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Why Do I need to sweat when I workout?

February 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Short Answer:
Sweat is an indicator. Sweat is produced when the body needs to cool down from heating up too much. Except for when it’s hot outside the increased heat is from heat lost in metabolic reactions (i.e. your body working, breaking down fats and sugars). Sweat is used to cool the body down.

Short Scientific Answer:
Sweat is an indicator for increased metabolic activity through increased heat loss, increased body temperature and an increased negative feedback control to decrease the body temperature back to normal, homeostasis, 37 °C.

Long Answer:
“Why do P.E. teachers, coaches, personal trainers, etc always know that I’m not working hard enough during a workout?” And why do they always want you to sweat or heat up? Sweat is an indirect indication for increased metabolic activity in the body. What exactly does that mean? Metabolic activity refers to the breaking down and building up of fats, sugars, and proteins in your body. It’s a term that accounts for the sum of everything going on in your body. [I previously did a post on What is Metabolism? that you might want to take a look at.] Average metabolic activity or average activity has things breaking down and building up normally, this is called your basal metabolic rate and it stays around the normal temperature that you’re used to (37 °C or 98.7°F). It won’t increase the body to higher temperatures because they are uncomfortable and unsuitable / dangerous if all the time.

Let’s say you go to the gym, get on the treadmill and walk five miles. Your body is still going to increase its metabolism because it needs to break down a lot of sugar and fat to give your body the energy it needs to keep walking the five miles. But, most people want the most for their buck when they go to the gym, they want to workout the least they possibly can for the most benefits, as do I. Now, let’s say you do interval training where you run / jog ten miles in the same amount of time. Your body is going to have to work even harder, you’re going to increase your metabolism, this is going to increase your body temperature, because your body temperature is increased your body is going to do things to decrease your body temperature, i.e. sweating.

How does your body produce heat from metabolism? Your body produces heat from metabolism because metabolism consists of anabolism and catabolism, building things up and breaking things down, respectively. Anabolism and catabolism are words that refer to chemical reactions in your body. Chemical reactions occur in many of the things we use daily. Consider a laptop with a good battery, most of the time the laptop doesn’t get that hot. This is because the battery is efficient, the battery is able to create chemical reactions that don’t have a lot of heat loss. Heat loss meaning that the reaction gives off heat and will increase the temperature of the device, for example the laptop will get hotter if there is more heat loss. The laptop will cool down a bit if there is less heat loss. And what do we do to decrease the heat on a laptop? A fan (or a cooling system). A confusing example but it works, an efficient laptop is like a light, non-intense workout. An efficient laptop creates chemical reactions that don’t heat up the laptop so much that it is overwhelmingly hot, this also means that the fan (or cooling system) doesn’t have to work as hard.

Now, let’s say that you have a less efficient battery on the laptop. What normally happens when you have a laptop for a long time? The laptop heats up really quick, the fan is roaring to keep the laptop as cold as it can. To anthropomorphize the laptop, it’s working hard. The laptop is working so hard that the laptop is getting really hot (due to heat loss from chemical reactions) and the fan has to work even harder to keep the laptop cool. This would be comparable to a harder, intense workout. Your breaking down so many sugars and fats to give the body energy, that there is a lot more heat loss from all those reactions. Because there is a lot more heat loss, your body gets hotter, your body temperature increases. You start to get red, you feel warm, and depending on how hard your working you’re probably huffing and puffing; however, the best indicator would be sweating. Your body temperature is so high that the body needs to figure out something to do to cool the body down just like the fan in the laptop. Your body cools you down or decreases the temperature with sweat (the cooling system). The harder you’re working your body, the higher the temperature goes, the more sweat you will produce. A guy at the gym who has no sweat on his t-shirt isn’t working has hard as the guy who has a pool of sweat all over his shirt.

You could very well get away with not sweating while you’re working out but your body is not working as hard as you probably want it to be, you want to get the most for your buck. Because getting the most for your buck in this case, means that your breaking down fat and building muscle, or toning muscle and your doing that to a better degree than you would be if you weren’t sweating. Or to put it more simply, your losing weight faster.

This of course isn’t always foolproof because your body temperature can increase without working out, just on a hot day and your body won’t be working any harder per say. But, if you get a feel for how much you normally sweat without working out you might be able to gauge when it’s from working out. Most gyms are cooled, and as long as it’s not 5 o’clock when your there (too many people), odds are most of the sweat you’re producing is from working out.

To wrap it up, you need to sweat during a workout because it’s a great indicator for getting the most for your buck when working out. Your body is going to breaking down sugars and fats at a rate that is much faster than if you weren’t sweating during a workout. This breaking down is going to create heat loss that will increase your body temperature and sweat will be produced to decease body temperature. The body is working harder and your losing fat and gaining muscle at a faster pace.

[Disclaimer: this is just the basics of sweating and doesn’t include other factors that are involved. This does not mean that if you sweat for hours you will lose weight. The body likes stress and increased heat but not for long periods of time, don’t go crazy with it. I am not a licensed clinician and I am not a registered dietician but I know a few things from my biology courses.]

Categories: Helpful, Uncategorized
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