How Does Exercise Affect Water Retention?

woman doing daily stretches prepping for exercise

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Whether you’re setting out to run your first 5k or you’ve been committed to the healthful movement for a while, you can expect some benefits when you start an exercise regimen. So, when you’re getting in tune with your body and you notice puffiness and bloating, you might start to get curious about what’s causing it. When you grasp the relationship between exercise and water retention, you, in turn, realize it won’t last forever—and there are steps you can take to prevent this physical phenomenon.

Why does exercise cause water retention?


When you begin working out, your body does what it can to make sure you can’t forget it. Those achy abs and sore limbs aren’t just an inconvenience, though. They’re a result of your body working to heal itself in the present and be better able to build muscle over time. First and foremost, your workout creates what experts call “micro traumas“ as your muscles deal with the added stress. This damage can cause inflammation, prompting your body to retain fluid as a way to promote healing.

On the opposite side of that same coin, though, water also plays a crucial role in your muscle’s functioning. Their energy source, called glycogen, is stored in water and, as you build up your exercise routine, the body increases its glycogen production to compensate for the increased muscle function. As a result, this fuel can cause a degree of weight gain, too.

It’s important to note, too, that this won’t always be the case. In some instances, the opposite effect may occur—a person may lose water weight almost instantly after a workout. In that case, they were usually sweating, causing the body to release what would otherwise contribute to water retention. Alternatively, you may be dealing with fluid retention for an entirely unrelated reason. For instance, many people find they retain water when consuming lots of vegetables. Chances are, you’ve started eating healthfully alongside your exercise regimen! When in doubt, talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have.

How can I reduce water retention and related discomfort?


Try not to let the temporary discomfort deter you from keeping up your workout schedule. Instead, know that there are plenty of options for reducing fluid retention and coping with its symptoms. Most notably, of course, you can simply wait it out. Stay the course of your workout routine and give your body a chance to catch up. Over time, you’ll find that you’ve shed whatever excess fluids were worrying you. Alternatively, you can talk to your doctor about any medications or supplements that might support you through this adjustment period. A natural diuretic is an option that can help you reach your goals more quickly.

In the meantime, be sure you’re wearing supportive clothing during and after your workout. For instance, if you find your breasts are swelling due to this fluid retention, investing in a high-quality sports bra should be a top priority. Bike shorts and leggings are excellent options for subtle compression, or you can invest in specialized compression socks or stockings to otherwise control swelling.

Water retention can be a literal pain, especially when you’re trying to improve your exercise and nutrition. However, a bit of fluid shouldn’t keep you from reaching your goals. Instead, talk to your doctor, find ways to decrease or cope with your symptoms, and give it some time. After a while, your body will become more used to your workout sessions and any fluid retention will seem minimal. Just like you have to get used to a new routine, your muscles do, too.

Jamie Klein
Jamie Klein is the founder and CEO of The Green Parent. She regularly contributes articles to the site and can always be depended on to bring vegan donuts from Donut Friend to the LA office.

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