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gabrielle_of_poteidia

Carbs and water weight/bloating

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I'm wondering if anyone else has had this problem?

 

I have typically been eating a low-to-moderate carb diet for the past 18 months or so. Not full keto, but borrowing aspects of keto/paleo to suit my tastes. Generally this has worked out well, but I'm not great at the whole consistency thing though, so sometimes I end up lapsing for short periods of time.

 

I've noticed that when my eating habits slide, I look noticeably bigger/less defined. I don't have a set of scales at home, but the change in my appearance is pretty drastic. On one hand, I know that eating bread/cake is going to result in calorie surplus, but my visible 'weight' gain tends to happen very rapidly and after a comparatively short period, so I don't think I've eaten SO much in 2 weeks that I would be noticeably piling on pounds. (I've managed to stay reasonably active during lockdown, and as a rule, we don't buy much junk food at all.)

 

I've started tracking calories and macros again to be sure, but was curious as to whether anyone else had experienced this? I've read about people shedding water weight very rapidly if they switch to a low card diet such as keto, but does the opposite happen if you go from low(ish) carb to higher?

 

It could all be in my head, of course! (Yey, weird body image issues!)

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Totally normal, it's just your body replenishing glycogen stores. If you're curious about what that is, more info here.

 

So, yes, in a way it's the opposite of shedding water weight - your body is taking it back! :) Nothing to worry about, and it might even be something that you can experiment with to see how/if the quality of your workouts change on higher carb days.

 

Some people do better w/ higher carb diets, others w/ lower carb diets - it's up to you, nothing wrong with either option so long as you know how YOUR body does with the toggled selection. 

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I was writing things and @Defining beat me to it.  Reasons why I unofficially passed my torch in this section :P 

 

But also, yea, I totally have this happen, even if it doesn't have any other downside.  Quarantine baking has made this very evident.

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5 minutes ago, RisenPhoenix said:

Reasons why I unofficially passed my torch in this section :P 

I can stop talking if it means you'll talk more! :) It's always nice to hear from knowledgeable folks.

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52 minutes ago, Defining said:

I can stop talking if it means you'll talk more! :) It's always nice to hear from knowledgeable folks.

 

Pffft.

 

I spent years talking here.  I'm fine with other people carrying on.  Now I also have a job that's a bit more paperworky that requires me not jumping back and forth on the forums. 😅

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As Defining pointed out, water weight definitely is retained when your carb intake goes up. Most people on low-carb diets are relatively glycogen-starved, so it’s normal for your body to retain everything it can while it’s getting the intake. Glycogen is stored by binding it with water, so the two go hand-in-hand. But of course, if you don’t sustain the carb intake, you’ll pee a good chunk of it away within a week or so as your body gives up those stores of energy.

 

Glycogen is also the reason that athletes like marathon runners tend to eat high-carb diets. It’s not just about needing moar energy NOW during a race, it’s also about keeping enough glycogen around in general. Once your glycogen stores are used up, your body tends to “hit a wall” and you just can’t perform strenuous physical activity without a long rest. When I was eating low-carb I would tend to conk out after about 45-60 minutes of exercise, which is why I eventually switched.


 

10 hours ago, gabrielle_of_poteidia said:

I've noticed that when my eating habits slide, I look noticeably bigger/less defined.


It’s totally normal to feel a bit less “defined” when your stored water goes up, and sometimes there are small visual differences. Measurements in your muscles might go up 1/8 inch (or they might stay the same). Glycogen/water is why some people start looking a little more muscular within a couple weeks after they start exercising. It’s not something that most other people would notice, though.

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2 hours ago, Defining said:

Totally normal, it's just your body replenishing glycogen stores. If you're curious about what that is, more info here.

 

So, yes, in a way it's the opposite of shedding water weight - your body is taking it back! :) Nothing to worry about, and it might even be something that you can experiment with to see how/if the quality of your workouts change on higher carb days.

 

Some people do better w/ higher carb diets, others w/ lower carb diets - it's up to you, nothing wrong with either option so long as you know how YOUR body does with the toggled selection

 

Thank you for the reply!

 

I've absolutely noticed the difference to workouts. I can't do fasted workouts at all (I just feel like I want to fall down) but I will normally have a protein shake and coffee to start the day. On the odd occasion when I've had a carb-heavy, grain-based breakfast (usually porridge or Weetabix), I've noticed I can lift a lot heavier. That was a revelation to me, and made me realise just how many variables can go into my progress. I stopped beating myself up for going "backwards" on my max lifts after that.

