Does Sweating More Mean You’re More Fit?

triathlete_female

 

I’m relatively new to triathlon and to serious training. Over the past several months I’ve been making steady progress, and recently I’ve noticed that I’ve started sweating more. The conditions (temp and humidity) are about the same as they’ve been, but I’m sweating a lot more. Does that mean I’m getting more fit?

 - Jackie Gallagher, training for my first Ironman!

Jackie,

The short answer to your question, assuming that the environmental conditions have been roughly constant, is yes. Improving fitness impacts the way your body works in a wide variety of ways, and your sweat response to exercise changes as you become more fit because you’re increasing the workload your body has to be able to handle.


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Sweat is one of your body’s primary means of preventing your core temperature from rising to dangerous levels. During exercise, the majority of the calories you burn actually generate heat instead of powering forward motion (sorry, but that’s just the way it is). In fact, on the bike you are only about 20-25% efficient, meaning 75% of the energy you produce becomes heat. That heat has to be dissipated, so your body dilates blood vessels near the skin to carry some of that heat away from your core to areas where cooler air flowing over the skin can carry away some of the heat. Sweat makes the cooling process work even better, because as sweat evaporates off your skin it takes a lot of heat with it.

As you become more fit, you are able to work harder. You generate more power on the bike and maintain a faster pace on the run and in the water. But the ability to work harder also means you have the ability to generate a lot of heat in a very short period of time. You also have the endurance to sustain exercise longer, meaning you have the capacity to generate heat for a longer period of time. Your body has to adapt to these demands in order to keep your core temperature stable. Here are a couple of ways it does that:

  1. You start sweating sooner: Your body’s sweat response gets quicker as you gain fitness. This means you’ll see sweat appearing on your skin sooner after you start exercising than you did when you were a novice. These days, when you start warming up your body knows what’s coming next, so it ramps up the cooling process more quickly to stay ahead of the rise in core temperature.
  2. Your sweat volume increases: When the house is on fire, you open up the spigots and get as much water on it as you can. For the fire within, we don’t want to extinguish it but we need to control it, and the more sweat you get onto your skin the more likely you are to be able to keep core temperature from rising out of control. So your body becomes better at creating sweat.
  3. You lose fewer electrolytes per unit volume: As your body is adapting to sweat more and sooner, it also changes the composition of sweat so that you retain more electrolytes than you used to. You’ll still need to replenish electrolytes during exercise, but this adaptation helps to keep the electrolyte requirement manageable.

Fit athletes sweat more because they need to. They generate more heat and have to produce more sweat in order to maximize their evaporative cooling capacity. That means fit athletes have to consume more fluid so you have more to contribute to sweat. But sometimes sweating isn’t enough, or sweat might be enough to keep you moving but you could optimize your performance by helping your body stay cool. That’s where hydration, apparel choices, ice socks/vests, cold sponges, etc. come into play. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. Hydration is your source for sweat: The better you hydrate – during exercise as well as throughout the day – the more efficient your body will be when it comes to sweat production. Remember, when there’s not enough fluid to go around, your body starts an internal competition for resources, and all systems experience diminished performance. You don’t absorb and digest food as well, your muscles don’t function as well, and you don’t regulate core temperature as well.
  2. Evaporative cooling works just as well whether it’s your sweat or bottled/tap water that’s evaporating off your skin. Even if you’re well hydrated, it’s a good idea to dump water over your head and body during training sessions and races in hot weather. You’ll make your body’s job a bit easier by slightly alleviating the demand for sweat. Ice socks work the same way; the ice absorbs heat from your body to melt the ice, and then the water carries away additional heat as it evaporates out of clothing or off your skin.
  3. Electrolyte drinks or carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks should be a part of during-exercise nutrition strategy whenever your workouts are going to be longer than 1 hour. For workouts shorter than an hour, electrolyte drinks may still be somewhat helpful, but generally you’ll start short workouts with enough carbohydrates and electrolytes on board to complete a high-quality one-hour session.

18 Responses to “Does Sweating More Mean You’re More Fit?”

  1. Aaron on

    great article; I was just looking into this a couple weeks ago when a coworker and I were talking about it.
    A related/followup question I had was what the correlation is between sweat and gender? Besides that I sweat WAY more now than I used to, Ive also noticed how much more guys sweat than girls (well, more than they ‘glow’ anyway).
    What is the reason for this?

