a dramatic increase in water retention, and then a “burst” of weight loss would occur as water was rapidly expelled.

I want to repeat this point: the caloric deficit did systematically reduce body fat levels, but the reductions in total body weight were often counter-balanced by increases in water retention. This extra water would suddenly flood out, causing apparent “bursts” in weight loss of several pounds overnight. Bodybuilders are very familiar with this phenomenon, calling it the “whoosh effect.”

“What triggered these whooshes in the prisoners?” you might be wondering.

Sometimes they just occurred randomly, but a reliable trigger was a dramatic increase in calories for a meal. For instance, a 2,300-calorie meal was served to celebrate the half-way mark of the experiment, and scientists noted that many of the men woke up several times to pee that night and, in the morning, were several pounds lighter than the day before.

If you’ve ever dieted down to a super-lean level (7% and below for men, 15% and below for women), you’ve probably experienced this “whoosh” after you do a nice re-feed meal/day. In fact, it’s common for weight loss to continue for several weeks even after you reach your body fat goal and start increasing your calories (this was noted in the Minnesota Experiment as well).

Practical Advice for Losing Water Weight

If you find your weight stuck for several weeks despite being absolutely sure that you’re in a caloric deficit (weighing food you eat, keeping your activity levels up through exercise), the strategies below will probably un-stick you.

Reduce Your Sodium Intake

Increasing your sodium intake above your normal daily levels increases water weight. Conversely, reducing it below the daily norm reduces water weight. Thus, an easy way to trigger a “whoosh” is reducing your sodium intake.

When I cut sodium, I bring it down to 1-1.5 grams per day for a few days (the Institute of Medicine recommends just 1.5 grams of sodium per day, by the way). That means…

  • No canned or pre-packaged foods (salt is used as a preservative).
  • No deli meat (full of sodium).
  • Watch out for sauces and salad dressings, many of which are high in sodium.
  • Watch out for cheese, which is often quite high in sodium.

While it might be annoying to count yet another thing in your diet, it’s worth reining in your sodium for a few days to get the scale moving again. (Oh and as a note, I’ve yet to see any valid scientific proof of claims made about “diuretic foods” like asparagus and celery.)

Drink More Water

Drinking plenty of water helps normalize your fluid retention. Shoot for around 1 gallon per day.

Get Your Cortisol Under Control

If you’re retaining a lot of water, it may be due to elevated cortisol levels. To get your cortisol back to normal, try the following:

  • Cut back on the exercise. Exercise elevates cortisol levels, and when combined with a caloric restriction, this can be a double-whammy of cortisol for your body. Reduce the frequency and intensity of your training for a week to help bring things back to normal.
  • Make sure you’re not in too severe of a caloric deficit. Go over your diet and compare it against your total daily expenditure using a calculation like the Katch McArdle (and use the “light activity” multiplier–unless you exercise more than 7 hours per week, higher multipliers will have you eating too much). Bring yourself to a 500-calorie deficit to avoid the cortisol issues that come with greater caloric restrictions.

Eat a Bunch of Food

Don’t you love me for this one?

I’ve talked about the importance of “re-feeding” when you’re dieting, and its benefits extend to dealing with fluid retention. As was seen in the Minnesota Experiment, a jump in calories for one meal can trigger a “whoosh” of water.

So have a nice cheat meal and enjoy it. For an added bonus, include a good amount of carbs, as it can reduce cortisol levels.

 

What are your experiences with water retention? How have you overcome them? Let me know in the comments below!

 

How to get lean and build serious muscle and strength, faster than you ever thought possible…

Depending on how you eat, train, and rest, building muscle and losing fat can be incredibly easy or incredibly hard. Unfortunately, most people make many different mistakes that leave them stuck in a rut.

The truth is if you know how to train, eat, and rest properly, then you can build muscle and lose fat every week…and actually see the changes in the mirror.

And that’s why I wrote Bigger Leaner Stronger for men, and Thinner Leaner Stronger for women: they lay out EVERYTHING you need to know about diet and training to build muscle and lose fat effectively…

The Book Bigger Leaner Stronger by Michael Matthews.

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admin I’m Mike Matthews and I’ve been training for nearly a decade now. I believe that every person can achieve the body of his or her dreams, and I work hard to give everyone that chance by providing workable, proven advice grounded in science, not a desire to sell phony magazines, workout products, or supplements. More about me.

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220 Comments
  • http://twitter.com/webescandalo Web Escandalo

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  • Scott

    What are your thoughts on products like Axis Labs Xtract for water loss?

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Didn’t know about it until now but it looks like it just has a bunch of natural diuretics. I’ve never bothered with products like these so I’m not sure if they’re worth buying. Probably not though–you can get really dry by just manipulating your water and sodium…

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  • Sufyan

    I have experienced water retention after quitting smoking.i was depressed at first but now i think i found something which is helping me,first I knew I need to drink more water so i drank upto a gallon of water but I would drink this water in one go and that didnt help me at all,instead i tried drinking the same water sipping it throughout the day and it really helped,i lost a lot of weight,almost 10 pounds,keep in mind I am a muslim and I perform salaat 5 times a day,that increased my overall fluid circulation in the body and by drinking more water i was able to release the extra fluid my body was holding onto,I dont have the puffy face now but I still keep getting it back sometimes,I think I still have a little water in there,hope I can come over it and it never comes back…….Amen

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s interesting. I’ve never heard of increased water retention after smoking, but great job on handling it.

      The best thing you can do to prevent water retention is to keep your sodium and potassium levels balanced. According to the Institute of Medicine, you want somewhere between 1.5-2.3 grams of sodium per day, and double at in potassium.

  • Doofy

    I need a simple fucking answer as to if im losing fat and holding water and if my skin has the elasticity to fucking get lean like a M&F model. If not ill give up and just jack the fuck off.

    • Michael Matthews

      LOL

    • Alana

      Holy ish this comment was so funny and I was caught totally off guard! LMBO!

      • Michael Matthews

        Hahaha I know, amazing.

  • rumba

    Dear all,
    I have a opposite problem which is extremely frustrating: i cannot retain water.
    It makes me look like i was just taken from concentration camp :( Please, pleeeease, if you know a true reason why that happens, i’ll be eternally grateful!
    I’ve tried :
    1. limiting potassium foods and increasing sodium foods/salt: no effect.
    2. getting MUCH more rest: VERY little effect, almost none. but i can’t rest ALL the time….
    3. simply eating more calorie dense foods. the worst method ever! the more cheese, eggs, meats, bananas, dried fruits, chocolate, etc. i eat the poorer i look……
    and i tell you, i can eat 4-5000 calories per day, no problem.

    I happen to drink a lot of: mineral water, herbal teas, wash hands often, take 2 showers per day (i sweat a lot).
    Is it the real reason why i can’t retain water? Too much water intake?
    Thank you!

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm I’ve never heard of this issue before honestly. What are you ultimately trying to achieve? You want to look bigger or?

      • rumba

        Bigger face, lower arms and lower legs. Currently they all look very, very slim. I know its poor water retention.
        For some reason, i’m thirsty almost all the time and sweat often. I consume enough sodium.
        If somebody is slim, its usually due to chronic stress, but i’m not stressed. Please, if someone knows a solution how to retain water, esp. in the face- i’d be grateful!

        • Michael Matthews

          Ah okay. Have you tried just eating more food? 2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight?

          • rumba

            Yeah, tried that many times since last 5-6 years. I can eat double portions of both lunch and dinner. Each plate is rice or potatoes or buckwheat with meat, some vegetables and sauces. And then beer or red wine.
            Plenty of fruits. Esp. during holidays “all inclusive” i eat huge amounts. And deserts. Result? Maybe 0.5-0.8 kg increase :( Later, if i sweat or just walk too much all that gain is lost.
            People who look like 2x myself eat comparable amounts.
            Now i’m 100% certain its weak water retention. But i eat a lot of salt…. i also slouch, maybe thats the true reason…

          • Michael Matthews

            Hmm but have you actually tried tracking your food intake? Not just eating larger meals, but actually work out a meal plan that has you hitting certain numbers every day?

          • rumba

            No, i don’t track calories- i’m too busy with eating ;)
            Seriously, i eat large breakfasts, then a meal after workout and another one with my girlfriend. Dinners at around 8 pm. between meals: snacks like dried dates, cranberries, almonds. My oatmeal is not just oats- i add sunflower seeds, honey or molasses,dried fruits,flaxseeds. On top of that i rub olive oil on my skin, well most of it is absorped by the body. Caloric intake is very big.
            Thats why i think its a water issue. Yes i pee frequently, but much more when its cold. My blood tests are perfect (sodium, potassium, sugar) Only red blood cells are a bit below the norm. I consume lots of iron from various sources, incl. meat.

