What Is Sweat? The Truth About Sweat and Exercise

What Is Sweat? The Truth About Sweat and Exercise

What most people already know is that sweating is our body’s way of cooling itself down during a workout or intense physical activity, or even a super stressful situation. So obviously, sweating while exercising is very normal. 

But for some, sweating can feel excessive and can lead to not-so-pleasant odors or stains on clothes. So let’s learn more about what sweat actually is and answer common questions about sweaty workouts.   

Table of Contents:

What is sweat?

Like everything that has to do with our bodies, there’s a chemical makeup of sweat – it is made up mainly of water (H₂0) and salt (Na+), and contains sodium, potassium, and chloride ions.(1)

Sweat is directly related to changes to the electrolyte balance in the body.(2) This is why adequate hydration is extremely important, so your body has the means to cool itself down.

If you are dehydrated going into a workout — which means you did not drink enough beforehand — your body will not be able to cool itself down or regulate its core temperature properly. The same goes for replenishing lost fluid after an intense workout.

If you do not compensate for your sweat loss with proper fluid intake, especially for those who are engaging in intense physical activity, a hypohydration state can occur as well as an overall increase in core body temperature.(3)

Remember, sweat is water and salt, so you’ll want to properly hydrate of course, with water as well as homemade electrolyte drinks or mindfully incorporating a bit of salt into your meals.

Where does sweat come from?

Sweat actually comes from two different types of sweat glands in the body. 

  • The eccrine glands are the ones responsible for cooling down the body when our body temperature rises. They are found all over the body and open directly on the surface of the skin, which then allows the sweat to evaporate, causing this cooling effect.
  • Apocrine sweat glands, on the other hand, are found under the arms and in the groin area — areas where there are generally more concentrated hair follicles. These sweat glands are also triggered by increased body temperature but are mostly activated during times of stress, anxiety, or hormonal fluctuations. This sweat is a bit milkier and mixes with the bacteria on the skin, which creates the not-so-pleasant body odor.

Why am I sweating so much? 

The amount that you sweat also depends on your weight, sex, fitness level, age, where you live (climate), and even your genetics. Scientifically speaking, sweating is a complex physiological response to activity, temperature, plasma volume, and sweat rate.(3) 

Sweating a lot during exercise

Sweating during physical activity is completely normal, but the amount you sweat can depend on your fitness levels and overall physique. An overweight person is going to sweat more easily because the amount of energy needed to execute a particular activity is going to be higher. 

Additionally, a fitter person who works out regularly will begin to sweat faster than a not-so-fit person because the body is smart and is already prepared to sweat to cool itself down while training.

Did you know

One study found that a person who is perspiring from running has a higher level of electrolytes in their sweat than a person who is inactively sweating in a sauna. This means that even the chemical makeup of the sweat that is produced depends on the cause for the perspiration.(4)

Sweating in the summer

You may have noticed that you break a sweat faster and sweat more when you exercise in the summer. This is completely normal — your body has to adjust to the heat and cool itself down more. So, in this case, more sweat is a positive reaction from your body.

Sweating in the sauna

Another common place many people find themselves sweating a lot is in the sauna. A trip to the sauna is usually intended to get sweaty and burn calories while relaxing. But do you actually burn calories from sweating? We will answer this, and many other frequently asked questions in our Sweat 101 section below.  

How to prepare for a sweaty workout:

1. Drink Enough

Most people walk around chronically dehydrated! Be sure that you’re drinking enough water every day. This calculator will help you find out how much you should be drinking:

And by the way, you should be drinking water even when you are not thirsty! The feeling of thirst is actually your body crying for help, not an initial signal. If you’re not sure whether you’re drinking enough, see if any of these 9 signs of dehydration apply to you.

2. Remove cosmetics beforehand

If you want to really sweat, then wash off any makeup or lotions you may have put on throughout the day. Why? These can block the pores and prevent your body from cooling itself down. 

Blocked pores (especially on the face) during exercise can also increase blemishes. Wash it off quickly beforehand if you have time.

3. Wear the right workout clothes

The most important thing to think about when choosing workout clothes is breathability. You’ll be happier training in moisture-wicking and breathable materials.

Looking for an extra sweaty workout? Try this intense Wakanda Forever Workout on the adidas Training app. 

Sweat 101: The questions everyone asks

1. Why do I sweat so much from my face and head when I exercise?

Sweating from the face and head is quite common and is simply a result of overstimulated eccrine glands. There are factors outside of exercise that can also result in a sweaty face and head, including

  • certain medications
  • anxiety
  • spicy foods
  • hyperthyroidism
  • menopause 
  • substance abuse

2. How much should I sweat when I work out?

This is the golden question without a golden answer. Because simply put, nobody is the same so while one person may sweat a lot during an intense workout, another might not at all during the same workout. 

As we stated earlier, hydration also plays a role in how much we sweat, as well as fitness level, age, climate, skin, gender, etc. 

If you are concerned that you’re not sweating enough during exercise, try a heart-rate monitor to better gauge your fitness level and intensity of the workout. 

3. Does sweating during exercise burn calories?

Exercise burns calories, and sweating can be a result of exercising as it helps to cool the body down. But like we said before, not everyone sweats during exercise, while some sweat excessively during exercise. So the amount of sweat doesn’t always align with the intensity of the workout.

However, sitting in the sauna can burn calories as the high temperatures cause your heart rate to increase. But if you’re looking to lose weight, this is not a very effective way as you will likely only lose water weight from sweating and put it back on when you rehydrate.

Remember, activity is what burns calories. No matter how much or how little you sweat.

4. Is it unhealthy not to sweat during exercise?

As we’ve said before, everyone is different – from genetic makeup to how many sweat glands you have, no one is the same. So if you don’t sweat as much as someone else, that’s not to say there is a problem. It might just be that you have fewer sweat glands.

But what is unhealthy is if your body is unable to cool itself down, leading to heatstroke, heat exhaustion, or heat cramps. If your body is not able to cool down internally, you may have a medical condition like anhidrosis or hypohidrosis, and in that case, you need to seek medical advice.

Some final words

So now you know that the amount you sweat doesn’t only depend on the intensity of your workout but also on other factors. If you provide the right conditions and hydration for your body to sweat in a healthy way, it can cool down efficiently so that there’s nothing stopping you from embracing your sweaty workouts. 

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