 

Generally I favour the low carb diet as it prompts me towards more nutritious foods. I'm trying to reduce my calorie intake somewhat as lockdown has made it harder to stick to my usual fitness programme. My RDEE is quite low (around 1400kcal, give or take, depending on what calculator I use) and I'm pretty sedentary right now (thank you lockdown). I aim for the 2g of protein for 1kg of bodyweight target, but in all honestly I find it VERY hard to meet that. If I start adding more calories from carbs to it, I end up feeling too full to eat anything actually nutritious. I can also risk going over my recommended intake because I slip into 'mindless' eating, which usually involves crackers and cake. Focusing on the protein allows me to eat mindfully by drawing my attention to the things that are good for me and help me rebuild and recover. I still like to snack, but I do make an effort to avoid junk and have healthy stuff instead. I love fruit - you will prize my apples and tangerines from my cold dead fingers - and Greek style yoghurt with natural fruit flavour.

 

I do sometimes worry that I haven't been consistent enough to make much difference. I think I've very noticeably built up muscle over the past 18 months, but I don't feel like I've lost much in the way of fat. Possibly just losing and regaining water weight? I'm not sure. I think there are some body image issues at work, too. I was trying to use an impedance machine to track body fat %  but it wasn't very accurate and I got a bit fixated and stressed by the numbers, so I stopped for peace of mind. It'll be interesting to start tracking food again but without obsessing over the Boditrax scores. We'll see what happens this time around.

 

Thanks again, you folks are a great help! I love this site.

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3 hours ago, RisenPhoenix said:

I was writing things and @Defining beat me to it.  Reasons why I unofficially passed my torch in this section :P 

 

But also, yea, I totally have this happen, even if it doesn't have any other downside.  Quarantine baking has made this very evident.

 

I'm with you on the quarantine baking! I live with an amateur baker and 90% of my problem has been the constant stream of cakes and freshly baked bread. On the plus side, though, they ARE all home made so we know exactly what goes into them. And we don't really go in for frosting, so it could be worse...

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15 minutes ago, PaulG said:

As Defining pointed out, water weight definitely is retained when your carb intake goes up. Most people on low-carb diets are relatively glycogen-starved, so it’s normal for your body to retain everything it can while it’s getting the intake. Glycogen is stored by binding it with water, so the two go hand-in-hand. But of course, if you don’t sustain the carb intake, you’ll pee a good chunk of it away within a week or so as your body gives up those stores of energy.

 

This makes perfect sense. I thought it had to be something like that because the change seemed far too rapid to have anything to do with actual weight gain or loss. I'm a little worried that perhaps all I've been doing the whole time is gaining and losing water, but I guess all I can do is try my damnedest to stick to it and see what happens.

 

15 minutes ago, PaulG said:

Glycogen is also the reason that athletes like marathon runners tend to eat high-carb diets. It’s not just about needing moar energy NOW during a race, it’s also about keeping enough glycogen around in general. Once your glycogen stores are used up, your body tends to “hit a wall” and you just can’t perform strenuous physical activity without a long rest. When I was eating low-carb I would tend to conk out after about 45-60 minutes of exercise, which is why I eventually switched.


It’s totally normal to feel a bit less “defined” when your stored water goes up, and sometimes there are small visual differences. Measurements in your muscles might go up 1/8 inch (or they might stay the same). Glycogen/water is why some people start looking a little more muscular within a couple weeks after they start exercising. It’s not something that most other people would notice, though.

 

Oh yes, I've done the 'day before a race' carb fest! I used to do a lot more distance running than I do now. Never a marathon, but I did several half marathons and I would do 3-4 mid distance runs a week. I approached nutrition very differently then. I switched it up when I found I had plateaued in terms of weight loss and performance. I lost about 25lbs over a couple of years or so, but felt weak and flabby so I decided to start with weights as well. I'm still not 'happy' with my body (whatever that is supposed to mean) but that is probably more of a body image thing. I don't feel very "defined" at the best of times, but at least without the water weight I feel pretty ok in my own skin, even if my weight and body composition remain static.

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44 minutes ago, gabrielle_of_poteidia said:

at least without the water weight I feel pretty ok in my own skin, even if my weight and body composition remain static.


Ultimately that’s the goal, right? It pays to remember that all the diet stuff is just a set of tools, and we don’t need to use those tools all the time. And the tools for actually being happy are usually a very different set.

 

That said, I do love talking shop, so...

 

 

44 minutes ago, gabrielle_of_poteidia said:

I'm a little worried that perhaps all I've been doing the whole time is gaining and losing water...


