What Those Scale-Weight Fluctuations Really Mean

Scale


You wake up and step on the scale.

After emptying the bladder, but before breakfast of course.

THREE POUNDS HEAVIER THAN YESTERDAY?

Is that even possible? They say 3500 calories = one pound of bodyfat, but you didn’t eat 10,000 yesterday. How did you gain 3 pounds?

Short term fluctuations in bodyweight are caused by factors irrelevant to your long term progress.

You are not losing muscle/gaining fat every time the scale swings (like my roommate thinks is happening). Rather, here is what is really going on:

 

5 Reasons The Scale Moves Like It Does

Bonus: Is Papa John’s Really The Best Pizza of All-Time, and Do I Have A Drinking Problem?

 

#1: Changes in Glycogen Stores

Glyco-who? No, glycogen.

You see, when we eat carbohydrates, they are stored as glycogen in various places within our body. Those relevant to changes in bodyweight are liver and muscle storage. But, in case you are super curious, we also store some of that tasty CHO in our red and white blood cells, brain and kidneys (in trace amounts).

We are going to skip the boring details and cut to the chase:

How Does This Effect Scale Weight?

Well, we can store somewhere between 50-100g of glycogen in our liver.

Muscle glycogen capacity is a bit trickier. While storage in the liver does not vary too much from person to person, muscle glycogen storage depends on one’s bodyweight, bodyfat %, level of activity and other factors.

Based on all available research, 350-750g is the consensus range for muscle glycogen storage. Although some studies have shown we can store as high as 15g/kg of bodyweight (6.8g per pound) which ends up being more than 750g.

Dude, Scale Weight. Tell me about SCALE-WEIGHT.

Sorry.

Each gram of carb storage causes your body to retain between 2.7 – 4 times that amount in water. The combination of increased carbohydrates and the water bound to each of those causes our bodyweight to increase.

How much?

Well, let’s assume you are dieting. You have been eating fewer carbs than you burn for many days in a row, causing muscle glycogen storage to be very low.

Then you polish off a bunch of carbs because it’s the superbowl, birthday cake, yolo, a planned re-feed day, capt’n crunch, or one of the other 611,424 really good reasons to carb-binge.

Your glycogen stores increase by 750g (for simplicity, we will ignore super-compenstation which could actually lead to this number being higher)

750g carbs + (750g*3 water) = 3000g

3000 grams is 6.6 pounds.

In other words, a high-carb day can increase scale weight by 7 pounds.

As an aside, and relevant for beginner weight lifters, your capacity for total muscle glycogen storage increases when you begin strength training. So, if you begin dieting and weight training simultaneously, you may not see scale progress right away.

 

#2: The Restroom

We can store quite a bit of weight in our large intestines. There isn’t much science needed to back this one up, weigh yourself before and after a good dump. You can experience bodyweight swings of 1-3+ pounds by sitting on the toilet.

 

#3: Sodium

Let’s say your normal diet is relatively low in sodium. Some meat, lots of veggies and fruits, not too much processed stuff. One night, you crush an entire pizza. Papa John’s, of course. Guess what happens.

Weight is uuuup the next morning. Why? This increased sodium intake caused your body to retain water. Just like eating less sodium than normal will cause bodyweight to decrease.

We’ll keep this brief, but what really matters is variance from your normal sodium intake.

There is a hormone called aldosterone. More aldosterone = more water retention. When you keep sodium low, the body increases production of aldosterone. So, with already high levels of aldosterone coupled with a flood of sodium, the body holds water like crazy.

 

#4: Boozey-Booze Train

I weighed 185 pounds when I left my apartment last night. After several IPAs, too many tequila shots and some mild Saturday night debauchery, I passed out in my jeans. When I woke up, my breath tasted like a dead person, and the bathroom scale shamed my recent bulking attempt:

176 pounds.

Drinking beer from weird goblets

While it is possible to incorporate booze in a healthy regimen, there may be short term swings in bodyweight.

How dehydrated do you get, exactly?

For every 200 milliliters of beer consumed, the average person releases 320 milliliters of urine.

