Overnight weight gain? Feeling bloated? Jeans not fitting? Could it be water retention?


In today’s blog we’ll take a look at what water retention is, how it occurs and what the link is between exercise and water retention. Approximately 60% of the human body consists of water. Water is vital in helping the body function properly and is largely responsible for dissolving nutrients and eliminating waste.  Whenever the body fails to eliminate excess water, it’s referred to as water retention/ fluid retention or oedema. Water retention is often temporary and can easily be treated. If you are experiencing water retention that lasts more than a week, it is important to consult with your physician in order to determine the cause and rule out any possible health conditions.  Fluid regularly leaks into body tissues from the blood. The lymphatic system is a network of tubes throughout the body that drains this fluid, called lymph, from tissues and empties it back into the bloodstream. Water/fluid retention occurs when the fluid isn’t removed from the tissues. It simply implies that there is excessive water in the tissue of the body which causes the body to swell, especially in the extremities.  How to recognize if you do have water retention? Physical signs of water retention includes:

  • Swollen extremities, mostly your ankles or can even have you struggle to get those rings over your fingers. 

  • Unexplained weight gain overnight. Weight gain of approximately 2-3 kgs can be present when experiencing water retention. 

  • Your stomach might feel swollen or bloated.

  • Areas affected can even feel sensitive or painful. 

These are clear indications that you might be suffering from water retention. However, as stated before. If you are feeling this way for a long period of time, please consult a physician! Water retention could also be a symptom of many other underlying health problems.  Various research suggests that the following symptoms may accompany the swelling:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Stiffness

  • Headaches

Premenstrual syndrome can also be the cause of swelling or can in fact worsen the amount of swelling and bloatedness. There are 2 types of water/ fluid retention: 1. Generalized oedema 2. Localized oedema Generalized oedema is characterized by swellings all over the body. While localized oedema affects only particular body parts like your legs and feet for instance. Common causes of water retention:

  • Diet and eating habits;

  • Medical conditions;

  • Exercise;

  • Weather;

  • Medication;

  • Rapid weight loss;

  • Hormones.


People react differently to certain food. Finding the food that triggers water retention should be consumed in small amounts or eliminated from your diet. Food is also medicine and some foods can actually help the body get rid of excess water. Anti-inflammatory foods include green leafy foods like spinach as well as berries, almonds, walnuts, salmon, olive oil, to name a few! A diet rich in salt will also have a higher risk of retaining water or in fact worsen an already swollen body.   What is the link between exercise and water retention? When you work out, small tears called micro-tears form in your muscles. These tears are necessary to build lean muscle. Micro-tears causes inflammation in the muscles. As your body go through the recovery phase, your body may retain water around the muscle. This is your body’s way of healing. Although very necessary, it can make you feel uncomfortable and well pretty much the reason you don’t see results immediately. As your body becomes more efficient at fueling your muscles and other tissues, you may also experience water/fluid retention. Exercising on a regular basis, your body tends to hang on to more glycogen. Glycogen converts glucose to be used as an energy source. Because glycogen is stored in water, it's normal to experience muscle fluid retention as a result of this bodily process. Another reason for experiencing water retention when exercising is DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Although the word sounds very professional, we have all experienced this to some degree. This soreness is the result of those tiny muscle-tears! It is a normal part of the muscle recovery and growth process.  If you are on a weight loss journey and you have started exercising for the first time. This can have a very demotivating effect! As it will most likely make you gain weight and can even make those pair of jeans fit even tighter. This is also the main cause why many people give up. They don’t see results fast enough, quite frankly they see the opposite! Weight loss and building lean muscle is not something that happens overnight. It takes time, patience and most of all consistency.  Here’s a few tips to reduce water retention

  • Increase potassium rich foods;

  • Reduce high sodium foods;

  • Avoid processed foods;

  • Avoid a too low-calorie diet;

  • Don’t cut out any food groups;

  • Drink plenty of water;

  • Wear compression socks and elevate your legs;

  • Exercise regularly, with sufficient recovery between sessions.

Stay as consistent as you can. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Water retention is a normal part of our every day lives! Don’t fuss about it too much, as it is definitely going to occur at times. Give your body time to adjust and recover. Going on crash diets or taking unhealthy methods, in an attempt to reduce the effect of water retention will only cause more long time damage to your body!

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