Sweating is one of the major factors people associate with a good workout and a good indicator of weight loss, right? Well, according to many physicians sweating by itself doesn’t technically make you permanently lose weight but rather makes you lose water weight which is quickly restored after your workout. Still, there is one more important question apart from simply shedding some extra pounds… Does sweating help you burn more calories? In this article, I will go through exactly what happens when your body sweats and whether or not this action reflects your other systems and increases your body’s metabolic rates.
First, let’s start with the basics…
Why do we sweat?
Sweating is one of the most primal functions of our body and is also not directly controlled by our nervous system meaning it is an autonomous process which occurs if the right conditions are met. It is a mechanism which allows our bodies to lose heat through the evaporation of water from the sweat glands. the sweat by itself is an odorless liquid which contains mostly water, although it also has sodium, chloride, and potassium in it, which is the reason it can taste salty. Our bodies also use sweat to release ammonia and urea, which are the final products of the breaking down of proteins. Sweat also contains a number of toxins and is, therefore, a good way for our body to eliminate them from our system.
The more your body heats up, the more sweat will be released from the sweat glands and evaporated in the air. The more humid the air, the harder it will be for sweat to evaporate and the more your body will heat up. The drier the air, the easier it will be to sweat and will, therefore, be much easier to sweat and keep our bodies at a normal temperature. These two principles are applied in full force in places such as saunas and steam rooms.
What happens when you sweat
Simply put, sweating by itself doesn’t increase your body’s calorie needs. However, sweating is a very important indicator of how far you are pushing your body. The more you sweat, the more heat has to be released from your body, which increases your heart and breathing rate, which then increases your cell metabolism levels. All those mechanisms lead to the increased calorie intake from your body’s cells and ultimately to more calories burned. Whether you heat yourself up through a sauna or just exercise to the point in which you sweat, it is 100% guaranteed that you are burning calories. The rate at which you are burning them can be vastly different, though.
This is why a link between sweating and amount of calories burned shouldn’t be made. You should always just the burned calories by the efforts you spend at a workout and the time you workout for. Sweating will always just be a healthy indicator of how far did you push yourself during that workout. So, in short, the more you sweat the more your body indicates that it has to cool down, meaning you are increasing the speed with which your body is processing calories. Even the simplest explanation that your heart is pumping faster and is, therefore, burning more calories is usually sufficient for this argument.
Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits and risks sweating has for you…
Benefits and risks of sweating
There is one main benefit of sweating which is basically its essential function – to cool down your body and prevent your vital organs from overheating. Muscles generate an enormous amount of heat when working out and most of that heat is trapped inside unless our bodies use sweating and the water inside our bodies as a form of coolant system that evaporates any excess heat. This mechanism is really effective unless you prevent it by wearing waterproof tight clothes like sauna vests which will block out the heat and sweat and make your core heat up even faster.
There are still a few other benefits from sweating. One of those is healthier skin. The more you train the better your blood circulation will be, meaning blood will get to even the most remote parts of your body, which is usually the surface level of your skin. When your skin gets red, that means that the blood capillaries beneath it have opened up and are full of blood, hence the color. This is great for your skin as it allows oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to reach the top levels of your skin moisturizing and nourishing it in the process. The other great subtle advantage is that sweating is a (somewhat) accurate gauge of your workout intensity levels. If you are breaking a sweat, it means you are doing things right and pushing yourself just enough to be in that sweet spot of physical progress. If you start getting lightheaded or very tired, it might indicate that you’ve flown a little too close to the sun and need to take a step back.
Another way to gauge your efforts is to be aware of your heart rate. One of my recommended methods of doing that is by using a good waterproof fitness tracker that will keep your body’s metrics on display for you to see and react accordingly.
The risks can be generalized in two categories – dehydration and hyperhidrosis. Dehydration is logically the condition in which you will end up if you keep sweating without replenishing the lost liquids for your body. Moreover, since you already know sweat is not 100% water, you might want to add some electrolytes to your drink in order to prevent severe loss of potassium, sodium, or chloride. The lack of these basic elements can lead to a variety of conditions such as weak heart pulse, fast heart rate, seizures, anuria, confusion, exhaustion, and others.
Hyperhidrosis, on the other hand, is excessive sweating which might also lead to the aforementioned conditions but is a little more serious since it cannot be fixed the same way you fix an excess sweat – by drinking fluids.
Sweating greatly depends on your body’s core temperature which fluctuates along the day and is hotter in the evening than in the morning. But does that make the evenings a better time for a run? Click here to find out more about this topic on my dedicated article!
So, does sweating help you burn more calories? The answer is really both yes and no. The more you workout, the more you will sweat, meaning the faster your heart rate will be, which on its own is going to increase your body’s overall calorie intake. If you sit in a sauna without moving and just sweating, then this effect won’t be that pronounced but you will also, in theory, lose some extra calories. The weight you lose from these type of “just sweating” activities is mostly water, though, so make sure you replenish all that lost weight with fluids and electrolytes right after you stop doing them.