Now, you can drink lots of water, but for reasons beyond the scope of this article, only about 1/3 of the water consumed will be retained to help with rehydration.

In short, go ahead and drink if you’d like, but be cognizant of the relationship between scale weight and that tasty poison.

 

#5: Everything Else

Illness, an exhausting workout, certain supplements such as creatine, your menstrual cycle, or God throwing you a curveball because this dieting crap isn’t tough enough already — the scale moves. Sometimes, a lot.

 

So, What Should I Do?

The scale is an excellent measure of progress in the long term but cruel, heartless and nonsensical in the daily grind.

Like I tell my coaching clients, focus on the things you CAN control: the food you eat, hours you sleep, intensity of training and macronutrients consumed.

If you are the type of person to obsess a bit, weigh yourself less frequently (once every 1-2 weeks). If you can weigh yourself more often without changing your behavior or messing with your head, daily weigh-ins are fine (same time every day).

Lastly, know that these short term fluctuations have absolutely nothing to do with your long term progress.

 

 

If you liked this article, my Beginner’s Fitness Guide is packed with practical nutrition advice. It’s free, and you can grab a copy right here.

 



Comments for This Entry

  • Frank

    Very nicely written! Stuff like this is a big help and a joy to read. I'm confused about one thing - does water retention, as described here, hinder fat loss at all? Or does it just confuse the scales?

    February 11, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Mike Author

      Hey Frank -- nope! Water retention does not hinder fat loss. In fact, staying hydrated all the time is probably better for fat loss and it helps you transport nutrients more efficiently, allows your muscles to function better during workouts, etc.

      February 11, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Elizabeth Hendricks

    Thanks for the information! I attend weight watchers, and this same queation comes up frequently. Overall, it is consistent good habits that lead to weight loss. Thanks for sharing!

    February 11, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Legna

    That "Restroom" section almost made me fall off my chair!, So funny! Yet true.

    February 23, 2014 at 1:28 am | Reply to this comment

  • Lindsey

    I learned so much from this! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!

    May 23, 2014 at 3:23 am | Reply to this comment

  • Claire Kenny

    So reassuring, I'll be re-reading this everytime the scales takes one of its magic leaps leaving me feeling deflated hot air balloon!! Thanks! *** Antispam disabled. Check access key in CleanTalk plugin options. Antispam service cleantalk.org. ***

    July 11, 2014 at 1:54 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kimberly

    Very informative, the glycogen storage and the sodium levels answered my questions. Thanks! *** Antispam disabled. Check access key in CleanTalk plugin options. Antispam service cleantalk.org. ***

    July 29, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Reply to this comment

  • William

    Hey Mike, I must say it is great to have something like this to read. When I say that it was easy to read and well written entry and it was just sort of the information I was looking for. After I hit the gym today I was a little disheartened as when I weighted myself I had jumped 3kgs (I live in Australia, hence the kgs). I was 122.9kg yesterday morning and 125.2kg. I am trying to loose weight and tone up. I am taking Creatine to help fire up my core before my work outs. Yes I am aware of the possible weight gain from that, I think my treat of a Chinese dine out last night must have had a higher concentrate of sodium and my body retained more water. Reading your article I feel better knowing that weight fluctuations happen for certain reasons. Thanks again. Will *** Antispam disabled. Check access key in CleanTalk plugin options. Request number c36f38cd869da38179dd352bd8c2ed53. Antispam service cleantalk.org. ***

    September 5, 2014 at 1:38 am | Reply to this comment

  • Melanie Simmerman

    Great article! Very helpful and well written, and also encouraging in the midst of a sometimes discouraging weight loss process! *** Antispam disabled. Check access key in CleanTalk plugin options. Request number fa4faec28518385c8c9a86ed0b44ca85. Antispam service cleantalk.org. ***

    September 7, 2014 at 8:55 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Amber

