One Day Weight Gain
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Thanksgiving Massacre

How I Gained 4.5 lbs In 24 Hours

Okay… I take one cheat day (Thanksgiving Day) in about 8 weeks and I gain 4.5 lbs overnight? Yes, I freaked out. Even though I am a personal trainer and understand changes in the body when it comes to exercise and nutrition, it still pains me to watch the numbers on the scale spike so drastically in just 24 hours. Has this happened to you? Does it freak you out, too? Is this something to worry about? Not really, and here’s why.

The Basics

To understand what happens during a holiday feast like Thanksgiving or Christmas, we have to understand the basics of maintaining and losing weight.

If we are constantly exercising and taking in the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, then we easily manage our weight as we maintain a healthy caloric balance and deplete our body’s glycogen stores (carbohydrates stored for energy). We can lose weight by creating a calorie deficit.

Let’s say that we need 2,500 calories per day to function normally. If we have a net caloric intake of 2,500 calories, our body stays in check and we maintain the weight. You might burn 500 calories during a workout and then eat 3,000 calories. You’d still have a net of 2,500 calories.

If you want to lose one pound per week, you need to have a weekly deficit of 3,500 calories. That’s a deficit of 500 calories per day for seven days. Based on the example above, you need to consume no more than 2,000 net calories per day. In theory, you’d lose 10 lbs in 10 weeks.

On the flip side, if you eat 500 more calories per day than required, you could gain one pound per week, or ten pounds in 10 weeks! OUCH!

The Math

So, what happens when you wake up the day after Thanksgiving, like I did this morning, and discover a 4.5 lb weight gain in 24 hours?

First, I go back to my food log and look at all of the crap I ate yesterday. It just so happens that I religiously log EVERY single thing I eat every single day in Yesterday, I ate monkey bread, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, noodles, gravy, stuffing, cranberries, butter, pie… pie… and more pie, and alcohol. Over the course of the day, I took in about 3,500 net calories after a morning workout where I burned about 500 calories. My daily net caloric allowance is just 1,200; I blew that away by 2,300 calories. Even worse, I took in nearly a whopping 500 grams of carbohydrates for the day. That number is key to understanding my 4.5 lb weight gain.

You see, when you take in carbs, they are stored for energy as glycogen. Glycogen cannot be stored without water. One gram of glycogen is accompanied by 3-4 parts water. It’s important to note that approximately 454 grams = one pound.  So, let’s calculate what happened to me yesterday. I took in over 1 lb. of carbohydrates which now being stored as glycogen. But, for that 1 lb. of glycogen to be stored in the cells, it requires 3-4 parts water. So, I not only have 1 lb. of glycogen in storage, I also have about 3.5 extra pounds of water being stored right along with it. And there you have it, 4.5 lbs of weight gain in 24 hours!

Getting Rid of the Weight

So, how do I get that to quickly disappear? I need to first burn off the glycogen through exercise. That will take a couple of really intense exercise sessions over the next couple of days. I also need to watch my carbohydrate intake. I’ll draw most of my calories from protein and good fats. And I’ll drink a lot of water, and I mean A LOT. This will help restore balance and cleanse my system.

So, if you’re stepping on the scales after a cheat day or enormous holiday meal, just know that your body is just doing what it’s supposed to do and as long as you continue to exercise and return to eating healthy, you’ll be fine and your weight will return to normal in a couple of days.

To your health!


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