            Perhaps its poor blood flow to the head due to slouching? I’m already improving my posture and see if it works…
            Last thing i can think of is too much MUCUS clogging all arteries due to, hm….. too MUCH food, esp. dairy and meats i used to consume in huge amounts.

            When i look around… on the streets, in the metro, etc. the only people who look as bad as me are stressed, very poor folks who probably eat very little and are nervous all the time.
            I can afford any food or supplement on the planet, leave a quiet life and yet- my face is just a distaster. Also, my beard barely grows. This indicates clogged arteries.
            In the next few days, I’ll try fasting, eating only fruits.
            Combined with reduced water intake.
            The strange thing, i don’t really complain about the rest of my body (even gained some muscles), its only the face which looks like you haven’t got any sleep for months…. you can imagine how frustrating it is.

          • Michael Matthews

            Okay well I would recommend you actually track a few day’s worth of food and see how much you’re actually eating. Not just in calories but macros as well. Are you getting enough protein, etc.

            It’s not likely a water issue to be honest.

            Regarding your face, this could be caused by many different things. It’s hard to say.

            Have you seen a doctor?

          • rumba

            Well, i guess 400g of yogurt with oats and seeds, 3 slices of bread with cheese for breakfast, Big portion of fish or steak with spelt or buckwheat for lunch and plate full of cheese&potatoes dumplings two hours later… plus some 3-4 hard boiled eggs – is kind of enough protein for the day ;) Not to mention cheesecakes, chocolate, large marzipan bars and another yogurt with honey just before bedtime, cause its good for the muscles…

            Do you think fat will be stored on my face even if its not stored in my belly?
            My guess is that i eat way too much and i’m loaded with anti-nutrients like phytic acid, lectins and gluten.
            What these do : inhibit mineral absorption. So i end up with some mineral deficiences.
            I’ve removed dairy, chocolate and deserts from my diet few weeks ago. No improvement. Now its time for nuts, seeds and grains. I’ll increase veggies and meat.

            I’ve weighted 15 kg more ten years ago. Remember not eating nuts and cacao at that time….

          • Michael Matthews

            Again you need to track actual numbers. If you’re not gaining weight despite regular proper weightlifting, you’re just not eating enough.

            Not sure on the face fat.

            You can cut out grains if you’d like. But again, I suspect the problem is a matter of QUANTITY not quality.

            Either that or there’s a health issue, for which you would have to see a doctor to find out…

          • Felipe Nogueira

            rumba,
            I´m not say it is, but it can be a medical problem. Looks like you have polydipisia (to much thristy) and polyuria (to much urine). The polyuria can be caused by or cause polydipsia.
            You´ve said your glucose is normal. But there is a more rare endocrine disease called Diabetes Insipidus, which has nothing to do with Glucose, Insuline resistance or deficiency. Its has to with Anti-Diuretic Hormone (it is also called vasopressin). The cause is, usually, your body fails to produce enough Anti-Diuretic hormone and the result is to much urine, which leads to much drinking. Like I sad, it´s a rare disease, it´s a long shot.
            Other reason is habbit drinking.

            Have you seen a *good* doctor?

          • rumba

            Thank you very much Felipe! It might be associated with ADH. However- i’d not call my thirst as “extreme”, it is just above the norm. I also don’t urinate at night. For example, when i lay on the beach and even swim in the ocean- i don’t urinate for most of the day…
            Doctors in my country are…. a catastrophy. I have bad experiences from the past and tend to avoid them.They just want to prescribe some pills, and never think much what is the underlying cause.

            Whats also very unusual about me, is that i don’t grow mustache and have very sparse beard. Despite being 36 yrs old AND having testosterone above high range (done blood test).
            Combined with dark circles under eyes(even when i sleep great) and too big nose….. i feel TERRIBLE looking in the mirror.
            I hear that polydipisia is connected with zinc deficiency. I have some symptoms of low zinc: very poor pubic and facial hair, stretch marks, poor libido.

            I eat lots of nuts and seeds, little read meat. Nuts and seeds have phytic acid which destroys zinc. I’ve also consumed a lot of chocolate which is also high in phytic acid (but also zinc..).

            Do you think it could be low zinc?

        • Felipe Nogueira

          What about urine? Do you pee a lot? If yes, you can have diabetes. The “normal” one (insuline resistance/deficienty) or even the rare called Diabetes Insipidus.

          Did you make blood works to check this problem out? You should check potassium, sodium, aldosterone, renine, acth, cortisol, and anti-diuretic hormone, glicose and others. You can also check your urine osmolality.

          Be careful with some herbal teas: some of them are diuretic..

    • Guest

      Please have yourself checked for hypoadrenocorticism!

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  • Kelcey Z

    This was a great article and very insightful. I am going through this right now as I have upped my cardio on the stairmaster (50 minutes) and still my food intake is probably under 1000 calories. I freaked out seeing I gained 4 pounds in 2 days! Thank you for relieving some of my scale anxiety!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Kelcey! Yikes that’s REALLY low cal. How much do you weigh?

      • Kelcey Z

        As of this morning I’m 110, but typically range between 100-105. I have a really small frame, 5’2, 22 years old

        • Michael Matthews

          Okay cool and how often are you exercising?

          • Kelcey Z

            About 5-6 times a week. I do the stairmaster for about 40-50 minutes at a pretty fast pace and just lift 7.5 dumbbells and a few planks afterwards

          • Michael Matthews

            Wow okay. I would love to change things up a bit if you’re up to it. A very low calorie diet plus a lot of cardio really isn’t good for overall body composition…

  • Archervet

    Please have yourself checked for hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s Disease).

  • Roschelle

    I finally have recovered from adrenal fatigue.. I am now on day 4 of really working out and tracking food/calories. I am eating super clean and healthy.. No alcohol .. I know that when you first start working out you can gain a few lbs due to fluid retention because of the muscles not being used to the activity you are doing so they rush water into them to protect them. I havent gained in the last few days but havent lost. I am definitely at the most frustrating point with my body i have ever been. I used to be 122 ( I am 5’1) but it was all muscle. I had a great bmi.. Well this last year its just created havoc on my body with stress etc. I gained twenty lbs :( no matter what i would do the weight would NOT come off. Now that i have been on the right natural supplements, i am feeling MUCH better and have very few “bad” days..I stress out NOW feeling like I am going to work out hard and not see results again. I dont think I can manage this again emotionally. I am on 1200 a day for calories (feel like i eat constantly trying to eat healthy and clean and meet the daily requirement lol) I am burning like 700-750 a day on the arc trainer and started doing some light strength training also. Any advice, or encouragement would be awesome. Unfortunately, even though I KNOW that I can’t expect results in a few days of this, but I want it dangit! lol

    • Michael Matthews

      I’m glad to hear you’re doing well again. Adrenal fatigue sucks.

      Yes, you will gain weight when you start lifting because muscles store water and glycogen.

      What type of exercise program are you following?

      • Roschelle

        I am doig cardio about 6 days a week.. I do the arc trainer level 3 for 40-60 minutes and I do leg ass and abs one day then the next arms and back and chest I’m not lifting very heavy as I have lost muscle mass due to this adrenal crap.. For arms and back the most ill do is 30-50 I’m not trying to bulk just tone. 3-4 sets of 10-15 will be a challenge so I stick w that
        For my legs and butt I can do way more
        I can do 90-100 lb on leg press and squats I either add the bar on shoulders or hold the weight whilst doing squat .. Abs I add up to 12 lbs whilst doing them. And I do a lot more sets and reps with abs

        • Michael Matthews

          Okay cool that’s not bad.

          What do you think about doing more lifting and less cardio? And 20-25 min of HIIT for your cardio instead of the longer sessions?

          • Roschelle

            I am here now I’ll try that :))

          • Michael Matthews

            Okay let’s start with 3-4x weights and 2-3x HIIT cardio, 25-30 min. These articles might help you:

            http://www.muscleforlife.com /the-ultimate-fitness-plan-for-women/

            http://www.muscleforlife.com /high-intensity-interval-training-and-weight-loss/

            If you like them, then you should really read my book Thinner Leaner Stronger next, as that’s the program I would love to get you going on. :)

            http://www.muscleforlife.com /books/thinner-leaner-stronger/

            Lemme know what you think!

          • Roschelle

            Okay I will look at those links and I’ll check out your book!!! Update for you, also. I lost two lbs.. I don’t really SEE the loss but I was able to squeeze in some old jeans. Progress is progress! I can’t wait to be lean and toned again!! You’re so helpful thank you!!

