We all have a tendency to take what the scale says to heart, good or bad. Celebration can occur one morning and the following morning can bring total depression. This toxic relationship needs to be sorted out. If you insist on keeping the scale around, then let’s at least discuss what those numbers really mean. There are many factors which determine daily weight fluctuation, including water retention, glycogen storage, and changes in lean body mass. Therefore, the daily, and sometimes drastic, number change on the scale is completely normal, but it is not a true indicator of your success or failure.
Water makes up about 60% of our total body mass, and it is completely normal for this to frequently fluctuate. There are two main factors which influence water retention -- water consumption and salt intake. Incredibly, our bodies actually retain less water the more water we drink. When the body is dehydrated, it hangs on to every ounce of water, which makes the scale creep up. So here is yet another reason to drink more water.
The other factor in water retention is excess sodium consumption. A single teaspoon of salt contains over 2,000 mg of sodium. As a general rule, we should only eat about 1,000 to 3,000 mg of sodium a day. In our society, it’s easy to totally blow this out of proportion because we have so many highly-processed foods. It’s an even sneakier factor because some things that do not taste salty are loaded with sodium. This is why it is vital to stick to pure, whole foods. Stay clear of packaged foods; buy fresh so you control what is added, including the salt, when you cook.
Now, what is glycogen and how does it effect the scale? Glycogen is basically carbohydrates stored in the liver or in the muscles themselves. This weighs more than a pound and is combined with 3-4 pounds of water when it’s stored. The glycogen supply will shrink during the day if you do not eat enough carbohydrates, causing you to experience increase in appetite urging you to replenish and restore the reserve. It is completely normal to experience glycogen and water weight shifts up to 2 pounds a day, even with no change in your calorie intake or activity level. These fluctuations have nothing to do with actual fat loss, yet they clearly change the number on the scale.
That being said, the most deceptive part of the scale is that it weighs more than just fat. It weighs muscle, bone, water, internal organs, and everything in between. When the number goes down, it does not always mean you have lost fat. Unfortunately, the scale has no way to tell what you have lost or gained, in a technical sense. While you want to see the number go down, it is important not to lose muscle; actually, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue. This is why the more fit and active you are, the more food you can eat.
The scale cannot differentiate between fat and muscle; so it is ultimately a very inaccurate tool to determine what is happening with your body as you strive to become fit. There are multiple tools/instruments you can use other than that one number on the scale to distinguish your true body make-up, such as skin-fold calipers to measure lean tissue vs. fat; but since most people don’t have this laying around the house, there are simpler ways to measure this for yourself. Some of the best ways are how your clothes are fitting, if your rings are looser, and snapping some progress pictures to compare along the way.
Now…are you going to keep living by your scale?
For more information regarding a personalized general or sports nutrition plan, contact me at Prime Performance 423-805-0870.
By: Nick Thomas
Owner of Prime Performance Training, and Certified Sports Nutritionist