Myth: Unfit people sweat more

Many assume that sweating is a sign of exertion, failure to respond to exercise, or lack of fitness. In fact, it’s the exact opposite – what’s concerning is NOT sweating.

Sweating is our response to any physical demand – it says “Hey, this is hard, but it’s all good because I know how to deal with it!”FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships - Day 5

At rest, your metabolic rate (how fast your body uses energy, which produces heat) is low. You aren’t doing much and your body can easily get rid of heat. However, start movin’ and groovin’ and your metabolic rate spikes. You’re burnin’ more energy! …and it’s going to take more than radiation to get all this heat out of your body. You need to cool down fast!

While you can handle the heat, your body isn’t having it. You are forced to switch gears and rely on cooling down (thermoregulation) a bit differently than before – evaporation (1).

In other words, sweating.

Now, each individual responds differently. Training adaptations and fitness are both factors in the sufficiency of sweating mechanisms, and subsequent need for fluid replacement. However, one thing’s for sure – with some training, an athlete achieves a better maintenance of body temperature (2).

This is at the expense of an increased sweat rate.

Remember: More sweat, more evaporative heat loss (this is the way we get rid of heat when exercising or else we would burn up). Our first adaptation to exercise is to sweat sooner (3). We are forced to become more efficient, and as a result improve thermoregulation.

Faster sweat →  more sweat →  more sweat on your skin that can’t evaporate → and more sweat that drips wastefully from the skin…as you notice Sweat tenniswhen exercising (4).

While this isn’t pretty, it’s a more efficient adaptation. We are always looking for ways to do everything better and faster. If sweating and burning energy is what it takes for me to work out stronger and not feel sick, I’ll take it!

What this really means is that fit people are just more efficient sweaters (5). In most cases, our body’s first physiological response to being more efficient is to sweat more. As always, this varies person to person – some will respond in other ways.

In some cases, you will have people who sweat a ton but are extremely inefficient. Regardless, if you are sweating you are doing something right. So next time you leave the gym looking like you just hopped out of the pool, give yourself a pat on the back and rock it!

Look out for Part 2 of this series next week to see what happens when we start to heat things up!

References

  1. Thermoregulation during exercise in the heat: strategies for maintaining health and performance. Daniël Wendt, Luc J. C. van Loon, Wouter D. van Marken Lichtenbelt.Sports Med. 2007; 37(8): 669–682.
  2. Long Distance Runners Present Upregulated Sweating Responses than Sedentary CounterpartsLee, J.-B., Kim, T.-W., Min, Y.-K., & Yang, H.-M. (2014). PLoS ONE, 9(4), e93976. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093976
  3. Sex differences in the effects of physical training on sweat gland responses during a graded exercise.Ichinose-Kuwahara T1, Inoue Y, Iseki Y, Hara S, Ogura Y, Kondo N. Exp Physiol. 2010 Oct;95(10):1026-32. doi: 10.1113/expphysiol.2010.053710. Epub 2010 Aug 9.
  4. American College of Sports Medicine (1996). Position Stand on Exercise and Fluid Replacement. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 28(1): i–vii.
    Control of skin circulation during exercise and heat stress. M. F. Roberts, C. B. Wenger. Med Sci Sports. 1979 Spring; 11(1): 36–41.

Written by Amanda Presgraves