          • Michael Matthews

            Cool, and great on the weight loss. Exactly–down is down! Keep it up!

          • Roschelle

            So I am just leaving gym I did 25 of hiit on the arc machine
            !! Whoa kicked my butt harder than 60 min of just cardio. Then I did 30 of legs and a bs and butt. Sound good? I did the most weight I could do to get through 3 sets of 10 each thing I did. Then stretched. I burned 318 for the hiit less than normal but it felt I worked harder than I normally do with just cardio.. I read your articles and posted them on my fb page. :) thank you!

          • Michael Matthews

            Nice! Yeah HIIT rocks.

            I would recommend the lifting first, then the HIIT, then the stretching.

            What do you think?

            And thanks for sharing my articles! :)

          • Jason Brandt

            The amount of weight lifted has nothing to do with bulking. Lifting weights will never make someone bulk. Calories are the only thing that can make someone bulky. If you maintain normal calorie intake while adding a weight lifting program it will only lean you out by adding lean muscle mass and burning body fat.

          • Roschelle

            I’m Guna have to disagree on that statement

          • Jason Brandt

            You’re not disagreeing as their is no opinion on the matter. Fact is science say’s bulky muscles require not just lifting heavy weights but heavy calorie consumption.

            http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/06/health/06real.html?ref=health&_r=0

            http://www.fitnessguru.org/exercise/articles/weights-2.php

            http://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/8-reasons-why-you-should-lift-heavier-weights

          • Roschelle

            Maybe I read your first comment wrong .. Yes with healthy diet and heavy slower lifting one can achieve the bulk.

          • Jason Brandt

            Roschelle read the articles. Body builders have to eat 5-10k calories a day to maintain muscle mass. Your body will only build what it has the calories to build. If you’re eating under 1500 calories as a female or under 2000 calories as a male your body will only burn fat and build lean muscle mass while doing heavy lifting. When you have a degree in exercise physiology and have found a study proving otherwise you can claim what you’re saying but until then what you said is incorrect. Large bulky muscle mass requires a calorie surplus. Just keep saying that over and over. Eventually you will understand.

          • Roschelle

            I don’t think the rudeness is necessary I agree that a body builder would eat massive amounts of calories with their heavy lifting.. X amount of protein healthy carbs and fat and calories. I’m not disagreeing with you I read your first post wrong

          • Roschelle

            I was also wondering. Was there something on this thread that made you comment about bulking. ? I’m definitely not bulking. My email showed that you posted a bulking comment in response to my thread ..

          • Jason Brandt

            I apologize if you feel I was being rude I am merely trying to get rid of the rumor that a lot of woman think lifting heavy weights will make them bulky. I just want to make sure you’re informed to reach your goals and get in the best shape possible. Lifting heavier weights is how to challenge the body making it stronger and leaner. Best of luck on your fitness journey.

          • Roschelle

            I agree with you whole hearted ly .. I am a certified personal trainer and in school for physical therapy still learning a lot but have some knowledge .. I know so many women that lift so light and just do cardio. I lift to the heaviest I can making sure I can get through the 3 sets fully .. I’ve already gained some strength in less than a week of two weeks of training. I’ve been able to increase my weights! I’m so happy!! Seems I lost more strength in my arms in this last year of being sick … For a whole year… I’ve got my meals prepped w perfect protein and carbs and fats

          • Michael Matthews

            This is true and is the big message of my book for women.

            Remember that women also have a fraction of the average male’s testosterone level, which is the primary hormonal driver of muscle growth.

          • Michael Matthews

            No reason to be rude, as you’re only half right.

            Building muscle efficiently requires a calorie surplus. If you are in a deficit, or just at maintenance, you don’t build “lean muscle,” you simply don’t build muscle at all. There’s no such thing as “lean” or “bulky” muscle.

            You can get stronger while eating at a maintenance level due to neurological improvements in existing muscle fibers. This does not result in growth of the fibers, though.

          • Michael Matthews

            The amount of weight lifted DOES affect your ability to bulk.

            Eat all you want but if you’re not lifting heavy weights, you’re not going to get much bigger.

            Maintenance calories plus proper lifting does NOT burn fat and add muscle.

            A “recomp,” as it’s known, is really only possible in newbies and druggers, and it’s nothing more than maintaining a mild calorie deficit for fat loss and letting the body do its thing in terms of building muscle.

            Anyone past year 1 not on drugs can’t do it though.

          • Roschelle

            You’re absolutely right, Mathew. :)

          • Michael Matthews

            :)

  • David

    Did you mean to say more than?
    “and use the “light activity” multiplier–unless you exercise less than 7 hours per week”

    • Michael Matthews

      Whoops, yes. Thanks for pointing this out.

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  • Tsungai

    Hi Michael,GREAT article.I’m also one of those whose been on a plateau despite watching my calories, eating veges etc. A few days ago I was on a fast (religious)and didnt eat or drink NOTHING for 3 days and 3 nights and I lost just over 4kg or 9 pounds and came down to 51.2kg or 103pounds. I’m a woman, 5″3. I got one of my tiny dresses out and flaunted my flat belly, thin thighs and less 2 inches body and felt sexy. It was a good day!Started eating gently, drinking tea, watered down fruit juice and watching my carbs and small quantities eating my dinner off a side plate yesterday and I’m nearly back at the 56 kg/114 pounds I started at 3 days ago. I’m mad and angry as you can understand. I hear you about cutting sugar and salt. I’ve been surfing the net on water weight answers and this is by far the best. THANK YOU for the great article. I especially appreciate that you backed it up with scientific research such as the Minnesota experience. How best do I find a balance betweeen exercise to tone up without getting into the zone where I won’t lose weight and my body starts to hoard the water again? Are there any good diet plans out there that you can suggest for me? Also how much exercise, for someone like me 112 pounds and 5”3? Please suggest any good kidney detoxes you know of as well. I want that 51kg body back!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Really glad you liked it.

      Yup, that’s the power of water weight. It can cause wild fluctuations in weight.

      Check out these articles of mine:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com /how-to-break-through-weight-loss-plateaus/

      http://www.muscleforlife.com /build-muscle-lose-fat/

      http://www.muscleforlife.com /the-quickest-way-to-lose-weight/

      http://www.muscleforlife.com /what-is-if-it-fits-your-macros-and-does-it-work/

      If you like those, then you should really check out my book Thinner Leaner Stronger:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com /books/thinner-leaner-stronger/

      It lays out EVERYTHING you need to know about diet and training to build muscle and lose fat effectively…

      What do you think?

  • Goddess

    I’m trying to loose weight and I’ve been stuck on 150kgs… even with meal replacement drinks…
    I mean you can see me growing smaller. But I still weigh the same. Realized itmight be the mineral water I’ve been drinking. That stuff has sodium in it.
    Urgh time to drink pure water only.

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm water retention could be the issue, or it could be related to diet (eating too much daily and/or weekly) or exercise (moving too little).

      This article might help on the diet side:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com /how-to-lose-weight-fast/

  • Resh

    Hey Michael, thank you for the informative article! I’ve been struggling with water retention for months and this has given me some great insight. I weight train about 4-5 days a week and cardio 2-3 days. My biggest problem is meeting calorie requirements as I maintain a mostly vegetarian diet. Due to food allergies I’ve cut out dairy and wheat. I don’t have much of a palette for poultry or meats but I do occasionally enjoy fish. I’ve found the best way to get in my protein requirement is by drinking a vegan powder in the morning and evening. Otherwise I eat lots of vegetables and the occasional fruit to meet my calorie intake which usually I don’t. On the occasional weekend when I’m away I notice I lose all ths water weight and I don’t want to return to the gym just to bloat up again. I am so frustrated I could give up!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked it.

      Hitting your calories is very important as too severe of a deficit will result in dramatic water retention, which makes it look like you’re not losing fat due to stagnant weight (you are, but it’s masked by increased water retention).

      I recommend working out a proper meal plan that hits your daily numbers and just sticking to that every day…

      Read about this here:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com /how-to-lose-weight-fast/

      • Resh

        At 5’7″ I weigh about 125-130lbs. I’m happy with my weight but would really like to gain muscle and lose fat. I think I am around 20% body fat. After reading a few of your articles I am still a little confused one what my caloric intake per day should be. Right now I’ve grown to be around 1400 while working out 5-6 days a week.