    I just stumbled onto your site (thanks Google!) and I'm grateful for the info. I recently cut out gluten & dairy to alleviate IBS. What a miracle! I rapidly lost the tummy woes that plagued me for a decade, and along with the pain went 10lbs. The unintended weight loss didn't go unnoticed (has our culture forgotten what thin people look like?). I'm 5'4" and 114lbs now...but in my hometown where obesity is the norm (especially in my "30-something" age range) , Ive felt the need to gain weight. So the last few days, I gave in to PMS cravings and pigged out on sprouted pita bread, guacamole, Reese's, a whole jar of almond butter and an entire carton of ice cream...and tipped the scale at 122. 8lbs and woe-is-me belly...ugh! Do you think it will disappear along with my monthly cycle? Or did I eat 8 lbs of butter (butter pecan)?? Since I am a classic example of what not to do, what's a healthy way for a woman to add a few lbs in all the right places? Thanks again...I'm looking forward to reading more from you! *** Antispam disabled. Check access key in CleanTalk plugin options. Request number d044fc211f1ef6bacf3ecc0e0299de68. Antispam service cleantalk.org. ***

    September 12, 2014 at 6:55 am | Reply to this comment

  • Christine

    Hi mike like your thread. I also follow WW and my weight is up and down weekly. Over the month it shows though. I get some drops in my glucose some days and desperately need to grab a quick fix. Normally around 15.00. Is this because I don't eat enough?

    December 6, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Reply to this comment

  • M James

    I agree that it is kinda stupid when people record their weight everyday. Once a week is much better. Lately I've actually been weighing myself only once a month.

    January 13, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Mike Author

      Different strategies definitely work better for different people. If people are okay staying the course, and they aren't psyched out by the short term fluctuations, I'm okay with more frequent weight ins. But if your daily weight changes the way you eat/train/etc then less frequent weigh ins are definitely better.

      January 13, 2015 at 8:04 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Delia Bachelor

    Just read your article after a shocking weigh in . . always once a week but much later in the day this time. Feel so much better now! Thank you.

    March 21, 2015 at 1:08 pm | Reply to this comment

  • chrissy

    That makes me feel better. Most nights I'm 3 lbs heavier than in the morning. I am trying to lose weight. I have seen 1 oz weight loss to 7 oz weight loss from morning to morning. I am now going to just weigh myself once a week.

    April 1, 2015 at 12:40 am | Reply to this comment

  • Maria

    Great read... Makes me feel a LITTLE better after stepping on the scale 2 lbs heavier today. How long does the body retain the extra water from glycogen storage?

    April 20, 2015 at 10:33 am | Reply to this comment

  • giridhar

    wow! nice explanation. this question was troubling me for long and I found the answer! i was thinking it happens only to me

    April 29, 2015 at 3:58 am | Reply to this comment

  • sal aslan

    Why am I not losing weight I don't eat crisps biscuits bread cales etc I eat chicken or fish with loads of veg and eat a lot of fruit like gratefruit what's going wrong !! Can anyone help x

    May 7, 2015 at 8:46 am | Reply to this comment

  • Adhara

    thanks a lot! this really made me feel a bit better today! I experience weight fluctuations daily =/ it sucks! i've lost over 100lbs in 1 ½ year, and now i should be "maintaining" but that's HARD. I simply can't. I'm from Brazil, and we don't really use pounds here, but Kilograms. So, I can tell you my weight goes from 76 to 79 so freaking easily, that it terrifies me! I was 77,3kg 2 days ago, and today 79,0... like, wow?! why? i had a good nutrition day yesterday (ok, I had 40g of chocolate, but come on!!1 40g... and that was it.) i had 60' of cardio.. and still... the most important thing here for me is that if you can't control your emotions while weighting in daily, just don't. So, I shouldn't be doing that lol But, that's hard :P thanks again!

    May 7, 2015 at 10:01 am | Reply to this comment

  • zee

    Hi this calmed me down a bit. As at last year I was weighing 63 then I tried dieting this year and when I checked it was 59.5 then like two or three weeks after it was 58.6 by that time I wasn't even dieting so I was worried sick I asked a doctor and he said it might be stress because I'm writing my exams but I checked today which is like three weeks after with a different scale and it says 55. Do you think something is wrong or its probably what you wrote about.

    June 7, 2015 at 3:04 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Siddhant

    I am quite overweight, and recently I started exercising. There was about a 900g (1.8 pound) decrease in my weight today, but my father tells me not to get too excited by it, and that this difference is normal in fat people like me. Is this true?

