You bought a membership and finally committed to going to the gym. YGG! Once you start working out, you’ll notice that you feel stronger, have more energy, are less stressed, and your clothes are fitting better. That’s because exercise is proven to be good for both your body and your mind. Sounds great, right? Well, aside from the obvious—days of soreness and tight muscles—regular sweat sessions also come with some strange side effects you may not have expected. Weight gain, bacne, hanger…What gives? Don’t get discouraged just yet! We asked top fitness, health, and skin pros about the most common side effects of exercise and how you can manage them.
Seeing the number on the scale rise may be one of the biggest challenges you face. “I know it’s tempting, but try your best not weigh yourself too often when starting a new fitness regimen,” says Meliza Fernandez, a certified fitness trainer and founder of Killer Bodies. “There are many factors that determine the number you see—inflammation of the major muscles used, water weight from dehydration—so don’t let them shift your motivation.”
Also, keep in mind that a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. “If you are gaining muscle and losing fat, the number on the scale may not change, but your body shape will,” explains Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, CSCS, owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness and creator of the 5-Minute Mindful Eating Guide. She says that it’s totally normal for our weight to fluctuate anywhere from three to five pounds a day.
“Re-evaluate your reasons for working out,” Rumsey advises. “If it is only to avoid weight gain or promote weight loss, these extrinsic motivating factors are not going to be enough to help you move your body on a regular basis. Instead, try to focus on intrinsic motivation. Do you want to become stronger? Be able to run faster? Improve your flexibility? Sleep better? Have more energy?”
“Having a strict workout schedule can be very helpful in achieving those physical goals you may have been longing for, but you should never base your happiness or personal enjoyment around that single factor,” says Fernandez. Lacing up your sneakers and hitting the pavement on a nice day instead of going to brunch with friends or choosing a fitness class over an office happy hour may seem harmless enough, but when exercise starts to become obsessive, it can do more harm than good.
“It becomes unhealthy when it starts to affect your relationships, your social life, and your mental or physical health,” says Rumsey. “For example, when you start to skip out on social activities or when you spend an excessive amount of time planning your workout routine each week and then feel stressed or anxious if something gets in the way of that.” Other signs of an unhealthy obsession, she says, are extreme guilt when a workout is missed, working out through an illness or injury, working out for hours at a time, using exercise to compensate for food, and not taking any rest days.
“Live in the moment, work hard, and enjoy every aspect of life—burpees, sex, wine, and pizza!” encourages Fernandez.
Zits on your chest, shoulders, back, and butt—seriously? Unfortunately, this isn’t just a side effect of doping. Body breakouts are caused by a combo of friction from the clothes you wear and sweat, explains Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine (and fitness fanatic). When sweat sits on your skin, it traps oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells in your pores, so showering immediately after a workout is key. If showering is not an option, Dr. Gohara recommends using a wipe with glycolic acid to give pores a quick cleanse. Try M-61 Fast Blast Cleansing Cloths ($25; bluemercury.com).
If breakouts continue, you may want to consider shopping for a new workout wardrobe. Look for breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics like nylon and polyester. Avoid tight cotton shirts, which absorb sweat like a sponge, adds Dr. Gohara.
While we’re on the topic, you may also notice more pimples popping up on your face. Headbands and hats can trap sweat and cause breakouts along the hairline while big headphones can lead to breakouts around the ears, explains Dr. Gohara. Opt for thin hairbands and headphones that fit in the ear instead, she says. Another culprit: your phone. The buildup of sweat and bacteria transfers to your skin when you make a call. Wipe it down daily with a cell phone sanitizing wipe, like Well-Kept’s Screen Cleansing Towlettes ($6; sephora.com).
Sweating like a sinner in church? That’s totally normal. “Your nervous system stimulates your sweat glands to regulate your temperature when you work out, so you don’t overheat,” explains Dr. Gohara. There are many factors, like gender and size, that can influence the rate at which someone sweats, adds Fernandez. If you are new to fitness, you will likely heat up a lot faster and possibly sweat more than someone who is super fit. Same if you are overweight; fat acts as an insulator that raises core temperature, causing one to sweat more profusely.
The upside of sweat: It helps flush the body of toxins and system clogging-substances like alcohol, cholesterol, and salt. So, embrace your sweatiness and find an antiperspirant to help manage the stink and stains associated with it. “I’ve yet to find something that works consistently for me, so I tend to switch up my deodorant every two months between Dove and Degree,” Fernandez says.
You also may find yourself wanting to eat all the time. “Our bodies are very smart and work hard to keep an equilibrium. When you work out, you are burning calories, so your body increases your appetite to compensate and make sure you take in enough calories to fuel it,” says Rumsey. “After a hard workout, the levels of the hunger-triggering hormone ghrelin drop. This means that you may not feel hungry right after a workout, but then two or three hours later when these levels return to normal—and your body is dealing with a calorie deficit from the workout—you end up feeling ravenous.”
Smartly timed snacks can give the body the fuel it needs to prevent that “starving” feeling. Eat something within an hour or two post-workout, Rumsey advises. “A combination of carbs and protein is key to help replenish and repair your muscles. It can be something as simple as an apple and peanut butter, a turkey sandwich, a bowl of cereal with milk, or Greek yogurt and some fruit and granola.” It’s also important to up your water intake. “More often than not, we confuse thirst for hunger,” says Fernandez. “With an increased amount of sweating, we dehydrate faster and our fluids need to be replenished.” She likes to add NUUN tablets to her water, as they help replenish electrolytes and vitamins post-workout sans the added sugar of popular sports drinks.
Ouch. “When sweaty fabric rubs against the skin or skin-on-skin friction occurs during a workout, the skin barrier begins to break down, leaving irritation and inflammation,” explains Dr. Gohara. Areas prone to the fiery rash include the thighs, underarms, and nipples. Reduce chafing by wearing compression pants or long shorts and shirts with sleeves. If that doesn’t work, apply an anti-chafe body balm like BodyGlide. “I discovered BodyGlide back in college when I was training for a marathon and started to chafe on my thighs and arms. It’s a non-greasy lubricant stick that protects your skin from the repeated rubbing that causes chafing,” says Rumsey.
If you find yourself running to the bathroom right after class, trust us, you’re not alone. “Exercise helps food move through the large intestine faster, so it can help make you more regular,” says Rumsey. “Aerobic exercise, where you are increasing your heart rate and breathing faster, stimulates contraction of the intestinal, which also helps you to poop more.” So, when you get the urge, go. Suppressing it can actually lead to bowel issues.