  • Trey

    Great artical Michael. Just have a question. I rely more on using a tape measure around the biggest part of my stomach vs the scales. I have been hitting a 500 cal. Deficiency almost dead on give our take no more than 50. I measure once in the morning and once in the evening not comparing the two bc I know the morning is going to be smaller. But I have dropped about 4 pounds in 2 weeks and about 2 inches off my waist. But I have noticed that the past 2 days I have put about a half inch back on. Do you think this is water or fat. I have not had a cheat day in 5 days.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah waist measurement is definitely a reliable way to track fat loss and storage.

      Great job on your weight loss so far. That’s just water. Don’t sweat it and keep up the good work. If you don’t see any changes for 7-10 days, then there might be something worth addressing…

  • Heather

    This article is very very interesting. I have been sticking to a lifting program for almost 7 months now. I am female, 31, 5’2, 117lbs. My goal in the beginning was to be 105lbs. I can squat and deadlift over 100lbs and did my first chin-up the other day. I can also pick up my 130lb husband easily ;) In the beginning I lost 41/2lbs. Then it stopped and I’ve lost nothing on the scale. Or in inches. Nothing. I started at 1500cals, then 1550, 1400. At one point I brought them up to 1700 just to see what would happen. Nothing. I don’t gain nor do I lose. I do HITT cardio when I feel up to it.and walk my dog 1/2hr – 45min almost everyday.

    My body looks strong but I’ve still got visible fat covering my stomach, hips, and booty. What the heck is going on?? I just don’t know what to do anymore. Do I eat 1700 or 1200? 2 days of HITT or 6 days of SS? Honestly, I am at my wits end but my stubbornness doesn’t let me give up.

    How can a body be in a deficit for so long while lifting as heavy as I possibly can + doing cardio and NOT DO ANYTHING?!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Heather!

      Wow great job on your strength! That rocks.

      It sounds like you need to bring your calories up to maintenance for 3-4 weeks to speed your metab up and then go for the final “get really lean” cut, and use some strategies to help burn stubborn fat:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com /the-truth-about-stubborn-fat-and-how-to-get-rid-of-it/

      You’re not in a deficit if your body fat % is static. Remember your metab slows down as you reduce calories, and honestly many people miscalculate how many calories they’re actually eating. They don’t weigh/measure all food, they add little things here and there, they eat too much in their cheat meals, thus negating the deficits on previous days, etc.

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  • pedro

    Hi there, I’m a very active male, 41 years old. 6′ 4″. I
    train 5 days a week – cardio in the am on an empty stomach and do weights 3-4 night
    a week on split routine. I have got my weight down from 99kg to 95.1kg; BF has
    decreased from 14.3% to 11.4% currently… all good and progressing in the right
    way. BUT when I do my fortnightly body composition checks on the machine they
    have in my gym, it is the one that you hold the rods at the side, bare footed,
    and it sends a current thru your body (not sure how accurate they are anyway)
    shows that my ‘total body water’ should be between 44.6kg and 56.2kg for my
    weight/height/age etc… so the upper end is 56.2kg….. Well mine is 66.4kg!!…way
    over the upper end!

    I have always had this ‘bloated’ stomach for a few years now,
    which has decreased recently due to me starting cardio, eating clean, and
    cutting out the crap. I had a blood test done to eliminate all the foods I was
    intolerant too. I really have put the work in to find out what may be causing this
    bloating… I used to joke with family and friends that I ‘really’ was a low 12%
    BF and state that I suffered from water retention… which I really do now – according
    to this diagnostic on the machine in my gym.

    I have read on some forums, to increase my water intake…really? I
    drink 3-4 cups of green tea per day. At least 4 litres of water and 2 proteins
    shakes… you telling me I’m not getting enough fluids? I don’t add salt to
    anything (never have) and use spices moderately in my cooking. Have a very
    clean diet. I just don’t get it.

    I’m starting to get some definition on my abs now, so really
    want to nail this water retention thing once and for all. And get the flat
    stomach/six pack I have yearned for all these years…. Any suggestions would be greatly
    appreciated. Thank you….

    Or maybe just do even MORE cardio!!!!

    • Michael Matthews

      BIA machines can be really inaccurate depending on testing conditions:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioelectrical_impedance_analysis#Accuracy

      My guess is you just need to get leaner. If you’re relying on the BIA for your body fat reading, that too could be wrong (you could be higher).

      If it actually is a water retention issue, and you’re drinking that much water every day (which is plenty), it COULD be that you need to balance your sodium and potassium levels.

      Your sodium intake should be around 1.5 grams per day and your potassium double that. Either one being off can cause water retention…

      • pedro

        thanks michael – its greatly appreciated. how do i check my sodium and potassium levels? i dont eat bannanas – and i know theyre good for potassium…or do i take a vitamin tablet to up my levels? im not in denile, i do ‘probably’ agree – i do need to get leaner – :) one thing i forgot to mention – when i did the test my mineral and protein levels were also ‘over’ the higher end stated… im actually a hard gainer so am keeping my cardio at 30-40 mins every morning 4-5 days a week on an empty stomach to increase calorie loos/fat burn and not loose too much muscle mass – which by the way i have lost a lot of…. it IS definately working, 6 weeks in and i CAN see a good result, im just impaitient and want to get their quicker with my training and results etc… but naturally, i do need to make some tweaks and address some issues, this being one of them.

        • Michael Matthews

          YW.

          You have to just look at the sodium/pot levels of the foods you eat, including salt and spices.

          I supplement with about 1.5 grams of pot per day to hit my number, but you can get all from food.

          Cool keep up the good work and once you reach your desired body fat %, you want to start focusing on gaining some size, right?

          • pedro

            cheers mike.

            yes thats absolutley right! i was always under the impression one can bulk up and strip at same time – but being a lanky/skinny/hard gainer (albeit with a small paunch belly) thats now getting flatter by the day and i have lost a bit of my size had recently, but with my renewed enthusiasm and training regime (doing cardio in the am and weights in the pm) im ‘finally’ seeing some proper results… i think my training had plateuaed and i was doing it wrong…. again, the advice here and threads are on point. thanks once again.

          • Michael Matthews

            Perfect! I’m excited for you. Keep up the good work and keep me posted.

          • Nick

            Can you take water weight out with a syringe just wondering

          • Michael Matthews

            No, definitely not.

  • António Alves

    Hey Mike,
    From this article I understand what you should do if you’ve checked your calories and you are in a caloric deficit but are not losing weight. Still, if you are losing fat but retaining water, would you be able to see changes in the mirror which would indicate you are losing fat (just for curiosity)?

    What happens if you are losing more than the recommended 2 pounds a week? How do you know if you are not losing water instead of fat? Is this impossible since you said that being in a caloric deficit causes water retention? This would then indicate that if you are losing more than 2 pounds it is because you are in a big caloric deficit. However, since water retention can happen, if you lose 2 pounds in a week, you could actually have lost 4 pounds if it were not for the water retention, which would mean that you are in a big caloric deficit without knowing.

    My second question, is what do I do if I lose more than 2 pounds in a week. Should I immediately raise my calories by 200 ( I guess), and how would I distribute them ( could I just choose, like protein)? Is there a way of knowing how much water you are retaining without looking at your weekly losses?

    Thanks Mike.

    • Michael Matthews

      You may or may not see it in the mirror–it depends how much water you’re holding.

      If your energy levels are good and you’re strong in the gym, you’re okay. You WILL generally lose more than 2lbs/week when you start because water flushes out quickly.

      Use your energy levels and strength as the main indicators. If those are good, then maintain your caloric intake. If either go really south, increase food.

      • Enriq

        Hello! According to this article, how may we continue losing fat but without losing more weight anymore? I’m male 27 years 1,73m and 20%bf, I want to continue losing fat minimum till 10% but the problem is that I’m already in 69kgs!!That is very low, never been here. If I follow my target with my caloric deficit I will be very very skinny! I’m already very skinny and people tell me that is too much, but I still have 20%bf in my body however. I don’t know if always fat lose means also weight loss imperatively. I also ask this because I’ve read in a magazine a director’s transofrmation in 12 weeks and he passed from 72kgs/14%bf to 74kgs/5%bf! His goal was to cut, but he gained weight while reducing his bf%, was he in caloric deficit too or maybe he did it in another way? I’m a little worried about it and I don’t know if I’m doing it OK. Thankss!!!

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah if you hold a lot of water it can obscure fat loss.

          That said, are you sure you’re at 20%? Check this out:

          http://www.muscleforlife.com/how-to-measure-body-fat-percentage/

          • Enriq

            Hi Mike. I read your article, its great! Thanks! Yes, I’m sure of my BF% at least approximately because I have a scale where I have to introduce my age, genre and height. Then it calculates my weight, BF%, water %, muscle % and basal metabolic. So I think everything is OK. This morning I was in 68.7kg 19.9%BF. I think I have no much muscle and lot of fat, I don’t know if that might be my problem.

