How To Tell If It's Muscle Or Fat That's Causing Your Weight Gain

If you're working your tail off to take off the pounds, but, no matter what you do, the weight is sticking to you like glue — or increasing — is there a way to determine whether it's muscle or fat that's causing your weight gain? And, if so, are there actions you can take?

Unfortunately, your typical scale is not going to be able to provide details on whether it's muscle or fat that's causing your weight gain (though a body fat scale might). But, at the end of the day, trying to micromanage your weight based on the number you see on the scale should not be where you put your focus. 

What you should be focusing on is your overall fitness. "If someone is trying to improve their fitness, they should ignore the scale and pay more attention to objective measurement tools such as body composition to track their progress," Jeffrey A. Dolgan, a clinical exercise physiologist at Canyon Ranch in Miami Beach, Florida, tells Shape.

Why you are gaining weight after working out

Gaining weight when you're regularly working out is not uncommon. If you are focusing on strength training and incorporating more protein in your diet, chances are that your weight gain is due to muscle weight gain. But this is good news. When you increase your muscle mass, especially after you've been sedentary, this means you are fostering a healthier body. Also, consider what you're eating post-workout. This could also potentially be contributing to your weight gain. For instance, if you're refueling with fiber-rich foods, this is a nutritious choice, but keep in mind that fiber can lead to water retention (via Verywell Fit).

And if you've just begun working out to improve your overall health or for a specific fitness goal, don't feel discouraged if you've gained a few pounds. "The key point here is that weight and muscle mass changes will occur," says Cleveland Clinic Senior Director, Rehabilitation and Sports Therapy and physical therapist Gary Calabrese, DPT. "Initially, they aren't all what some people may perceive as headed in a positive direction ― because you may gain a little weight at first." Dr. Calabrese explains that a new exercise regimen can put stress on your body, causing short-term micro tears and inflammation in your muscles. "That stress and micro-tearing damage to the muscle fibers induces water retention in the body," Dr. Calabrese says. "There may be a small amount of inflammation around the micro tear, and your body retains fluid there to try to heal it."

So if you are gaining weight as you work towards getting healthy, stop focusing on the scale and focus instead on all the good you are doing for your body — because that is worth its weight in gold.