Let's face it: For a long time sweat suffered from an image problem. Remember sweatshops, malaria, Richard Simmons' Sweatin' to the Oldies? But today, sweat sells. Take Hugh Jackman's damp undershirt, which went for $30,000 at an auction last December. Or the arresting images of Gatorade-colored droplets of perspiration rolling off the bodies of the world's most famous athletes. Or Kate Upton's glistening cleavage hawking patty melts for Carl's Jr.
Not only is sweat sexy, sweat is vital. You'd die without expelling this mix of mostly water and salt, which prevents overheating. And it's a really good thing if you sweat a lot. "It's men who are most in-shape who will sweat the most, and the most quickly, because their bodies are conditioned," says Neal Pire, a New York-based personal trainer and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.
When you work out, muscle contractions generate heat. If you exercise regularly, you're better able to cope, for two reasons: One, the volume of your blood—the stuff that carries oxygen to exerted muscles—is 20 percent higher, and this provides the fluid for sweating. Two, you start sweating sooner, because your body has been programmed to recognize the need for cooling faster. (Also, the more efficient you become at sweating, the better you hold on to sodium, which prevents muscle cramping.) This, in turn, means you'll be able to work out longer.
"It's the reason why a sweaty body looks attractive to people," says Michael Bergeron, executive director of the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance. "The image implies active, fit, tough, and resilient."
So now that you know that perspiring is good for you, and that you should be doing more of it, here's everything you need to know to do it the right way.
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Anatomy Of An Oversweater
1. Hydrate Properly
During exercise, your sweat output can range from 6.8 to 118 fluid ounces per hour. To stay within a healthy range, as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine, you should shed no more than 2 percent of your body weight, or else you risk dehydration.
For optimal output, pay attention to input: Overhydration tends to dilute electrolytes, the minerals that regulate your sweat rate, according to Dr. Tim Noakes, the author of Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports. Dehydration stifles sweat because it takes water to produce perspiration.
Your hydration formula depends on your fitness level and the type of activity, but there are rough guidelines, outlined by the ACSM. Two to three hours before exercise, drink 14 to 20 ounces, or two to three glasses. During your workout, aim to drink 8 to 10 ounces every 15 minutes. To speed recovery post-workout, drink 23 fluid ounces per pound of body weight lost.
As for what to drink, "Water is ideal for the typical gym-goer," personal trainer Neal Pire says. But after more than an hour of strenuous exercise, you need to replace your sodium and other electrolytes. A drink containing 500 to 700 milligrams of sodium for every 33 ounces of fluid—a typical sports drink—should do it.
2. Get Enough Sleep
If you're deprived of shut-eye, you'll produce 27 percent less sweat during a workout, says a study in the American Journal of Physiology. "More work needs to be done on this," says William C. Kohler, M.D., medical director of the Florida Sleep Institution, "but it's possible that lack of sleep negatively affects sweat rate because this interferes with the autonomic nervous system, which controls sweating."
3. Adapt to the Conditions
Seeking the solace of an air-conditioned gym is not necessarily a bad idea. In a room that's 68 degrees or below, exercise is the only factor that raises your core temperature, which means, according to Michael Bergeron of the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance, "you're going to be able to do more for a longer period of time."
But there is a downside to a climate-controlled regimen. The next time you go for a jog in, say, the dry heat of Los Angeles, you won't be acclimated. This means you won't sweat the way you need to, and when you do, it will probably be too salty, which could lead to cramping.
Acclimating to the heat is no different from adjusting to altitude, Pire explains. Ten to 14 days of gradually increasing exercise duration under the sun can prep your body to perspire in toasty conditions.
On humid days, stay in the gym. "Sweating without evaporation doesn't cool the body," Bergeron says. If the air is already full of moisture—generally above 90 percent humidity—the beads will remain on your skin, acting as an insulator, which will put you at a greater risk of overheating and tire you much more quickly.
4. Choose the Right Workout Clothes
"One of the most important things to take away from a discussion about better sweat," Pire says, "is the need for breathable clothing." In recent years, temperature- and sweat-regulating gear has saturated the fitness-apparel market. The clothing—like that of Nike's Dri-FIT or Adidas' ClimaCool lines—promises to cool by pulling perspiration from the skin and pushing it through the fabric.
No need to ditch your traditional cotton tees, though. "Cotton generally works just fine," Pire says. "It's going to get wet, but it breathes."
5. Don't Force It
You've seen these wrestling-team throwbacks at your gym: guys exercising while wearing a trash bag (or a fancier version called a sauna suit) in order to trap heat, facilitate excessive sweating, and, ipso facto, shed water weight.
But the Hefty fans are wrong on this one. "Perspiration can't evaporate through a sauna suit, meaning it can't cool you properly," Pire says. Plus, this is only an ephemeral slim-down. "You'll gain it all back as soon as you start drinking fluid again."