          • Michael Matthews

            Great! Okay cool. We should focus on getting you to the 10% range first…

          • Enriq

            Perfect! I will continue writing about my evolution in your site.

          • Michael Matthews

            Thanks!

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  • lumian

    once i checked my weight 3-4 months nd i saw it was 51 from 48 , I was scared but I didnt do anything as I hate diet and excercise but after 4 day I saw it down
    again 48 :)

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah, water retention can really mess with you!

  • jilian

    I started drinking lots of water everyday for 3 days , and i havent lose weight . My stomach looks bigger than it usually is . Is this a good or bad sign ? :/ if its because its just water weight , how long will this take ?

    • Michael Matthews

      Drinking more water won’t necessarily reduce water retention. Balancing sodium and potassium intake are a better way to get rid of water retention…

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  • Brooke_Escalante

    This helped so much. I started just doing push ups and I did get leaner but then a few days later my stomach swoll up and i gained about 4-5 lbs. I was frustrated bc I became less wide but my stomach was big. I’m still not exactly sure how to flush out the water.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Brooke!

      Hmm well balancing sodium and potassium intake is important as well as drinking plenty of water.

      Was this possibly due to your period, though?

      • Dani

        So I’ve been drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day reduced my sodium intake but my weight still hasn’t changed in 3 days I started my period yesterday… When my period ends I should see a difference on the scale .. Right?

        • Michael Matthews

          Possibly it depends on how your fat loss was going. Let’s see…

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  • Dani

    So my period ended yesterday and when I weighed myself today I had lost 4.1lbs I guess I am doing good lol and it was just my period messing with me which sucks because I did loose motivation but did not give up I kept thinking only a couple of more days and we will see what’s really going on and it worked never give up!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha yup, that’s how it goes. Do yourself a favor and don’t weigh yourself during your period. Weigh yourself after. ;)

  • NateMac

    I’ve recently started (we’ll call it) a controlled calorie weight loss plan. Before I would cut back and exercised regularly. Now I’m actually keeping track, and we’ll just say it “taking it seriously”.
    I’m only a week in, and have noticed a plateau very quickly(maybe I’m just being anxious). First day I gained a pound, and the Second lost 1.6lbs. Tomorrow is the end of the week and it hasn’t moved even .1 of a lbs (which I think is a little weird in the first place, to not even move a little). I’ve also have not “expelled waist” in a few days.
    I’m wondering if a “cheat meal” will level me out or if their is another recomendation here.
    “At the moment” I limit myself to 1730 calories a day and some sort of cardio after work for 45 minutes. Unfortunately the rest of the day sit at a desk and try and walk around as much as I can.
    Thanks for the article, this at least made me not so worried about how this first week was going.

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm how much do you weigh? Are you a guy or girl?

  • Mike C.

    great article brother. I’m on my 1st official cut (bodybuilding) this past week. And I went down a 1/2 pound 1st few days and up a pound the next 3 I know its not the food in general because it’s all lean and clean. but the last few days I have tried to make my food taste better ( sodium), and my exercise is very intense (go hard or stay home) as well as lack of sleep (I feel its a waste of my life). But after reading this article which I thank you so much for!!!…. I’m going to cut back on my sodium (don’t quite understand how you can measure it) (But i do have 25 % less sodium season salt and salt free Mrs. Dash) and do better on my sleep ,with last resort, reducing exercise intensity. Which is actually what lead me here. My question to google was will 2 hard leg days a week on a cut cause me to retain water weight? But any way thanks a lot brother will definitely be referring others in need of simple straight to the point guidance your way!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Mike! Yeah water retention can mess with you big time.

      Drop sodium to the IOM recommendation and make sure you’re getting enough potassium too. Unfortunately it’s another set of things you have to track but it’s important when you’re prepping for a BB show.

      The only way exercise could cause it is if you’re overtraining your body and thus chronically elevating your cortisol levels….

  • William Lim Jr

    Hi Mike,

    Do you think the opposite effect can also happen for someone trying to bulk?

    I have been a little under the weather for the past around 3 weeks, I had mild cold-like symptoms (not sure if was caused by a virus or bacteria) but I felt well enough to still go to the gym and actually manage to progress on both reps and weights. I’m all well now and have been symptom-free for at least the past 4 days. However, I noticed that since this started, I lost about 2 pounds and and was just stuck there ever since. No gain at all even if I’ve been eating already going over my bulk calorie goals. I even laid off on cardio to make sure that I’m on a surplus.

    Do you think I was losing water all this time?

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm not sure, could be water. If your weight remains stuck then we want to increase your food intake…

      • William Lim Jr

        Thanks Mike!

        Yeah i’ll see if the scale doesn’t budge again on my next weigh-in. My muscles seem to be growing denser though. I’ve been fluctuating within the 145-147lbs range for the past 3 or so weeks. I stand 5’8″ and I’m already eating 2500+ It’s sort of a good problem to have, but not so good for the budget. hah!

  • Squidgeypaws

    I’ve some data that shows that I appear to lose weight when I’m eating between 1800 and 2000 NET calories per day, most efficiently when it’s around 1800-1850 net. Having eaten below that at around 1400 net for a few weeks I’ve “put on” 3.5Ibs and have had an increase in my measurements, but I’ve LOST fat (as measured by skin calipers). It’s still in testing, but can anyone help me understand why this might be? Water retention from lowered calories….why? To access carbohydrate stores?

    • Squidgeypaws

      Female, 27, 5’5″ (66in), 157Ibs.

      • Michael Matthews

        Great on what you’re doing. You should have no issues losing weight assuming your metabolism is healthy:

        http://www.muscleforlife.com/how-to-speed-up-metabolism/

        • Squidgeypaws

          Ah that’s a great read – I’ve been reverse dieting since mid-November (when I’d plateued for 8 months eating <1300 calories NET a day and was miserable and constantly hungry!). Since Christmas I've been eating around 2000 calories NET, I've had three weeks of eating 1400 net (quite by accident) – do you think it's safe to go straight back to 2000 net or should I increase it slowly? Great info though Michael, it's answered a lot of questions I've had!

          • Squidgeypaws

            Oh, also, just out of curiosity – the last time I lost weight (before bumping calories) was when I broke a couple of toes and was unable to carry out my usual routine for about 6 weeks. My weight dipped lower than it has since I was about 22 (down to 148Ibs) – lowered cortisol levels? Or loss of LBM? It went straight back to over 150Ibs when I started running again (and then mid-50′s after I started lifting).

          • Michael Matthews

            Could be some water coming out but you will definitely lose muscle from 6 weeks of dropping a routine out. You start to lose muscle around week 3-4, give or take.

          • Michael Matthews

            Good question. Personally I would jump to about 1700 net for 10 days or so, then back to 2000.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for sharing! That HAS to be due to increased water retention via higher cortisol levels (the bigger the deficit, the more stress the body is put under). That’s all.

      • Squidgeypaws

        Thanks for that Michael, it can be quite disheartening when muscles that were previously starting to peep through disappear in puffiness again!

        • Michael Matthews

          YW! Yeah I understand. Let’s get the water under control and you’ll be fine.

  • Owen

    Finally some answers:) one more thing…….1,500 is considered a semi-starvation diet, according to my calculations my cut intake would be 1,441. My weight is 61kgs. Am i eating way too little or is water retention just a thing i’ll have to deal with in my cutting phase?

    • Michael Matthews

      Glad you liked the article!

      1500 isn’t semi-starvation for your body weight. You can start around 1600 but I suspect you will have to reduce as time goes on…

  • Mara

    I think I’m being too anxious. I bought the TLS book and today is day 1 of week 2 and I made the mistake of stepping on a scale this morning. I’m a female, 29, 5’5′ and 155lb. I have been eating about 1500-1700 calories per day and feeling great (not hungry or tired). I lift weights 5x a week, HIIT 3x and other cardio on two other days (30 minutes). I gained 1lb in one week. I know this might seem dumb, but how long until the scale drops (although this is almost impossible for you to say)? I know I should be patient. Maybe I’m just looking for some validation, I don’t know. It’s just frustrating and I’m afraid I’ll get to the end of the month with the same weight. Thank you, Mike!

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome on what you’re doing and the weight gain was simply your muscles sucking up water and glycogen, as well as some muscle growth.

      Keep up what you’re doing and let’s see how your body responds over the next 2 weeks. I recommend taking pictures every 5 days or so and measuring your waist too so you can get a more accurate idea of what is happening, as weight can be very variable.

