I tend to associate the amount of sweat I'm drenched in at the end of a workout with how intense it was. But is how much you sweat actually the best measure of how effective your workout is? And, in turn, does sweating more help you lose weight? We weren't sure, so we spoke with Meghan Nagel, the manager of fitness programming at Virtual Health Partners, and Becky Kerkenbush, MS, RD-AP, CSG, a media representative for the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to see what they had to say.
If you sweat more, does that mean a workout is more effective?
"Sweating isn't the best measure of workout effectiveness," Nagel said. "Sweating is simply the body's cooling mechanism, and everyone's internal air conditioners work a bit differently. Some people end up red-faced and dripping in sweat after a brisk walk, while others look cool as a cucumber after their 5 a.m. bootcamp class!" I, for one, definitely fall into the former camp — I immediately start sweating during the warmup portion of a fitness class.
What about infrared saunas and hot yoga?
Our experts said that, yes, these can help with weight loss, but you should proceed with caution. "Exercising in the heat can help you burn more calories, as your body is working hard to cool itself, but it can easily lead to dehydration," Nagel said. "If sitting in a sauna or sweating it out in Bikram yoga is your thing, make sure to drink water before, during, and after your sweat session."
If you're working out outside in the summertime, she recommends upping the intensity of your workouts gradually, as it takes around seven to 10 days to acclimate to the heat. "Wear well-ventilated clothing, pay attention to the heat index, drink lots of water (adding an electrolyte mix, if exercising longer than 60 minutes), and have fun," she said.
What if I weigh a little less after sweating?
"Weight loss through sweating is achieved because of water loss," said Kerkenbush. "True weight loss would be reduction of body fat by expending more calories than [you're] taking in, usually by a combination of proper nutrition and exercise," she explained. Since sweating is the body's cooling mechanism, she said that excessive sweating isn't really going to help you lose weight in the long run. "Safe weight loss is around a half a pound to two pounds per week," she added.
In other words, getting super sweaty during your workouts isn't necessarily going to help you lose weight. "Instead of focusing on sweat, try boosting your workout with some high-intensity bursts of cardio, picking up heavier weights, or simply taking your workout outdoors. Research shows that the varied terrain and wind resistance outdoors can help you burn more calories," Nagel said.