Is Sweating Really the Secret to Fat Loss Success?
You feel great
Red-faced, panting and absolutely exhausted, you virtually crawl out of the gym and make your way to your car, knowing that you’ve just had a great workout.
How do you know?
Well – the amount you sweated for one thing. Your t-shirt is drenched, there are droplets pouring from your forehead, and it looks more like you just went for a swim rather than a training session.
Everyone knows that sweating is an indicator that you’re working hard and losing fat. And the more you sweat, the more calories you burn and the faster you get lean, right?
After all, it’s what you see boxers doing, and guys who wear sweatsuits in the gym when performing their cardio must be on to something. Or are they?
Does making yourself sweat actually burn more calories and make you shed fat faster, or is it unnecessary and potentially dangerous?
Why Do You Sweat?
Sweating is a natural process, and the body’s main mechanism for cooling itself down. The average person actually produces around a litre of sweat every day, and that’s without factoring in any training, or other factors, such as living in a hot climate.
When you train, your body automatically starts to heat up, hence you start producing more sweat to counteract this and ensure you don’t overheat.
Sweat Indicates Intensity
Generally the harder you work, the hotter you get and so the more you sweat.
Therefore, if you’re sweating more because you’re pushing the intensity up, this might indicate that you’re burning more calories, and therefore losing fat faster.
However, increased sweating happens because you’re pushing yourself harder, not the other way around. Additionally, if you’ve not trained in a while due to injury or a break, you’ll sweat almost straight from the off, and that’s without even working that hard, so it doesn’t always correlate.
What’s the Theory With Sweat Suits?
Unfortunately, there isn’t much.
Manufacturers of sweat suits (total body one-piece suits, often made from neoprene, and with elasticated sleeves and cuffs to keep the heat in) have cottoned on to the fact that people feel they’re getting better results when they’re sweating more, so they’ve marketed them as weight loss aids.
If you performed a cardio session as normal, and weighed yourself before and after to see the difference in bodyweight, then did the exact same cardio session at another time but wearing a sweat suit, you would lose more weight during the second session. However, this is nothing but a greater decrease in water weight. As soon as you grab a drink and replenish your fluids, that weight will go right back on.
The Dangers of Sweating More
The more water you lose from your body, the lower your hydration levels. Dehydration can have a seriously negative impact on performance, and even 1-2% dehydration can cause a noticeable drop off in energy and strength.
Considering water plays such an important role in electrolyte balance and muscle contractions too, the last thing you really want during a hard session is to be dehydrated.
Are There Any Benefits?
There’s one very small benefit to sweating more that doesn’t ever apply to the vast majority of people, and that’s the bigger short-term weight loss from increased sweat.
This can be useful if you’re dropping weight for a competition, and are slightly over your cut-off. You’ll often see boxers, wrestlers, and sometimes-even powerlifters performing a quick bout of cardio wearing a sweat suit, or even in a sauna, in an attempt to lose some water weight.
However, as soon as they’ve hit their desired bodyweight, you can bet they’ll be straight onto the water to replenish their fluid levels, and usually combine this with an isotonic solution to get their electrolyte and salt levels back up too.
One other time where sweating more could be beneficial also relates to athletes, and would be that if an athlete normally used to training and living in a cold climate has to travel to compete somewhere much warmer, where they’ll sweat more, then preparing for this in training beforehand may help.
What’s The Trade Off?
Aside from the negative effects of the almost inevitable dehydration from increased sweating, you risk feeling faint and not working as hard as you would otherwise. This completely excludes any potential higher calorie burn from working at an increased temperature.
Don’t start to panic if you do start sweating more, or you live in a hot climate and think you might be losing a lot of water during your workouts – just recognise you’ll probably have to drink more to keep hydrated.
To Sweat or Not to Sweat?
If you’re training hard, then unless you’re in the Arctic, you probably should be sweating. That said, sweating isn’t an indicator of how much body fat you’re burning.
In fact, too much sweating could be bad news.
To ensure you keep your fluid levels topped up, try weighing yourself before and after a session and seeing how much water weight you lost, and aim to drink this much back again in the hour post-workout.
The bottom line is that there’s no scientific evidence to support increased sweating having a beneficial effect on losing fat and getting lean, so until there is, you needn’t stress over it.