You mentioned something else that makes me think this is probably not the case:

 

1 hour ago, gabrielle_of_poteidia said:

I think I've very noticeably built up muscle over the past 18 months, but I don't feel like I've lost much in the way of fat.


It’s a little counterintuitive, but for people who are already relatively lean, the most noticeable change when they lose fat is that their muscles gain definition. So even as you get “smaller,” you’ll often start to look bigger as your muscle definition increases. It’s very difficult to gain much in the way of muscle mass without a fairly stringent plan that involves a caloric surplus. It’s much easier to lose fat slowly, without meaning to; so I think it’s more likely you’ve lost fat and noticed those visual changes over time.

 

If you feel like that’s not good enough and you have a reason to lose more bodyfat, AND you want to make sure whatever plan you put in place is working, then it sounds like you may want a way to track bodyfat %. Sounds like you’re already familiar with those bioimpedance machines and how crappy they are. Beyond that, the best way to track bodyfat is simply by taking body measurements; there are a number of formulas out there.

 

On paper, I (and a lot of other folks on NF) know how to do it. Given what you said here though...
 

1 hour ago, gabrielle_of_poteidia said:

I was trying to use an impedance machine to track body fat %  but it wasn't very accurate and I got a bit fixated and stressed by the numbers, so I stopped for peace of mind.

 

I think it’s always important to consider whether you want to do the amount of data collection it would take. As an example, I track my bodyfat pretty carefully (because I have some very specific goals), and that involves me tracking my weight and waist measurement every morning, and keeping periodic track of my wrist and neck as well. Personally, I like it: it feeds my primal need for lots of nerdy data, and I get quick feedback on whether my plan is working.

 

There are some potential pitfalls to it though. It’s essential to separate the part of you that makes the plan (which should be set out well in advance) from the part of you that tracks the data. The data you collect doesn’t really become useful until you’ve collected about a month’s worth, when you can start to see a long-term trend. That means you have to work hard to shut up the lizard part of your brain that sees the number on the scale swinging around and just wants to make it go down, like, right now. That’s especially tough for the first couple weeks when it’s new.

 

So it’s an option. I like it and find it easier to handle mentally than not knowing. But there are lots of people who — rightly — find tracking the numbers to be more mental and emotional baggage than is healthy for them to take on, and would prefer not to mess around with it.

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13 hours ago, PaulG said:


Ultimately that’s the goal, right? It pays to remember that all the diet stuff is just a set of tools, and we don’t need to use those tools all the time. And the tools for actually being happy are usually a very different set.

 

Absolutely. I used to have far worse body image issues, and over time I have learned not to obsess or agonise over features I don't like. I've also realised that even if I 'fix' one problem, I will easily find another to take its place. (I lost weight, I decided I lacked muscle. I've gotten more muscular, I worry I look too bulky because I still have a layer of fat over it.) Body comfort only comes when I step back and stop finding fault. For a change in perspective, I've started trying to see any further aesthetic change as 'the cherry on top of the sundae'. I exercise because the endorphins help my mental health. That's the ultimate driver, and I can keep on top of that regardless. Everything else here is a bonus, so I strive not to tie my self worth to numbers on a scale.

 

13 hours ago, PaulG said:


It’s a little counterintuitive, but for people who are already relatively lean, the most noticeable change when they lose fat is that their muscles gain definition. So even as you get “smaller,” you’ll often start to look bigger as your muscle definition increases. It’s very difficult to gain much in the way of muscle mass without a fairly stringent plan that involves a caloric surplus. It’s much easier to lose fat slowly, without meaning to; so I think it’s more likely you’ve lost fat and noticed those visual changes over time.

 

If you feel like that’s not good enough and you have a reason to lose more bodyfat, AND you want to make sure whatever plan you put in place is working, then it sounds like you may want a way to track bodyfat %. Sounds like you’re already familiar with those bioimpedance machines and how crappy they are. Beyond that, the best way to track bodyfat is simply by taking body measurements; there are a number of formulas out there.

 

 

I don't know how much this applies to me, because I probably wouldn't describe myself as lean. Over the 2 years I've been weight training, the Boditrax readings for my body fat % bounced around between 21% and 27%, but, like you say, they're not very reliable so I don't put much stock in that. I stopped using it because the lack of consistency in the readings way just plain disheartening. I sometimes struggle to see the changes I've made (although people who have known me for years insist they can) and I feel disheartened that I don't have much in the way of definition, but I also know that visible abs and sculpted arms are HARD to achieve, so may need to readjust my expectations!

