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I am a 32 year old female who started weight training about 1 month ago after doing lots of cardio work. I really enjoy it and am building the weight slowly each week. I am also trying to move to a healthier diet to complement the workout. I suppose I have a couple of questions.

1) With the diet I have started to try protein shakes after the workout but am unsure whether this should be a substitute for my breakfast or whether I should be having both? An example of a day menu at the moment would be:

  • Up at half 6 and have some nuts or small amount of protein bar before 7am workout.
  • Protein shake about 8-8.30ish.
  • Breakfast: (example) eggs and avocado or wholewheat bagel with a nut butter and banana
  • Lunch: salad and some salmon or tuna
  • Snack: apple or rice cake cake with some nut butter
  • Dinner - Meat/fish with vegetables

And lots of water

2) I have found also that although I feel fitter and stronger, I am not noticing any results to look at and actually feel that I look fatter. Is this normal with the strength training or am I eating too much in an attempt to correctly eat?!

Any advice would be greatly received as new to this and don't know where to go for help!

  • Can you describe your program? Some strength training is really effective, others not so much. – Eric Feb 10 '15 at 23:00
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    Tracking your results with specific measurements and pictures may help give you the information you need to continue with or modify your program. – BackInShapeBuddy Feb 10 '15 at 23:31
  • If you think your nutrition is not enough, start tracking your macros. How much protein,carbs and fats are you eating per day. Also, 1 month really is not enough to see any significant change. Doing some measurements is an excellent idea to see some beginner gains. – s3v3ns Feb 11 '15 at 6:25
  • Obligatory Simple science fitness link: simplesciencefitness.com – verybadalloc Feb 12 '15 at 15:59
  • Thank you so much for answering. Its all new to me and its a big learning curve. All the answers provided are proving to be interesting and helpful. @EricKaufman its a mixture of squats, lunges, military press, bench press and then conditioning work after. Generally 3 reps of about 5-10 for each exercise (although different areas on different days) – sarah Feb 12 '15 at 19:04
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First, as others have said, 1 month is too soon to start seeing any drastic results. I would suspect that your apparent "weight gain" is just water retention and early adaptation to a different exercise load than you are used to with cardio.

Also, I would encourage you to keep a highly detailed food log for 3 days to a week. And by detailed, I mean where your "a salad and some salmon" is "5 oz lettuce, 2 oz broccoli, 2 oz corn, 5 oz grilled salmon with 2 tbps low fat vinaigrette", and your bagel becomes "1 5 oz cinnamon raisin Brugger's bagel with 3 oz almond nut butter and a 6 oz banana".

Next to EACH food item, write down the exact calories. It is very easy to under/over estimate calories, and that can easily derail a fitness program.

  • Thanks John I will look at doing this and see how this goes. – sarah Feb 12 '15 at 19:05
  • There are several trackers that make this chore easier. For example: My Fitness Pal and Livestrong My Plate. I highly recommend using one of them as they can also give you a running tally so you know where you are. – Berin Loritsch Feb 13 '15 at 12:15
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  1. Diet looks good quality wise, wether you should drink the protein shake as a supplement or as a meal really depends on how it fits into your intake goal for the day. If you aim to lose weight you might consider using it as replacement. People who want to bulk up usually add it as an extra calorie/protein source.

  2. A month isn't enough to tell wether you're making progress or not. Even if you lose fat, you may have days where you look bloated anyway. Weight is made up of water and food too. As a female, this will also vary along with your monthly cycle. Women tend to add water weight when menstruating (or was it before?)

General advice: Analyse your daily food intake. You don't have to count calories, but taking a closer look at a day or two can be helpful to get an idea of where you usually are calorie wise. Use a good method to approximate your daily calorie usage, like Mifflin-St Jeor or Katch-McArdle. Also let someone have a look at your workout, there are a lot of pitfalls that can hurt your progress.

  • Thank you. It was actually just before menstruating so this could be another factor I hadn't considered. Will definitely start to look at the nutrition side more – sarah Feb 12 '15 at 19:05
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  1. Get a measuring tape and measure yourself. This is your base line. Repeat every 15 days and not everyday. Keep an excel spreadsheet.
  2. If the total calorie intake is less than the calorie burnt, you will begin to see results. So add up all the calories that you eat. If you do moderate activity per day, then to maintain weight you would need about 2000 calories. If the calorie intake is less than that, you would slowly start seeing results.
  3. We need around 40 to 50 grams of protein per day. My rule is that, I calculate the proteins I get from all the regular meals of the day and subtract this from 50. That is the number I would require from protein shakes. So if I finally need 15 grams and a full rounded scoop of protein/ protein bar gives me 30, I just take half a scoop/bar. Breakfast is the most important meal as it kick starts your day and protein shakes should be used to supplement it.
  4. Also, I would continue cardio training. If I spend 45 min at the gym, I would do at least 10 min of cardio.
  • This isn't a bad answer, it just needs to be directed at the original question more. For example, keep your measurements "because if the waist measurement is increasing too, that's a sign of getting fat and not muscle." Eat 50 g of protein, "because the same # of calories without enough protein can only build fat, not muscle." This will make it come off as an answer to the OP's concerns and not general diet advice. – Noumenon Feb 12 '15 at 5:09
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    @Noumenon Thanks for pointing me to the right direction. It is a lot better than a down vote where you don't understand what went wrong. I have edited my answer to be a little more specific. I did not include the points you already mentioned. – Xion Feb 12 '15 at 14:58
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    Thank you again for your comments. Its all a learning curve for me so I wasn't sure whether to still do cardio or whether I should take it easy as doing the strength and conditioning 4 days a week. I will definitely look more into the calorie and protein intake of my food as well to ake sure I'm not overdoing it – sarah Feb 12 '15 at 19:10
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The answer is in your diet, your calories, and your workout.