The idea is to let your sweat flow naturally whenever possible, Pire says. Antiperspirants contain aluminum components that spackle the sweat glands. That's great if you're about to conduct a presentation for work—less so when you're working out. "Wear deodorant during exercise," Pire says. "It will mask the odor but won't curtail the sweat."
6. Let It Motivate You
Okay, so maybe relishing your perspiration won't make you sweat more efficiently, but it may make you a more satisfied athlete. "Psychologically," says Ramani Durvasula, associate professor of psychology at California State University Los Angeles, "it's possible that if two men exert the same amount during a workout but one sweats more, Mr. Sweaty is going to feel like he worked harder." No doubt we feel a greater sense of accomplishment when our eyes are stinging with sweat because CrossFit or speed work has left us drenched. It could all be in our heads, Durvasula explains, but that may not matter: "The workout that leaves a person feeling confident will keep him coming back, and that's the only way you get healthy for life."
7. Eliminate the Odor
What goes in must come out, so if the food you eat smells, it's likely you will too. Garlic, onions, blue cheese, cabbage, vinegar, and red meat all add their scent to your otherwise clean sweat. But booze might be the worst—hence you can tell when the guy on the treadmill next to you is coming off a bender. Five to 10 percent of the alcohol you consume is secreted through your urine, breath, and, yes, foul-smelling sweat. And the stronger-smelling the drink, the more it will affect your sweat. So vodka drinkers will be in the clear, while beer will make your sweat the stinkiest. "It's the hops," says dermatologist Jeffrey S. Dover. Meanwhile, if your perspiration smells like ammonia, you could be experiencing ketosis, in which your body generates energy from the breakdown of fat rather than carbohydrates. During a workout, this can strain your kidneys and cause nausea. Be sure you include carbs in your recovery snack and meal.
Anatomy Of An Oversweater
Head and Face__
Your face, neck, and scalp are areas prone to gustatory sweating, the kind that happens shortly after ingesting food. Caffeine and spicy foods worsen this type of perspiration.
High-pressure power lunch? Order bland eats. Other treatments include antiperspirants (applied to your hairline or face) and localized Botox to paralyze sweat glands.
Anxiety, stress, high temperatures, and testosterone levels open these floodgates. But underarm glands also secrete proteins and fatty acids, which cause yellow stains.
Antiperspirant's aluminum is what blocks sweating; deodorant blocks only odor. When OTC options don't prevent pitting-out, you might need a prescription version or Botox.
If your groin can't breathe (because of too-tight underwear or synthetic fabrics), excess sweat builds up, causing a ring-shaped rash on the genitals, buttocks, and thighs.
Going commando or putting a dab of fragrance-free cornstarch powder in your shorts will keep you drier.
Hands and Feet
Stress can bring on sweaty palms and feet—where blisters can pop up. Otherwise, a malfunction in your nervous system may be telling your palms to overproduce.
Soak your hands in baking soda and water for 15 minutes three days in a row. Use an antiperspirant on your feet and stick to well-ventilated shoes (leather works well).
If your whole body is soaked, hyperhidrosis might be to blame. It's a genetic condition, but is also a symptom of anxiety disorders, spinal-cord injuries, and heart disease.
Treatments include clinical-strength antiperspirant, electric-shock therapy, Botox injections, and surgery in extreme cases.
Sauna vs. Steam Room vs. Sweat Lodge
Heat Index: 160 to 200 degrees, 5% to 30% humidity
How It Works: Infrared rays or stones warmed over a furnace or stove produce dry heat.
Session Length: Twenty minutes, max
Ick Factor: Low. Saunas are made of wood, because dry heat won't warp it. Less moisture means fewer germs.
What to Bring: A towel, to sit on
Body Benefit: Reduced post-workout muscle inflammation
Detox Effects: None
Risk Assessment: Low. Fit, hydrated bodies are usually fine, with a minimal risk of dehydration and overheating.
Heat Index: 110 to 114 degrees, 100% humidity
How It Works: Water warmed by heaters and converted to steam provides moist heat.
Session Length: Twenty minutes, max
Ick Factor: Medium. Metal, tile, or plastic benches, thanks to the moisture, breed bacteria.
What to Bring: An old bathing suit; high temps can ruin elasticity. Or go naked.
Body Benefits: Reduced muscle inflammation and help with congestion
Detox Effects: Nada
Risk Assessment: Medium. Humidity ups your risk of dehydration and overheating.
Heat Index: 102 to 106 degrees, varying humidity
How It Works: Water is poured over fire-warmed stones to generate steam.
Session Length: Purification ceremonies last several hours.
Ick Factor: High. You might be in a domed hut or covered hole. Beware of people vomiting from smoke inhalation.
What to Bring: Skip synthetic fibers and metal jewelry; they can get hot and burn the skin.
Body Benefit: Reduced muscle inflammation
Detox Effects: Nil
Risk Assessment: High. In 2009, three people died from heat-related illness after paying $9,695 each to experience an Arizona sweat lodge.