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Is it fat or water retention? by Shubham Dhiman

Published July 31, 2017 Total Comments : 0

You start the diet, count each calorie, each rep and supplement yourself with the best brands and what not! And you’re still not losing weight.

What went wrong?  Did you not work hard? Was there something missing in your diet and workout? You worked really hard to see those changes in the mirror and the scale, but nothing seems to work.

You are in deficit state and weight loss has suddenly stopped after 2-3 weeks then the culprit is often water retention. And when water retention is the problem, it’s important that you address it correctly.

So in this article, I’m going to break it all down: What is Water Retention, How to identify if its water retention or fat, what works for getting rid of water weight and what doesn’t and more.

Let’s get to it.

First of all we must know what is fat! It is one of those three macronutrients  which are essential for the body. It gives 9 calories per gram. And it is stored in the adipose tissue and it is more at belly, thigh areas. Some people stop eating fat when they diet and it causes adverse effects on hormonal balance and what not! There is an article in the group- Fats are bad or not? I will provide the link to that article as well.

Now lets get back to the business. You all loose or gain something when you diet! I will specifically be talking about fat loss and water retention here. Lets say you plan a weight loss or fat loss diet around BMR. Starting phase of any diet is very tricky and sometimes you loose many kgs in starting 2-3 weeks and you feel out of the world. But after 2-3 weeks your progress either stalls or becomes slow. So what went wrong? You didn’t cheat on diet nor did on your workout. So what went wrong? The answer is- Water Weight or you may call it Water Retention.

What is Water Retention- It is  also known as fluid retention refers to an excessive build up of fluid in the circulatory system, body tissues, or cavities in the body. Our body is 70% of water which includes muscles, bones, blood, saliva etc. It can occur at different areas with different reasons. These areas are- Capillaries, Lymphatic System, Heart, Kidneys etc.

Back to the diet and frustration on what went wrong! When you start any diet you mainly loose water weight from the tissues and you see great changes. It all happens due to water loss. Fat loss also happens but with steady rate. When you see no progress after 3-4 weeks, it doesn’t mean that your progress has stalled or you have stopped loosing fat. It happens because our body is very smart and when fat cells are empties of storing triglyceride, it temporarily fills with water as Glycerol attracts water. And there is research to support this. So this is primary reason for this retention.

Your body holds water because of other primary reasons as well. These are:

• Elevated Cortisol Levels

• Sodium and Potassium imbalance

• Incomplete  or less Water Intake

• Staying on Low Calories for long

  • Elevated Cortisol Level- Cortisol is an hormone produced by elevated stress and low blood sugar levels. There are many reasons which increase Cortisol, major being – Less recovery, Improper sleep, No reefed or cheat. There is a study which supports its actual behaviour. It is known Minnesota  Starvation Experiment.  There was a bunch of people who were kept on 1500 calories, close to BMR and were made to work 2-3 hours of hard labour. They lost weight like a trace of a bullet during 2-3 weeks of work. But didn’t loose after that and changes in weight were minimal. So what was wrong? They were given a re-feed on one night and next morning results were eye opening. They lost good amount of weight and mainly water weight. It is known as Woosh Effect in bodybuilding terms. So the reason behind it was Cortisol.

Being on low calories increases cortisol. Lack of sleep too increases cortisol level because stress, dieting, exercising put a lot of pressure on the body and to tackle it needs good amount of sleep. Good amount here is 7-8 hours deep sleep.

  • Sodium and Potassium imbalance- I am not saying to stop all your slat intake. There is recommended dose sodium and it is 2-3gm per day and it may increase in case of athletes who sweat during training. If you are taking lot of sodium above the mentioned quantity then you are holding a lot of water in the body and that’s why you are not seeing any changes in weight. Sodium is well absorbed by cells and brings water in with it.

    Thus, when you eat a large amount of sodium, it causes cells to temporarily retain water until it can be balanced by cellular fluid levels. This is also why when you restrict sodium intake, water retention decreases. Athletes who compete knows effects of salt!

Note: Athletes who train hard have to take 4-5 gm sodium per day because they loose quite a good amount during sweat and other things.

Potassium plays a vital role in restoring this cellular fluid balance. Whereas sodium sucks water into cells, potassium pumps it out, and this is why research shows that restricting potassium intake can increase fluid retention. People low on potassium suffer from Water retention

  • Incomplete Water intake- People who are on a diet knows how important it is to drink loads amount of water especially High protein diets and Atkins diet!

Let us understand why we drink that much of water! Water is to be used for many purposes in the body and if you are on a diet, good amount of water is required to take up all the processes including fat loss and taking down water weight.  If you don’t give your body enough water through food and drinking, it takes action to hold on to the water it is getting.

This includes releasing hormones like aldosterone and vasopressin that increase water retention through various mechanisms. We are not going to study these hormones now.

So if body is not getting enough water it starts storing it for future use and hence water retention.

  • Low Calorie intake for long time- If you are on low calories for long then you will store a lot amount of water. How? Let me get this straight!

Low calories for long time= Cortisol Increase=Chances of Metabolic shutdown=Water retention. Simple as that.

These are all the possible reasons for water retention. And how to control these—

  1. Get enough sleep to recover.
  2. Have refeed during diet to increase Leptin level aka fat loss booster.
  3. Deload on your training.
  4. Reduce sodium intake and increase potassium by bananas, beans etc.
  5. Drink loads of water.
  6. Keep increasing calories every week.
  7. Diuretics will help temporarily only. This is the ost important point as some people might think that diuretics like caffeine will make them loose water weight. Yes it does reduce but the effects are temporary with its use.
  8. Check medicines you are having like analgesic and antipyretics. A large amount can cause water retention.

NOTE: To clearly examine if its water or fat, bring down your body fat levels to 10-11% in case of men and 15-18% in case of women.

Now questions that I received on previous post:

  1. The most important factor to loose fat?
  2. What if person don’t take targeted water? Side effects of drinking 1-2 litres in one go?
  3. Water and fat relationship?
  4. Low bodyfat %age but not visible abs?
  5. Drinking excess water cause bloating?
  6. How to know if I am gaining fat or water weight?
  7. Water during meals or not?
  8. How much water consumption is safe and healthy?
  9. Will drinking loads of water affect kidney?

Answers:

  1. Calorie intake and activity level. It must be according to BMR. Water consumption is to be considered.
  2. If it is close to the desired level then nothing gonna harm. If it is too much less then surely water retention will occur. No side effects of drinking 1-2 litre in a go.
  3. Water and fat are not related with the energy point of view. These are related when person wants to lose fat. We lose fat as well as water during dieting. But body starts retaining water after 2-3 weeks and person thinks that he is not loosing fat but actually he is loosing fat. Only water retention compensates it.
  4. First build some muscle mass to be visible. Then check water intake, sodium and potassium intake. Diuretics may help but not permanently.
  5. Excess water intake may cause bloating for some people. But main effects are Electrolytes leaving the body.
  6. If a person is gaining weight, if it is too rapid then it is WATER RETENTION and if person is gaining slowly and showing in mirror then it is FAT.
  7. Not preferred during meals. It slows digestion of the food.
  8. Depends from person to person! If person is sedentary then 2-3 litres are good to go. If he is training hard then 4-5 litres.
  9. No. If it is in normal range as stated above then no effects. If it is very high then only electrolytic loss will be there.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1112648/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12833111

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4121911/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7332312

https://www.muscleforlife.com/water-retention-and-weight-loss/

http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/of-whooshes-and-squishy-fat.html/

https://legionathletics.com/water-retention/

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/187978.php

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