    June 10, 2015 at 9:31 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jasmine Myers

    Thank you so much! I really needed this. I'll be saving this article for every time I stress over daily fluctuations. I've been weighing myself daily, but I'm going to try out switching to weekly like uou suggest. Great advice! Thank you so much!!

    June 24, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Paul Fortin

    Excellent article this helped me understand huge fluctuation in my weight within the same day even!! AAA+++

    August 6, 2015 at 6:30 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kat

    Thank you SOOO much. Finally a proper detailed answer. This has been driving me nuts. I have almost chucked the scales out of the window this morning. I never used to way more than once a week but with results so different it was making obsessed whether the progress I made was real and still there the next day if that makes sense. Back to weighing once a week. Phew!

    August 7, 2015 at 4:32 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jasmine

    thanks i needed this article, i was 2 pounds lighter a few days ago and now up 2. And I am watching what i eat. So could be a number of things. I think I will only weigh myself once a week instead of every day!

    August 19, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Adam

    This is great information. Helps explain why I have been losing inches and body fat % but not pounds, so much. Thanks very much.

    September 1, 2015 at 3:36 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Dominique Brown-Stanley

    I loved this article. I googled why the scale fluxuates daily. After reading this article it shined a lot of light on it. I am on of those people that need to stop weighing myself everyday and go to once a week. Thanks.

    September 7, 2015 at 9:25 pm | Reply to this comment

  • john

    I have a slightly different problem. 2 scales. Weighed at the same time on both scales. One says I lost a pound the other says I gained a pound. Why is this? The other week when I weighed using both scales they both had gone down but of course there was a 3 or so lb difference from one scale to the next as there always is. It's just this is the first time I see that one scale goes up while the other went down. Not sure why that is.

    September 19, 2015 at 11:53 pm | Reply to this comment

  • rachael

    This exact same thing happened to me this morning.. ( i am eating 1200 calories a day) exercising 5-6 days a week and i gained 3lbs this morning. this article saved my sanity.. i love u lol. thank you!

    October 23, 2015 at 8:34 am | Reply to this comment

  • Beth

    Thanks for this article! I've been working really hard trying to lose weight and for whatever reason got on the scale this morning and saw I was up 6 ounces after just 5 days. I know it doesn't sound like a lit, but when you are working hard, it is alot! So easy to lose your motivation, but this article is encouraging me to keep going strong! Thank you! I needed this!

    January 23, 2016 at 9:41 am | Reply to this comment

  • Will

    Great article and very informative! Thanks for sharing! you answered a question that has been in my mind for years and was lazy to research it enough!

    January 27, 2016 at 2:18 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Helpwiththisplease

    Okay so I've been gaining like 2+ lbs in a day and then I'll lose two overnight. This has been going on for months and is accompanied by a daily headache..... Does anybody know what might be wrong

    February 19, 2016 at 4:36 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Sarah Marshall

    This was very helpful. Although I'm confused as yesterday I had a high carb day (pizza, bread, cereal) and Iv woke up this morning 3lbs lighter. Something similar happened about a month back. I ate like rubbish and lost 5lbs (never gained it back) What would your thoughts be on this? Thank you

    March 10, 2016 at 3:23 am | Reply to this comment

  • Anna

    interesting article Thanks for sharing and keeping us updated:-)

    March 22, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jason

    Would you mind posting references for your information? I'd like to delve further into the original research. Thanks!

    March 22, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Sawltydawg

    Thanks so much for all this info Mike because this entire weight loss journey for me has been a total up and down roller coaster. Started at 300 lbs, now down to 200 but trying to loose that last 20 lbs to goal at 180 and sometimes I get down to 194 and get so happy, then I get up to 210. And lately , it just stays mostly at 199 on scale. Very frustrating now that scale no longer wants to go down anymore, regardless my diet and I can not cut my calories anymore lower than I already have them. WTH? Why is my metabolism now so allergic to that 180 goal?

    April 17, 2016 at 11:13 am | Reply to this comment

  • Brandy Copenhaver

    So if I weighed myself last week and stuck to my diet but today weighed 4 pounds more,,,,do I actually weigh what the scales said last week??