      • Mara

        Thank you so much, Mike! You gave me one more reason to smile today. :) You are awesome!

        • Michael Matthews

          Haha my pleasure! Thanks!

  • Ella

    Please help. I haven’t lost weight for nearly two weeks. I actually gained last week. I’m 5ft, weigh 154lbs. I’m quite muscly so I thought I would have an advantage with weight loss. Body fat around 25%. Been exercising 5-6 times a week with elliptical, 30 ds shred, weights, hot yoga and hot pilates. Eating 1430 calories a day and hitting my protein macros most days with reasonably low carbs. Been working out this much since the start of January. Considering upping my protein to 90g a day. Don’t know what to do as measurements don’t seem to be changing and stomach looks bloated. Any tips?

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm your calories are quite low and it sounds like your macros are off as well.

      Check out this articles of mine:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-meal-planning-tips/

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/how-to-speed-up-metabolism/

      • Ella

        Thanks for those. So do you think I should slowly increase my calorie allowance? I can’t quite work out what protein I need to be eating. I think eating 154 grams of protein would be really hard for me to manage on a daily basis. What steps do you think I should take – eating at maintenance is a bit of a struggle for me now I did it yesterday and it made me feel slightly sick :(

        • Michael Matthews

          YW!

          Yeah I would start eating more as described in the metab article.

          150 is pretty easy to hit if you include protein in each meal you eat, and eat some meat and protein powder.

          What do you think?

          • Ella

            Thanks. I’m working out a meal plan that will incorporate around 100g of protein. I really don’t want to go down the route of protein powders as I want to get use to finding sustainable sources of protein for when I go into maintenance mode. Also I would just rather eat my calories. I’ve been looking at things like crayfish and chicken etc. I know that dairy has a decent amount of protein too but I don’t want to go crazy with it. Going to mainly snack on nuts and seeds. Also I weighed myself today and I’ve lost a pound which is great but I’m going to do refeeding and up my cals to 1500 for this week.

          • Michael Matthews

            Okay well 100 should work as well. That’s not bad.

            Dairy is good, eggs are good, fish is great, chicken is easy.

            Nice on the weight loss. Keep me posted on how it goes.

          • Ella

            Chicken is easy but so filling! I definitely will. I managed to hit 100g protein today. Thanks for your help x.x.

          • Michael Matthews

            Nice! :) Keep me posted!

          • Ella

            Hi Michael,
            Had a bit of a stall last week but I’ve lost 2 pounds this week so it’s balanced out. I think it may have been because I upped my calories. I’ve been eating 1500 cals and have actually decreased my exercise as I think I was overdoing it. So thanks for the advice as I finally like what I see in the mirror and I know its only going to get better. My target is another 9 pound loss – maybe more. Thanks again x.x.

          • Michael Matthews

            Perfect, I’m glad to hear it. Let’s keep you where you’re at in terms of cals and exercise and see how your body continues to respond.

          • Ella

            Hi,
            I have now lost a total of 14 lbs this year and I’m down to 147 lbs. I want to lose another 14 lbs. I am really pleased with my results. Do you think it will take another 3 months to lose the remaining 14 lbs? I am still eating around 1500 net cals or less a day. x.x.

          • Michael Matthews

            Great job! Yes, 2-3 months sounds about right.

  • Jackied2311

    So I’m 5’3″ currently 123 lbs. I’d like to get down to around 116, 117. I eat around 1500 calories a day, normally consume around 100g of protein and very little carbs and fat. I also try to drink 64oz of water daily. My scale has not budged in over a month. I workout 5 days a week, doing at least 30 minutes of intense cardio each time along with ab exercises, as well as lift, rotating between arms, legs, back/shoulders, & chest. I have noticed that my stomach is trimming down and my arms are getting crazy toned but I am making myself crazy about my weight. My husband actually had to hide the scales! I want to be lean and strong and I want to do it the right way but the lack of weight loss has me very discouraged. I will keep a closer eye on sodium intake and try to give myself more rest for a week to see if that helps.

    • Michael Matthews

      Cool on your stats, goal, and intake.

      Your intake might be fine but I would change your workout routine to focus on weighlifting and HIIT cardio. What do you think?

      • Jackied2311

        I have been doing some HIIT on the treadmill, alternating between a jog and sprint with incline. I’ll work on some other exercises to mix things up.. Thanks!

        • Michael Matthews

          That’s good! And lifting? Or some other form of resistance training?

  • Bre

    I think this is my problem. I work out 6xweek eat very little and have actually gained weight. Some days I feel good others I feel squishy. It’s depressing.

  • Brittney

    Hi Michael.
    I am a 25 y/o female. I’m 5’3″ and weigh around 132. I would like to ideally get to 120 but seem to be in a rut. I have been doing MusclePharms live shredded program for women for about a month now. I’ve only lost 3 pounds and that was right in the beginning of the month. I know I should be eating more calories than I do (roughly around 1000), but I gain weight with eating any more than that. I have been to doctors and they all are amazed at the amount of weight I can gain in a week. I mean I have ate normally around 1600 calories and I will gain 10 pounds in a week. I have had blood tests done and it’s not my thyroid but they are not sure why this is. I started eating breakfast recently to jump start my metabolism and saw a pound lost but that was over a week ago. I am just in a rut and am very hard on myself when I know I eat very healthy and exercise hard yet am having a very hard time losing weight. Please help. Thank you.

  • Jessica

    I had my body fat percentage measured this morning and it seemed high. It was first thing in the morning. If I was dehydrated would that make my percentage go up or down? And what about vice versa, if I was retaining water would that make it go up or down?

  • Megan

    Hi Michael

    I work out 6 days each week with circuit and hIIT training. I weighed 102lbs (height: 5’2″), I started seeing some great muscle definition. .Because I reached my goal weight of 102 I increased my calorie intake to 1800-1900 and continued exercising. In the last week I have gained 8lbs, my measurements are going up, my muscles feel like they’re under a sheet of fat. Yesterday I decreased my salt and sugar intake and drank more water, I also ate less. Today I am up by another lb. Help!

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm what was your intake before jumping to 1900?

  • Mel18

    Hi! I have been looking for some answers about water retention for a few weeks and finally got them in your article! I have starter the Jamie Eason “Livefit” program and it is the first time I’ve lifted weights seriously. I’m in my 6th week right now and I feel like I have an extra “layer” of fat/flab, gained a few pounds on the scale, not the results you want to see after sticking with a program. I’ve kept doing cardio (jogging medium intensity and hiits motsly) at least 3 times a week even though it wasn’t part of phase 1 of the program and trying to eat around 1500 calories a day. I’m 5’6″, 128 pounds, I’m wondering if I’m eating too much/not enough, I really have no idea how many calories to eat while weight training (I don’t lift really heavy). I’m going to try your tips for getting rid of water, if you have any tips for calorie intake/anything else, that would be great!

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm I’m not familiar with that program but 1500 cals per day sounds about right for your stats. Maybe a little low. That should be every day though–lifting days as well.

      Have you created a meal plan or?

      • Mel18

        I cut back on carbs, lots of veggies ans lean meats, but I still have room for improvement. I’ll work on that, now knowing that 1500 cals sounds about right. Thanks for all the information, loved your article, and I hope your tips pay off! :)

    • Treno

      Mel I’m having same issues…..I’m the same weight, eating same calories, doing light intervals though because I’m just starting out and I do yoga on alternating days BUT the scale and my bloating gets worse everyday. I haven’t eaten gluten in two years and get most of my carbs from veggies and fruits. I eat 40/30/30 and prepare and measure my food. And I use a food tracker. So I cannot figure out what we are doing wrong to retain so much water. It’s discouraging. Let me know if you see anything change. I hope that continued exercise will help but I’m feeling skeptical and down because I’m having trouble buttoning my pants:(

      • Mel18

        Wow you’re doing great diet wise! I’m not quiet there yet… can’t seem to let go of my bread and pasta :) I have to say that, after thinking it over a bit today, I realised that whenever I’ve seen change while following a training plan of any kind (the ones I’ve done were more cardio oriented, with really light weights), it was only about 8-9 weeks into it. I’m “panicking” a bit this time around because I’m afraid I won’t get the results I want because of the weight lifting. All I really want is to tone up a bit and lose a few pounds. So I will try out a few of the tips mentioned in the article about getting rid of water, and I’ll let you know what happens… But I guess that, as frustrating as it is, we need time and to stick to it to see results!

        • Treno

          Well I do believe long cardio is not the way to go and I do believe in interval training I’ve had good results before But like you I’m panicking because of the weight gain and water retention and I don’t know what is causing it?? Too much of ??? Or not enough of…??
          I hope that I can get some help at this site :)

          • Michael Matthews

            What’s your daily calorie intake like?

