Why Am I Losing Fat, but Not Losing Weight When I Exercise?

Updated on April 19, 2019
mikejhca profile image

Michael is an online fitness writer who's an expert in strength training exercises.

Include weight lifting with your cardio to burn more calories.
Include weight lifting with your cardio to burn more calories. | Source

Have you ever wondered, "Why am losing weight, but gaining fat?" Let me explain. I lost 15 pounds while gaining inches of belly fat. Weight loss is not the same as fat loss. When beach season ended, I went from 135 pounds to 120 pounds. Some of my clothes became too tight to wear. The weight loss was caused by losing muscle, but losing muscle makes it harder to keep the fat off. I was lighter, but my waist was bigger.

Stepping on a scale is not a good way to check your progress. By itself, it does not tell you how lean you are. See how your clothes fit, measure your waist, feel your muscles, and look in a mirror. Pay attention to how you feel. Losing fat should make you look and feel better. Feeling weaker and looking worse can be a sign that you lost muscle.

Exercise band rows.
Exercise band rows.

Gaining Weight While Exercising

People often become heavier while exercising. You gain weight if you consume more calories than you burn. Increasing the amount of exercise burns additional calories, but you could also be consuming extra calories. After I started exercising to slim down, I increased the amount of food I ate during meals and I had more snacks. I also drank more. So, naturally, my weight increased.

Avoid Junk Food

Are you eating extra junk food or consuming more high calorie drinks? One reason people become heavier while exercising is because they reward themselves with high calorie foods and drinks. You may not exercise enough to make up for the extra calories. Another reason people gain weight is because their appetite increases. I started eating more healthy food, because I needed it to feel full. Limit the extra calories by consuming healthy food and make sure to drink water.

Gaining weight while exercising is normal. It usually means that you are consuming more calories than you were before you started your new exercise routine. It's not always bad to consume extra calories and weigh more. It could mean that you are building muscle. Because my muscles were heavier, my weight increased.

Burning calories and building muscle with push ups.
Burning calories and building muscle with push ups. | Source

Losing Inches While Gaining Weight

While I was losing inches of belly fat to get ready for summer, I noticed three things. I was getting heavier, my leg muscles were getting bigger and I was eating more food. It was easy to tell that most of the extra weight was in my legs. I slimmed down and bulked up at the same time. Because muscle is denser than fat, you can lose inches while gaining weight.

Why I Don't Like Weight Loss Goals

One of the reasons I don't like weight loss goals is because losing weight makes it harder for me to lose the fat. When you exercise, being heavier and having more muscle helps you burn more calories. It makes it easier to lose the fat. Before getting fit, I could burn 350 calories during a workout. After improving my strength and endurance with cardio endurance training, I could burn over 1,200 calories during a workout. Usually, when I build muscle and gain weight, my clothes become looser.

Building leg muscle with calf raises to help me lose fat.
Building leg muscle with calf raises to help me lose fat. | Source

Why Am I Heavier Than I Look?

Muscular, fit, and lean people are often 20 to 30 pounds heavier than they look. Muscle is denser than fat. Being muscular helps you maintain good posture. Strong muscles hold things in place, keeping your body healthy. After doing ab exercises, my belly looked a little flatter. A person may stand up straighter and suck in their gut to look leaner for a few seconds. Strengthening my abs and practicing good posture makes me look leaner all day.

When people guess my weight they are often off by 20 pounds. When I correct them, I tell them that I weigh more. When it comes from hard exercise, I actually like weighing more. You can gain a lot of muscle without looking big and bulky. Athletes tend to be heavy for their size. In my opinion, being heavier than you look is a good thing, like being strong for your size.

Being lighter than you look could mean that you have very little muscle and weak bones. Low body weight is associated with lower bone mass. Strength exercises are associated with denser bones. Being heavier than you look usually means you are in good shape. You have strong muscles and strong bones. Because I'm lean and muscular, I am heavier than I look. Since my muscles are not huge, people mostly just notice that I am lean.

Cardio and Strength Training

Strength training is good for increasing your strength, the size of your muscles, and your body weight. Increasing your weight helps you use more energy throughout the day. By itself, it is not enough. When I was only doing strength training, I had a lot of extra belly fat. This happened because I was not burning enough calories. Cardio workouts are better for burning calories while you are exercising.

How to Burn More Energy While Exercising

I use more energy while running on my elliptical trainer by using the highest resistance setting. I increase the number of calories I burn per hour while cycling by sprinting and biking up hills. Sometimes I wear a heavy backpack to burn additional calories. Increasing my strength and my weight allows me to increase the intensity of my cardio workouts. That is why strength training helps me use up more energy when I do cardio exercises.

Build muscle so you burn more calories while you are exercising throughout the day. I highly recommend cardio strength training. It is a great way to build muscle while slimming down. Gain muscle and lose fat fast with cycling. Biking is the best exercise for losing fat. I quickly gained a lot of muscle and lost a lot of fat. Pick cardio workouts that require strength and endurance. Then, focus on improving.

Exercises Ideas to Gain Muscle and Lose Fat

Exercises for Your Arms, Back, or Shoulders
Exercises for Your Legs or Butt
Full-Body or Core Exercises
Canoeing and Kayaking
Leg Raises
Bench Press
Calf Raises
Cardio Boxing
Push Ups
Backpack Hiking
Renegade Rows
Dumbbell Curls
Jumping Rope
Shoulder Press
Roller Skating
Exercise Ball Crunch
Step Ups
Mountain Climbers
Pull Ups
Bosu Ball Push-Up
Bulk up to slim down.
Bulk up to slim down. | Source

How to Lose Fat and Not Gain Muscle

To burn calories without gaining muscle, stick to easy, low intensity workouts that require around the same amount of effort as walking a dog. When you do cardio, go at a slow pace and limit the resistance. If you lift weights, then use light weights. When you do bodyweight exercises, avoid pull ups, sit ups, and other exercises that people do to build muscle. When biking outside, you could use a low gear. Try to avoid hills and go at a slow pace.

You would be avoiding workouts that burn the most calories per minute and the ones that help you burn more calories throughout the day. Spend a lot more time exercising and go on a strict diet to get similar fat loss results. Exercise regularly while maintaining a healthy diet. If that does not work, then exercise more and improve your diet if you can. Plan to lose one to two pounds per week.


Trying not to gain muscle makes it harder to lose the fat.

How to Become Lean and Muscular

Workouts that are good for burning calories are usually good for building muscle. If you are exercising more to burn more calories, then you should expect your muscle weight to increase. Exercises that are great for quickly burning calories and losing fat may not help you become lighter. They may make you heavier. Increasing your strength and endurance helps you reduce body fat, but it also increases the weight of your muscles.

Getting fit and maintaining a healthy diet is a good way to slim down fast. Your weight could decrease, stay the same, or increase. If your fat weight decreases more than your muscle weight increases, it is possible to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time. To be lean with a flat stomach, I need to be 25 to 35 pounds heavier than I look. I need to be fit. That is why I am building muscle to get ready for beach season. Because I was gaining more than one pound a week, people thought I was losing weight.

If you are losing fat, but not weight, don't get discouraged. The most effective workout I use to slim down is also the best workout I use for quickly gaining muscle. (I gained 35 pounds of muscle.) My favorite exercise is to bike to provincial parks and beaches.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Michael H


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