    May 23, 2016 at 4:47 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Sweet tee

    Great article. I was consistent for 5 days at 257 lbs. Then came my bday. I reintroduced sodas to my diet for tgis one week, ate some cake and cookies and had about 4 cups of alcohol. One week later I'm 3 lbs heavier. Screaming at myself. Does the short term affects go away in a few days , or do I have to work off this 3 pounds. I feel so discouraged.

    May 24, 2016 at 10:01 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Sweet tee

    Oh and I saw you mentioned that beer may have caused the scale amount to decrease. I've had the opposite effect. After drinking alcohol my scale amount would increase by about 5 lbs

    May 24, 2016 at 10:02 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Michael

    Hey I found this article really helpful. But I would also like to share my experience. I have been running 10 miles daily and have been looking up to 2 kilos a week. Last week I didn't loose even a kilo even though I ran and maintained my calories intake at 1400. Subsequently over the past two days I again lost 2 kilos but I binged over chinese take out yesterday night and voila after today morning weighing in I had gained a kilo in weight. Pls advice as to what should I do?.

    May 25, 2016 at 10:36 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Winter

    Thank you so much for this information.. i learn a lot of thing., but i would like to ask you something., is it normal to lose 3kg in one day and regain 2 kg on the next day? Isn't it too much? After that day my weight keep decreasing and increasing like that day after day.. sometimes it still constant before decreasing again.. is this really normal?

    May 27, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Vera

    I hate scales and this morning was further proof to stay off them, at least for me. No lie when I say the scale had me up 10 lbs in a week!!! I recently ended a 21 sugar detox and went nuts in my first week off the detox with drinking a crazy amount of alcohol, in particular, beer, which I stopped drinking in excess a while ago because of exactly this reason... makes me feel like a beached whale! While I eat fairly clean and workout fairly intensely with weight lifting, boxing and HIIT cardio, I am foolish to think drinking in the way I did this past week wouldn't cause too much harm so quickly, because boy oh boy, did it ever! Thanks for your article because it made me feel less delusional as it truly is a shock to the system when you see that God awful number staring back at you. I know what I need to do, but reading this today, definitely made me feel better, normal rather than get down on myself, but it's back to reality today!

    May 29, 2016 at 10:33 am | Reply to this comment

  • Natalie

    Finally someone that gives me more than the "eat less move more" mantra..This was very well written and so informative. I went up and down 5 lbs in less than a day but when I checked my food diary. It sure as heck lined up with what you're saying. Where do I sign up? I'm buying whatever you're selling lol

    June 4, 2016 at 6:29 am | Reply to this comment

  • diana

    excellent information....what a relief to hear, i was getting so discouraged, but now i feel saved...thank you, thank you, thank you!

    June 5, 2016 at 8:03 am | Reply to this comment

  • Lisa

    Thanks for the info. I ate a much higher amount of sugar than normal yesterday, mostly simple carbs. Overall calories were still only about 2200 and I showed a 2.6 pound weight gain. It is very discouraging to eat right most of the time and blow one day and show such a fluctuation. I am glad to know the reason why.

    July 28, 2016 at 10:42 am | Reply to this comment

  • Luke Cafferty

    Great article! This is a reminder not to obsess over your scale and take measurements and pictures when monitoring your weight loss.

    September 1, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Reply to this comment

  • yazz

    This was a fantastic article and it really cleared the fog,thanks alot, i was beginning to think there was something wrong with me. great info.

    September 2, 2016 at 2:37 am | Reply to this comment

  • Nick Kay

    Hey, i really enjoyed reading this. Very informative, and not boring. Thank you ery much for having put the effort to make this article, i appreciate it a lot. Now Ill check out the page about alcohol... not that i need it...

    September 30, 2016 at 4:47 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jess

    I loved your articles esp this one thank u!

    November 3, 2016 at 2:07 am | Reply to this comment

  • Heather

    I love you! I'm on a diet and keep gaining and losing 10lb overnight!! This reassures me xxxx

    November 16, 2016 at 3:17 am | Reply to this comment

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