 

I've not done much in the way of measurement. I've occasionally checked shoulders, waist and hips, and I did discover recently that my shoulders are now bigger than my hips, which made a nice change as I've always been very pear shaped. I think in a way I actually shy away from regular tracking because of the fear that I'll see no change and ultimately disappoint myself! The same reason I avoid progress photographs. It might have the opposite effect, of course, so there is that to consider! Which brings me neatly to your final discussion point...

 

13 hours ago, PaulG said:

I think it’s always important to consider whether you want to do the amount of data collection it would take. As an example, I track my bodyfat pretty carefully (because I have some very specific goals), and that involves me tracking my weight and waist measurement every morning, and keeping periodic track of my wrist and neck as well. Personally, I like it: it feeds my primal need for lots of nerdy data, and I get quick feedback on whether my plan is working.

 

There are some potential pitfalls to it though. It’s essential to separate the part of you that makes the plan (which should be set out well in advance) from the part of you that tracks the data. The data you collect doesn’t really become useful until you’ve collected about a month’s worth, when you can start to see a long-term trend. That means you have to work hard to shut up the lizard part of your brain that sees the number on the scale swinging around and just wants to make it go down, like, right now. That’s especially tough for the first couple weeks when it’s new.

 

So it’s an option. I like it and find it easier to handle mentally than not knowing. But there are lots of people who — rightly — find tracking the numbers to be more mental and emotional baggage than is healthy for them to take on, and would prefer not to mess around with it.

 

I LOVE this first point you make about data and positive feedback. I think that's something I crave. I guess I don't trust that I WILL get positive feedback is the issue? On one hand, I think I can safely say that body fat reduction is a goal for me right now. I don't have the equipment at home to lift heavy, and I don't really want to bulk up any more (I'm starting to feel like my arms and legs are a bit much, and I have popped seams on sleeves) so getting leaner would be the main goal at this point. (And yeah, I would kill for a glimpse of abs.) But on the other hand, I just don't know how achievable that is. I have extra time on my hands now if I wanted to start doing meticulous tracking, but, like the terrifying notion of taking 'before' pictures, I'm afraid I'll see something I don't like. I need to learn to shut off the lizard brain! So yes, definitely food for thought (heh!). Thank you so much for your comments!

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On 5/22/2020 at 12:13 PM, gabrielle_of_poteidia said:

Generally I favour the low carb diet as it prompts me towards more nutritious foods.

--

I aim for the 2g of protein for 1kg of bodyweight target, but in all honestly I find it VERY hard to meet that. If I start adding more calories from carbs to it, I end up feeling too full to eat anything actually nutritious

--

I do sometimes worry that I haven't been consistent enough to make much difference. I think I've very noticeably built up muscle over the past 18 months, but I don't feel like I've lost much in the way of fat.

--

It'll be interesting to start tracking food again but without obsessing over the Boditrax scores. We'll see what happens this time around.

You've hit on all of the important things here: nutrition, health, and keeping yourself happy. In terms of tracking fat loss, you could check your waist measurement once a week - that's typically a reasonably reliable 'shortcut' method. For many women, they need to drop down to VERY lean BF% in order to see abs though, so I'd probably pay more attention to how your clothes are fitting instead.

 

There's really no need though, because you're focusing on getting enough protein, eating nutritious foods, and what your lifts in the gym are doing. Tracking your body isn't necessary to make good progress (just track what your workouts are instead ;) ). Rock on! 

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2 hours ago, Defining said:

You've hit on all of the important things here: nutrition, health, and keeping yourself happy. In terms of tracking fat loss, you could check your waist measurement once a week - that's typically a reasonably reliable 'shortcut' method. For many women, they need to drop down to VERY lean BF% in order to see abs though, so I'd probably pay more attention to how your clothes are fitting instead.

 

There's really no need though, because you're focusing on getting enough protein, eating nutritious foods, and what your lifts in the gym are doing. Tracking your body isn't necessary to make good progress (just track what your workouts are instead ;) ). Rock on! 

 

Thank you, this is super reassuring. I might try this for a while and see how it sits with me. It's actually reassuring to know that perhaps some of my goals are a little on the steep side. Helps me to not take it too personally if things don't go the way I imagine.

 

Clothes are definitely fitting differently now: shirts tighter across the shoulders, but then my waist has gotten smaller so I'm wearing a size down in skirts and loose trousers. (The upshot is I wear 3 different sizes depending on clothing item, cut, and material.) This has all felt pretty positive. But I do always come back to the fact that my primary motivation is still keeping my mental health ticking over and feeling well and energised. I guess I just overthink the other stuff sometimes! Thanks again for the encouragement!

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