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The Sweatiest Thing

By Joe Wilkes
From the Million Dollar Body Club - Join Today and Workout to Win!

SweatingPerspiration, or sweating, is an important and unavoidable part of any decent workout. In fact, you'll find plenty of workout titles that contain the word "sweat." So why are we trying to make you sweat so much and what does sweat do for us anyway? Why is it that some of us sweat more than others and what can we do to lessen sweat's smelly sidekick, body odor?

A tale of two glands

The human body contains about 2.8 million sweat glands, a complex subcutaneous misting system that operates all day, all night, over almost every inch of your body, to help keep you cool. Even if you think you're not sweating, you are—the amount of fluid is just so small that it evaporates almost immediately.

Sweating Shaun TThere are two general types of sweat glands: eccrine glands and apocrine glands. The eccrine glands are the most common ones. They excrete water with a little bit of sodium pretty much any place you have skin. This is the sweat on your palms, your feet, and your face, and the sweat that pours out in buckets after a good workout. The apocrine glands are located primarily under your arms and in the genital area. In addition to water and saline, the apocrine glands also excrete small amounts of fat and protein. This is what turns the armpits of your T-shirts yellow. (There is also a third type of sweat gland, the ceruminous gland, that produces ear wax, and is located in, duh, your ear).

Sweat itself is odorless—it's the bacteria on your skin that causes body odor. When fat and protein are excreted by the apocrine glands, they are metabolized by the bacteria, creating that unpleasant, all-too-familiar odor. Our apocrine glands don't usually get fired up until adolescence, which explains why little kids can run around and get all sweaty without smelling much worse. It's also why teenagers and adults can benefit from antiperspirants and deodorants, while they don't do anything for children.

It's getting hot in here . . .

There are three basic reasons we sweat: it's hot out, our nervous system is in overdrive, or we've just created extra body heat through muscle exertion. You can probably guess which one is preferable.

  1. SunBaby, it's hot outside. It's actually the process of evaporation that causes sweat to cool our skin, not the sweat itself. That's why when we're someplace with a 100-degree dry heat, we may feel cooler than someplace that's 85 degrees with 90 percent humidity. When the air is so saturated with water that it can't absorb moisture from our body, we just end up being hot and wet. Whereas in dry heat, we get the millions of cooling evaporation reactions all over our body, and thus, we're more comfortable. It's important to remember to replenish your fluids when you're outside in the heat. Even if you're not sweating puddles, the heat may be sucking the water out of your body without you noticing. So, it's always good to have a bottle of water handy on a hot day. Here are "10 Reasons Why You Need to Drink Water."

  2. Richard NixonIs it hot in here, or is it just me? It might just be you. There are a lot of neurological reasons that excessive sweating, or diaphoresis, can occur unrelated to the temperature outside or your level of physical activity. For example, that meth addict sweating at the bus stop probably didn't just get back from a brisk jog. Certain substances like drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine can cause sweating, as can the withdrawal of the same. More innocent foods, especially of the spicy or garlicky variety, can also kick your glands into gear. Then there's flop sweat, as immortalized by Albert Brooks in Broadcast News and Richard Nixon in his infamous 1960 presidential debate. Flop sweat happens because sometimes it's just enough for the heat to be "metaphorically" on. Your sweat glands can overreact to fear in the same way that your heart beats more rapidly and your breathing increases when confronted with stress. This is why measuring increases in sweat production is a main component in lie detection. Underlying medical conditions can also cause sweating for no apparent reason.

  3. Workout DrinkingThe sweetest sweat. But the best sweat is the sweat you make the old-fashioned way . . . you burn it. When you exert your muscles, your body heats up and burns calories, and your sweat glands kick in to help put out the fire. If you aren't sweating more than usual, you probably aren't getting the most out of your workout. How much should you be sweating and how much is too much? The answer to that varies wildly from person to person. The amount we sweat can be affected by diet, medications, emotions, and genetics. The important thing is that you're sweating more than usual. That means your body's kicked it into a higher gear and results should be forthcoming. You can sweat out up to a liter of fluid at a time, so it's important to hydrate with water before and after a workout—and during it, too, if it's a long one.

Getting sweaty, not smelly

SmellingSweating during exercise can refresh, invigorate, and detoxify, as well as potentially cause extreme olfactory discomfort for the people in your general vicinity. The good news is that sweat itself is odorless. It's essentially just water and salt. The sweat from the apocrine glands in the armpits and genital area adds a little extra fat and protein to the mix, which the bacteria on your skin will metabolize, creating a less-than-refreshing aroma. So once your workout's over, the clock is ticking. It's a race against time between you and the bacteria on your skin. The sooner you hit the showers after a workout, the better chance you have of not leaving a malodorous scent in your wake. Deodorants can help mask the scent and antiperspirants contain aluminum compounds that can cause your sweat glands to close, but they really only make about a 20- to 30-percent difference. Also, contrary to some rumors, antiperspirants are generally considered safe.

Pay attention to the smells that are coming out of your body, though. They could be telling you something. For instance, if your sweat smells of ammonia during a long workout, it is likely due to your muscles breaking down, which generally means you are under-fueled. An ammonia smell could also be an indication of liver or kidney disease. And if your sweat has a sweet, fruity smell, it could be a symptom of diabetes. It might be worth reporting any change in body odor to your physician, as well as any change in the amount you sweat or when you sweat. For example, if you experience night sweats, cold sweats, or excessive sweating for no reason, your body might be sending you a message to get medical attention.

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I am a full time Beachbody Coach. I motivate and guide close to 2,500 Club members and head a team of 11 Beachbody Coaches who are all committed to helping you reach your goals. Before joining BeachBody, I was a certified personal trainer for more than a dozen years and have been a running coach for over 20 years. Continued...

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