          • Treno

            I track my food and it goes between 1300-1500 day.
            But I did have a question after reading many of your articles..
            If the number of meals per day doesn’t matter just cal-in/cal out then you can’t lose weight if you eat several times day because your always burning the food not the fat right?
            Second, should my fat be 20% not 30%? To help facilitate weight loss
            Last, should I eat a high calorie meal to get a water flush?
            Thanks

          • Michael Matthews

            Okay. How much do you weigh? 30% fat is fine.

          • Treno

            127 lbs. 5’4 fat collect in belly and waist. My upper body has always been lean muscular. But what about the eating 6 times even though calories are right?
            Could I do a whoosh meal :)
            Thanks

          • Michael Matthews

            Ah sorry I missed that. Meal frequency doesn’t matter at all.

            Yes you should have a refeed day each week where you drop fats and double your normal carb intake. Helps flush water.

      • Michael Matthews

        I’ve found that people tend to hold a LOT of water when they reintroduce carbs. It usually takes a few weeks for the body to adjust. That could be it.

  • Mr. Markis

    thank you! Thank you! For this article. End of January I started my weight loss plan. I lost 10 pounds in a month, and then started lifting weights (heavy) and just like that I stopped losing weight. This has been happiness for 3 weeks. I am 268, 5’10 and eat between 2300 – 2500 cal a day. I work out hardcore 5 days a week and refuse to slow down because this weight must come off. I figure the water retention will eventually fix itself, but it’s frustrating to not see the weight drop even thought you work out like crazy.

    • Mr. Markis

      I meaning happening, not happiness

    • Michael Matthews

      Great on what you’re doing! It could be water or just muscle weight (more muscle fiber, more water and glycogen in the muscles).

      Your calories sound right. How often do you cheat?

  • Nosipho Portia Miya

    Hi Michael

    After loosing a lot of weight last year, I started to work on building muscle this January! I’m a 5ft3 female and I was weighing 122lbs when I started weight training. My daily calorie intake was 1200 and my protein macros was 122g. I would workout 6times a week for up to 3 and half hours! Monday and Friday I would start with a hour cardio followed by an hour bodypump class and last I would do a 1hr 30 minutes of heavy leg workouts using heavy weights!! Wednesday and Saturday I would focus on my upper body starting with 1hr power walk, then take an hour of strength training class and finish with another hour of more weight lifting! Then on Tuesdays and Thursday it would be just an hour of cardio and I rest on Sundays. It was going well, I was seeing some definition especially on my legs, arms and stomach. My scale did go up 10lbs from January to end of February! I wasn’t bothered by the weight gain cause I knew its cause I’m gaining muscle and I was getting learner. Last week I was putting on a pair of jeans and they almost would go up, I had to jump and squat and lunge to get them to go up my thighs and I noticed they’ve become bigger!! Though my waist keeps getting smaller and I keep loosing inches. I knew training legs would make them bigger but I didn’t expect them to get this big so soon and I definitely didn’t want them to get to big! The last month they seemed lean and toned with good definition but this week they look so big and don’t seem to have as much definition as last month and when I jumped on the scale I had gained 8more pounds now weighting 138lbs! I thought my body was retaining water so I started to drink more water, I did an Epsom salt hot water bath, I increased my calorie intake by 250calories (1450 cal a day) I reduced my protein macros to 100g cause I thought maybe I’m gaining to much mass on the 122g. The only thing I didn’t change is my workout routine. My upper body looks amazing, it’s lean and toned and I have great abs (not where I want them yet but their progressing) but my lower body got me so worried,frustrated, and so confused! I don’t know what’s going on. Please help!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Hi!

      Wow that’s WAY too much training. I would definitely dial that back to 5 x lifting per week and 3 – 4 x cardio per week. Lifting sessions about 45 min, cardio about 30.

      And if your legs are progressing too quickly, I would reduce volume and frequency. I would train them once per week for 9 heavy sets.

      What do you think?

      • Nosipho Portia Miya

        Ok Sounds great! I’m gonna try that. I cutout sodium on my diet this week after reading your article and increased my calorie intake again to 1600 a day and I think my body is finally letting go of the water because yesterday and today my legs look leaner and toned. They not as thick as they were last week. I haven’t weighed myself though to see if the scale will drop cause I’m scared I may not like the number, even though I’m happy with how my legs look today. Seeing the scale moving closer to the number I first started on, freaks me out a little!!

        • Michael Matthews

          Okay cool. You don’t want to completely cut out sodium though–you just want to keep it in check.

          Weigh yourself to know for sure. :)

  • Pingback: The Best Eating Plan For Building Muscle Starts With Clean Food - Venus Factor Review - Is John Barban's Female Workout & Diet Program Good?

  • YouSoWould

    Quick question – what specifically causes water to get drawn into fatty tissues?

    I’m currently at about 10% bf, but some days, for seemingly no reason, after a meal I’ve deposited upwards of 3lb of water, which takes a few days to clear. I’ve got extremely elastic skin, which makes it immediately visible and unsightly. A dry carb load usually gets shot of it. I suspect it may be the sodium content.

    I usually drink at least 1 gallon, 500 cal deficit, 45 mins weights 5 days/week.

    I’ve taken to not drinking when I eat my large post workout meal at about 5pm, as this seems to help.

    Cheers for any info

    • Michael Matthews

      What you’re seeing is subcutaneous water–water between your muscles and skin.

      Physiologically speaking your muscles can only hold so much water and there’s a “spillover” that occurs when we throw our sodium and potassium levels out of whack.

      Practically speaking it’s nothing to really worry about. You just keep your NA and K levels balanced and drink plenty of water. Once you get down to 7-8%, it doesn’t really matter much anymore.

      • YouSoWould

        Thanks for the reply, appreciated. Going to do some reading up on potassium/sodium.

        • Michael Matthews

          My pleasure. :)

  • Drew O’Connor

    I have a misporportiend body. (can’t spell for shit) I’m lean in my upper body, and in my calves from the 5 mile run’s that I do 3-4 times a week. Yet, my thighs remain huge. It’s driving me crazy since it makes me feel freakin huge whenever I put on jeans or shorts. It probably sounds weird for a guy to be complaining about that, but yeah I just wanna either trim down the fat in my thighs to the point where my legs dont look mismatched. I eat/drink sugary stuff,and seem to be incapable of giving it up completety. What should I do.

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm do you know your overall body fat percentage?

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/how-to-measure-body-fat-percentage/

      • Drew O’Connor

        Ummm, no. How would i found out that? Btw, I tried one of the things suggested with sleeping with my thighs elevated. They don’t seem to be quiet as big today so thats good.

        • Michael Matthews

          Check the article I linked.

          If the swelling in your legs is abnormal, have you seen a doc? It could be a health issue?

          • Drew O’Connor

            A health issue? Hmmm, I dunno. I mean, I thought it was just cause I didnt run enough but it dosent make any sense. I do a lot of running, and I guess Im just wondering if that only helps my calves, and not my thighs at all? Like how often would i need to run for my thighs to be affected?

          • Michael Matthews

            Training your legs won’t reduce body fat in them. If your legs just look less DEFINED than other body parts, that’s not an issue. But if they’re holding an abnormal amount of fluid, that could be a health issue…

  • Milani

    Ok so used to weigh 103 and suddenly I shot up to 107. Its been over 2 weeks and I’ve been drinking alot of water. I tried to cut back on how much I was drinking a bit but my weight is staying the same or even INCREASING. I’m exercising 3-4 times a week, sometimes more often, and making sure my calories are on track. My stomachs very bloated and I just can’t loose this weight.

    • Michael Matthews

      Are you getting your period? Are you keeping your sodium intake under control?

  • Annika

    Hello! Your article was very educational for me. I have a couple questions though! I’m a 16 yr. old female and I’m currently at 131.1lbs. In July 2013, I took a body fat test and I have about 17.8% of fat (about 111.2 lbs of lean muscle at that time since I dance a lot). My goal is actually to be about 120lbs. but I’m not sure if I will just plateau at the weight I am at now.
    I recently started counting my calories and I am trying to eat about 1200 calories a day (because I know my metabolic rate of losing calories is about 1450 and my exercises burn about 500 calories). I’m hoping that soon I will start to see some results from this. I’m also trying to lose some of my thigh muscle since I feel like I have too much and I’m really trying to slim them down.
    What do you recommend I should do to reach my goal of about 120 lbs. and losing some thigh muscle (and still staying toned)?
    PS: I have been trying to run everyday for about 45 minutes and I kind of see my thighs slimming. Also, I do pilates about twice a week, and maybe once in 2 weeks I go to CrossFit.
    Thanks! Please respond soon!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Annika!

