You're Absolutely Sweating More in the Sauna, But is it Helping You Lose Weight?
People love to sweat. Sweating at the gym shows a good workout, heated yoga proves beneficial for your muscles, and research suggests that going to the sauna after a workout can help you relax and is great for your cardiovascular health.
We talked to James Shapiro, MS, CES, PES, and Jim White, RD, ACSM EX-P, the owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios to find out exactly how the sauna benefits your health. Read on, reader, to know what they had to say.
Is It Better To Go In The Sauna Before Or After A Workout?
Although stepping into the sauna before running on the treadmill or lifting weights sounds temping, there is an order to follow when using the sauna to optimize its benefits.
“Use a sauna post-workout to relax you,” Shapiro advises. “Going in before a workout will start sending the wrong physiological messages.”
Since saunas physically and psychologically relax you, it doesn’t make sense to sit in the heated room before you pump iron.
What Are The Benefits Of A Sauna After A Workout?
Do you often get muscle soreness following a hard gym session? Sitting in the sauna may help with that.
“Going to the sauna shortly after a workout can be an active strategy for recovery,” Shapiro says. “The increase in skin surface temperature increases sweat rate, dilates blood vessels, and increases blood flow: critical to introducing nutrients to areas that are entering the repair mode post-workout.”
Although Shapiro believes that these benefits may only benefit weightlifters, White notes that recent research suggests that saunas can also benefit aerobic athletes, such as tennis players.
But even if you’re not concerned about easing aching muscles, there are advantages to regular sauna sessions.
Does the Sauna Help You With Weight Loss?
You’re probably wondering about weight loss and if the sauna can help you shed pounds, but the reality is that it can’t help with your longterm body composition goals.
“It’s a common misconception that saunas can help [with weight loss],” Shapiro says.“Your sweat rate isn’t correlated directly with energy expenditure; rather, it’s a regulatory response to prevent your body from overheating.”
You might notice a slight difference when you step on the scale after enjoying a sauna session, but that’s just temporary water weight.
Does the type of Sauna matter?
Although some sauna time is better than none, there are more beneficial types of heat for recovery. White explains the three types of saunas that might be available to you:
Dry heat saunas
- Have around 10-20 percent humidity, which is often regulated using hot rocks, but the source of head is wood or electric, says White.
Wet heat saunas
- Are those in which 100-percent of the heat comes from humidity, says Shapiro. Think: steam.
- “Create heat out of light, and the way this light works is to heat the inside of your body directly instead of the surrounding room,” Shapiro explains.
You may think that infrared saunas sound nerve-wracking, but they are no more dangerous than other types of sauna. Think of it like the sun warming your body on a cold, winter day—your body warms up, but the air around you remains cool. Dry heat and wet heat saunas are more common in gyms, but many modern facilities also offer the infrared variety.“I would recommend infrared over dry heat any day of the week, but would also favor dry heat over wet heat,” Shapiro says. In the end, the best choice for you is the one that you enjoy, as that’s the one you’re most likely to use consistently enough to reap rewards.
How Long Should You Stay In A Sauna After A Workout?
White notes that “there is not much research showing longer verses shorter-time sitting in the sauna after a workout.” Instead, this number is based on each person’s comfort.
Hydration plays a key role in how long you should sit in a sauna, too. Avoid headaches and other signs of dehydration and fatigue by drinking plenty of water before hitting up the sauna.
“My recommendations post-workout would be to stay between five and 15 minutes depending on your hydration, exhaustion levels, [and sauna type],” says Shapiro.
So focus less on the length of time you’re there and more on building the habit into your routine because, as White adds, “no matter the amount of time soaking in a sauna, you can get beneficial effects from it.”