Nothing beats that feeling of finishing a workout drenched in sweat — a sign of an intense workout and pushing your body to the max. But, have you ever wondered if there is any link between sweating and weight-loss? More specifically, does sweating indicate we are losing fat or are we just losing water weight in our body’s bid to keep up cool, as we crank the heart-rate up in a workout? While there are those, who break a sweat as soon as the warm-up starts there are also those out there who don’t, and what does that mean for them?
Though sweat is one of many indicators that your metabolism shifting into fat-burning mode, it’s not the only one. Also, your scale isn’t always a reliable measure of progress nor one of sustainable weight-loss success as your scales won’t tell you what type of weight you are losing. Remember, losing weight is one thing, but losing fat is another.
Sweating and weight-loss, what’s the deal?
Of course, there is indeed a link between sweating and weight-loss. When you sweat in the short term you’re probably losing water-weight rather than fat. When you perspire, your body predominantly sweats out water through your pores to cool you down and maintain your core temperature. As water is weighty, it’s normal to notice the number on the scale sinking after a hot and sweaty workout session.
However, this will happen anyway even if you don’t workout and sweat because you happen to be hot — this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re burning calories. Relaxing in a sauna or sunbathing at the beach on a warm, sunny day will also result in losing water weight as you perspire to cool down. Now before you hit the sauna to sweat it out, know that this water weight will return as soon as you go about your daily routine, drink water, eat a meal, etc.
Observing both sweating and weight-loss doesn’t automatically mean that you’re losing body fat. Moreover, your body doesn’t need to work that hard (i.e. burn calories) to sweat, but on the other side of the temperature regulation spectrum, it will use up a lot of calories to keep you warm when it’s cold, even if you aren’t doing anything e.g. when your body shivers.
Not sweating after a workout, should I be worried?
Not at all. We touched on the importance of sweating, as it allows our body to thermoregulate and maintain a steady internal temperature. Evaporative heat loss, that’s science speak for sweating during exercise or exposure to hot environments, is possible thanks to our eccrine glands. Distributed over nearly our entire body the number of these sweat glands can vary greatly, ranging from 1.5 to 4 million. As each person’s body is different, some people will have bigger and more sweat glands while others will have smaller ones and fewer of them. The result is some people perspire more and quicker than others.
Our sweat response when exercising involves a wide range of factors such as resting skin or core temperature and non-thermal factors, like how our brain perceives temperature via special receptors. These receptors all have the ability to modulate your sweat rate. Perspiration is individual and rooted in your physical workload and how hot or cold your environment may be.
That being said, there is a link between the amount of sweat and exercise intensity. The more intense the physical activity is, the more you should sweat. So the answer here is also yes — you should sweat at least a little during or after an intense workout.
I’m sweating a lot during and after a workout, is that ok?
Just how much you sweat is influenced by how long you train and how hot the environment you train in is — think of Hot Yoga for example. If you train intensely for less than 30 minutes in a well-ventilated gym, then it’s normal to expect a small amount of sweat. But, if you take part in a 10km marathon in the middle of a hot summer’s day, you should expect to sweat way more.
Though your body thermoregulates automatically on its own, there are a few things you can do to help support body to avoid overheating:
- Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water distributed evenly throughout the day.
- Wear breathable clothes: Train in comfortable apparel that is light, and airy when you train and are in warmer settings.
- Keep skin exposed to air: This will help you wick away sweat more easily.
- Choose ventilated places: When you train, do it in a cool, well-ventilated environment, and avoid training in direct sunlight.
When you think about losing weight, be it water-weight or fat-loss, the thought of losing something of any kind is a little counterproductive and has a negative connotation. As our brain is programmed to respond to gain over loss, you probably want to reframe the way you think about physical activity in a more positive light. Tell yourself that your post-workout sweat-soaked body is evidence of a hard workout where you are gaining confidence, getting stronger and finally feeling happier! Shift your focus away from losing weight to improving your long-term health and quality of life.