      Cool on your stats. You’re in a great shape!

      Be careful with calorie restriction at your age as it can stunt various aspects of body development. Make sure you’re always eating a bit more than your BMR and use your exercise to create the deficit (this is quite different than dropping intake below BMR).

      Don’t worry about losing thigh muscle until you’ve reached the body fat percentage you want. You might find you actually like your leg shape once you’re there.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

      • Annika

        Alright! Thank you so much for your response! I will follow through with your advice!

        • Michael Matthews

          My pleasure! Sounds good!

  • M

    Hi Michael,

    This article was a great read, it definitely came in at the right time. I’m currently discouraged with my progress at the moment and I think it may be due to as you mentioned, exercising too much. I’ve been going to bootcamp 5x a week and on 3 of those days would even stay for kickboxing. On top of that I would also have days of strength training. 3 months in and I have lost zero pounds! I’m tired, aching and have been having constant headaches. My caloric intake has been at 1770 on mfp and have been eating half or at least all of my calories back as mfp recommends. Where should I go from here? I feel so discouraged as if all my efforts have gone down the drain!

    Thanks for all your words of wisdom!

    • M

      Sorry Michael I just realized I didn’t add in my stats: 134 pound 5ft girl :). Started off my journey at 155 pounds last year and was able to drop to 130 from Jan to June of 2013. Sept-Dec I gained back 10 pounds. Jan of this year to feb I lost 4 pounds. I can’t seem to shake off the last 4 anymore. I also noticed in seem to have a lot more body fat this year than last year. My exercise routine currently is: Mon/wed/fri – crossfit style bootcamp with some strength training incorporated for 1 hour and then stay for kickboxing another hour. Thurs and Sundays (sometimes Tuesdays) would add in an hour of strength training. My macros are: 50% carbs 25% fat 30% protein. Where am I going wrong? :’(

      • Michael Matthews

        Cool thanks for sharing. Fortunately you’re eating plenty so your metab hasn’t slowed down a bunch.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      Holy crap that’s a lot of exercise. Let’s do this:

      3 – 5 x weightlifting per week

      3 – 4 x cardio sessions per week, ideally HIIT no longer than 30 minutes each

      Work out a proper meal plan as discussed here:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-meal-planning-tips/

      • M

        First of all let me say you’re amazing! Thank you for taking the time out of your own schedule to reply to each and everyone of us. Shows your passion and how much you really care. I paid for a trainer and he was not willing to give me any information like you have unless I paid for another 5 sessions :(. Thank you again Michael! I will follow your recommendations and keep you updated.

        Ps, looking forward to reading your book. All the best, you’re the best! Haha <3

        • Michael Matthews

          Thanks so much! I really appreciate the kind words.

          That’s really lame with the PT. Bad business practices!

          Talk soon! Thanks for your support!

      • M

        Hi Michael,

        Sorry it’s me again, another silly question. I looked into your meal planning blog and calculated my tdee and the calories added up to 1377. Seems quite low, but I will try it! Just want to make sure I’m doing this right hehe. Also I wear a hr monitor, do you recommend I eat those calories back?

        Thanks again for all your help! :)

  • wcb123

    Hi Michael can you help?

    I eat super healthy – most days its either chicken or salmon with cauliflower rice and a mix of asapargus, sweetcorn and mushrooms. I never add salt to anything but i do use cayenne pepper and chilli sauces quite abit. I dont eat breakfast and for lunch il usually have a salmon sandwich

    I go to the gym everyday from anywhere between 20-45 minutes – 10 minutes on the cross trainer on level 17 (=140 cals burnt) then 10 or more minutes on the weights machines (using the stomach cruncher and arm ones) then back to the cross trainer for another 10 minutes where i burn another 100 cals or more. I will sometimes do planks for a minute each side but not everyday.

    I have bad habits – i drink beer (every night) smoke shitloads and drink even more diet cokes. I never drink water either, even in the gym i drink coke!

    Despite the bad habits though i am always in a calorific deficit because of how little i eat.

    Although im losing weight, the water retention seems more present since ive started this regime at the gym. Esecially in my face which is bloody annoying.

    Do you have any tips despite the obvious of stopping drinking beer ?

    • Michael Matthews

      Unfortunately drinking too much will cause water retention as can other unhealthy habits…

  • Hokey

    Hey Micheal I’ve been working out for 4 months now and I can not get lower than 187, I usually weigh about 192, I’ve been eating more though now too since I increased my lifting (haven’t been counting calories since I’m in college and good healthy food is hard to come by). I just weighed myself and I’m like 197. But I ate a lot last night. It seems I am almost always hungry now, but I also need to be more cautious about what I eat. Also my friend said I look to be about 10% body fat, and I told another friend of mine the same story and he says it sounds like I just need to lose water weight. Any thoughts?

  • Jesse

    Not sure if you already answered this Michael, but what is the best balance of sodium/potassium for losing the water retention? 1 to 1?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah just balance them out. Most people eat WAY too much Na and too little K.

  • Leslie

    Hey Mike… I’ve been reading your articles the last few weeks but when ever I use your formulas to figure out my calorie intake it gives my right around 1400 which doesn’t seem like enough I am five feet five inches about 125 pounds with around 23% body fat I weight train 5-6days a week and try to so cardio twice a week I do want to lose body fat without losing weight I drink at least a gallon of water a day I eat clean and do a cheat meal on Sundays which is also my rest day so any more help/advice would be appreciated

    • Michael Matthews

      Hi! That sounds perfect for your size. When smaller girls want to lose fat, they don’t get to eat very much, haha.

      • Leslie

        Well that hardly seems fair but thanks! Your articles are very good reads with great advice!

        • Michael Matthews

          Haha I understand. :) Thanks!

  • UKBFF bikini competitor

    Everything in this article is perfect and in line with Lyle McDonald’s blog on a similar matter too. No broscience, I like.

    Anyway I want to get your opinion. Im 5’1 at 123lb. 5 weeks into contest prep, 10 weeks more to go. Since i started cutting i have lost 0 weight. In fact i’ve gained a pound. I started cutting at 1750 cals, then dropped to 1600 then 1500 and now 1340 cals through the past 5 weeks. Gradually added more cardio/HIIT (currently at 3x30min LISS, 3x10min HIIT). Weight training 3x a week. STILL no weight loss?!

    Why do you think this is? Have I simply been eating too many calories for the past 4 weeks until last week where i’ve been at 1340? Or am I retaining water?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      This definitely sounds like a water retention issue. Are your Na and K intakes in check? Are you refeeding once per week?

      • UKBFF bikini competitor

        I’m refeeding every 6th day as suggested by my coach. Yep my sodium levels are consistent. I went off birth control 5 weeks ago and am currently quite stressed from my studies. Do you think my (potentially) high levels of cortisol are causing water retention or was I eating too many calories before? (i wasn’t on 10-12cal/lb until last week)

        • Michael Matthews

          That’s possible.

          What’s your refeed like?

          • UKBFF bikini competitor

            refeed I am just above maintenance, 270 carbs, 40fat and 120 protein – so high carb and low fat .

            And the refeeds haven’t been getting rid of my water weight! I know it’s normal to weigh in a few pounds lighter after a refeed but it isn’t happening to me :(

          • Michael Matthews

            Okay. I would drop the fats lower on a refeed personally. I try to go as low as possible.

            How many grams of Na and K per day?

            Are you sleeping enough? Cortisol might be messing with you.

  • basavaraj

    Hi micheal
    for the first time seeing this article different from other fuild retention suggestion. im also suffering from fuild retention in face..actually I gone through poor dieting which in turn reduces my weight around 71kg to 62 kg in week..after that my face become puff and big..by seeing water retention on many websites I start exerise then it become even worst fatter…now i know who to fix it ..

    • Michael Matthews

      Interesting. Have you tried using the strategies discussed in the article?

  • pushinlimets89

    hey mate wat about water pills and just eat 700gs of boiled chicken a day iam about 5 kgs from where i want to be and i think this will work …oh and wats with this HIT stuff the best in the world still do an hour walks for there cardio and some do it 2 times a day and u talk alot about ….to much working out but i was in the army and we trained all day every day and in no way eating 6 meals a day u have to think right ……every ones so scared to push them self’s but i think its how u get to no your body and thats 90% of it and it all so comes down to your life style ….right wat does a normal day look like for u …wat do u eat how much time do u spend in the gym or training …?

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