  1. Your diet is low carb and high in protein/fat. There is nothing wrong with this. However you are depleting the glycogen levels in your muscles. Imagine that you lost a ton of weight and have been working out. You go out for a night of drinking, pasta, and fried food. You wake up the next day and you are like "Damn I look good!" Well that is because you basically pumped up all of the good parts of your body with carbs (simple sugars) while the rest of you probably hasn't changed much in one night. You are pumped up in this situation. Bodybuilders starve themselves and then carb load on day before competition. Now you are doing the exact opposite to your body. I hardly see any carbs in your diet, so your muscles are a bit deflated compared to how they were. Therefore making the fat more noticeable.

  2. You are lifting weights. Lifting weights while on a calorie deficit will also result in the lowering of glycogen levels. Your muscles are working hard but aren't getting the calories that they are expending.

So what do you do?

I was a personal trainer for years and your story is the most common. I don't know how many times I had to tell women to stay on course and many decided not to. With men even with the drop of glycogen levels in their muscles they often don't see the dramatic differences and once they do, their muscles are actively growing fast enough to offset some of these appearances.

Given that you are an average active woman, you do not have the muscle content a man does. So a month of low-carb and weights has deflated your muscles and in essence has put a spotlight on any fat that you have.

My suggestion, keep the course. And of course if you feel better that is a great indicator that you are doing something right.

If I were your trainer I would suggest a little bit more carbs, a little bit more fruits/vegs, and less nuts, avacados (maybe more lean pork/chicken too). I would want you counting calories but not losing weight but not gaining either. If you are gaining then you need to start counting calories or slowly cut back until you stabilize. And I didn't get from your question what you were doing with your cardio. Not sure what you did in the past but there is no reason that you should have quit all cardio now.

At 4-5 months of this continuous training you will get a much better picture. If your intensity is good and you aren't fudging with your food intake you could see some really dramatic results. Not only will a weight program really tone your body but it will raise your metabolism and make cardio easier. I know that 4-5 months seems FOREVER but I have never heard anyone complain about their results after going through this period. The worst case scenario is you have built a strong muscle foundation, your body is tone, but you are packing a little extra fat on top of muscle. Given this a normal "diet" and a little extra cardio will take you to whatever you want your body to look like. Getting that foundation is key though.

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    Thank you. I really want to keep at it as I really do enjoy the new challenge, I just don't want to grow steadily over the months when instead I want to get toned, and fitter. Are nuts and avocados quite bad then? I have been having a few of these - maybe 3 avocados a week - a whole one in a sitting and having a handful of nuts for snacks every now and again. Just will take me some time to get it right I suppose and being new in this I'm not sure the best place to start. SO I appreciate your feedback – sarah Feb 12 '15 at 19:08
  • I find that men are more apt to spend their calories on beer, pizza, and fried foods. Women I have trained tend to spend them on smaller snacks that really add up. You certainly don't look big in your picture so I am not sure what your expectations are. If I were putting together a program for a 30 year old women doing a pretty intensive weight program and she was 5'5" 125 pounds I would probably be at 1600-1700 calories a day. I think that you may need to track EVERYTHING for a week to figure out if calories are a concern... working out makes you hungry. – DMoore Feb 13 '15 at 4:30
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One month is too short to expect any results. The quick increase in load you can bear now from week to week is merely a neurological adaptation, not the result of becoming denser or stronger muscles.

Moreover, if you notice that your body weight or your waist have increased (forget about the mirror but rather take numerical measures), it most probably is the result of the protein excess being turned into fat tissue.

Take it easy with the protein shakes (if needed at all), keep your weight and your diet under control as you did before starting a weightlifting program, and expect a minimum of 4 ~ 6 months before seeing any results.

Becoming denser muscles is a truly slow process, whereas drinking too much protein shakes and turning it into fat tissue happens over night.

  • -1. Fat loss and fat gain do not happen "overnight". – JohnP Feb 11 '15 at 23:02
  • @JohnP Fat gain does happen in a few hours indeed. Sugar gets converted into fat tissue within one hour (and a sudden blood sugar spike goes into fat almost instantly). Proteins may take about five hours. Google for it, surely it should not be difficult to find scholar references too. – Mephisto Feb 11 '15 at 23:50
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    Look up the difference between short term and long term fat storage. – JohnP Feb 12 '15 at 15:41
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    Thank you for your comments. I think I will look at measurements and see what happens with those. – sarah Feb 12 '15 at 19:09

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