    Reply
  2. ozseppo on

    As a mailman/triathlete, I notice I come back absolutely drenched, compared to everyone else. I seem to start sweating IN ANTICIPATION, of motion.

    Reply
  3. AustinM on

    I was wondering about that. I’m a 10 year kidney transplant recipient/survivor and have been cycling since 3 months post surgery (2001). This past Winter, I noticed that I was sweating a lot more than just about everyone in my spin classes. Thought it could be because of the medicine I take, and the high blood pressure/cholesterol. Thanks for the good read/explanation.

    Reply
    • CTS on

      Medical conditions like an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can lead to excessive sweating, so if there has been a significant change in how you’re sweating without a similarly significant change in fitness or activity level, you may want to consult a physician. – Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach

      Reply
  4. Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal on

    So does this mean that as you get fitter you should assume that you should wear less in cold weather races than you wore before? I feel chilly in what I wear but still manage to sweat like crazy…..Thanks for the informative article!

    Reply
    • CTS on

      You can certainly try training or competing in lighter layers and see what happens. Overdressing in cool to cold weather can be problematic because the athlete sweats a great deal, and then that accumulated sweat cools them more than they anticipated or wanted. It happens a lot when you run/ride with a tailwind (sweat builds up on your front and doesn’t evaporate off your back as well, either, because of reduced airflow) or up a long hill (you’re moving slowly, so there’s less airflow). When you turn into a headwind or head back downhill at higher speed, the increased airflow evaporates the accumulated sweat quickly and you feel chilled. This is why layers can be important, so you can remove layers to avoid overheating and then add layers to avoid too much cooling. – Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach

      Reply
  5. sweating on

    Some cases the environmental condition is cause of sweat and those people are exercise and body temperature is high and sweating help to control body temperature and so on. whenever you are wear tight cloths then sweating problem is creates.

    Reply
  6. PorterSl on

    83 entradas lanzadas, ​​anterior una especie de ritmo alto de su carrera y segundo artículo su / su largo década pocos años años. Son ejecutar a pesar abrumadoras frustrantes Equipo – Aceleración principalmente – en relación con que previamente antes. K-Rod probablemente trabajar usted ugg online españa

    Reply
  7. Arnab Roy Choudhury on

    Thank you for this informative article. For the people who sweat a lot and cannot use antiperspirant deodorants, can you recommend a much natural way to reduce it?

    Reply
  8. Ron on

    I have heard some people say you should not wipe sweat off your body when training because that will interfere with the evaporation process and result in the need for more fluids. Is there any truth to this statement?

    Reply
    • CTS on

      Theoretically, yes, wiping sweat off the body would remove the fluid before it evaporates, and main benefit of sweat is evaporative cooling. However, you’re sweating all over your body and probably only wiping sweat off a small percentage of your skin (like your face). As such, I wouldn’t worry about it. Keep in mind, that even wiping sweat off the body, having sweat drip off the body, or having fabric transport fluid away from your skin still dissipates heat, which is the primary goal. – Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach

      Reply
  9. Bill Arnerich on

    Another informative article with interesting responses. Sometimes I seem to have an opposite problem: I don’t sweat enough, even on hot days and, frustratingly, even in the “heat” of competition. There are times when, even after a good workout, the top of my head will be somewhat moist but my forehead will be dry as a bone. I’ve never been able to account for this. In some of my races I will sweat “normally”; in others hardly at all. It’s frustrating when I overheat because I feel I have to back off my optimal race pace by 5 to 10% just to keep going. Any thoughts about this?

    Reply
    • CTS on

      There is something called anhidrosis, which can be caused by a wide variety of situations, conditions, and medications. There’s an article on it here: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266427.php (link is red on a red background, which is a design flaw for the site template. Hover over the blank space and it’s there…). It’s probably more likely that your sweat response to exercise is changing based on your hydration status. If you start out already somewhat low on fluids (which many athletes do), then your sweat response will be diminished. Also, the environment makes a difference. In very dry climates you may not notice moisture on the skin very much, whereas in humid environments you’ll see sweat all over your skin. – Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach

      Reply

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