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Sweating: Unpleasant but important


Sweaty palms, wet shirts, slippery exercise mats: if you do Freeletics, you’re gonna sweat. After all, the purpose of high intensity training is to drive various body systems, including body temperature and pulse, to a high level. But why do we actually sweat? And is sweating during exercise different from the sweat triggered by nerves? Let’s find out.

What is sweat?

Sweating is a natural response of our body to different situations such as heat, effort, anxiety, or stress. Depending on the cause of our stress, different types of sweat glands are activated and start to produce and secrete that which we call sweat. 99% of the shimmering liquid we can see consists of water. The rest is made up of electrolytes, amino acids, urea and lactic acid.

Sweating - our natural air conditioning

Sweat is your body‘s natural air-conditioning: during physical activity, different processes in your body are accelerated and your body temperature rises. In order to protect itself from overheating, your body starts to cover your skin with sweat. As the liquid evaporates, your skin cools down and your body temperature gets regulated.

Do athletes sweat differently?

How much you sweat depends on two things: your genes and your fitness level. While your genes determine the number of sweat glands in your body, your fitness level determines how efficiently you sweat. With every workout, your sweat gland system is trained and your body learns to start its natural air-conditioning faster. That’s why athletes begin to sweat earlier. In turn, their bodies are able to regulate the amount of sweat in a way that an optimal cooling effect is provided which leads to longer and better physical performance. The less trained you are, the more likely it is that your body produces too much sweat that then falls off your skin as drops - and thereby inhibits the cooling effect through evaporation. Moreover, the pure water content of sweat rises relatively to your fitness level, so that athletes exude fewer electrolytes than a person who is less trained.

That smell though…

When we think of sweating, we often also think of the unpleasant odor that comes with it. However, what most people don’t know is that sweat in general is actually odorless. The smell that we connect with it arises when the bacteria on our skin begin their work and decompose the sweat. This at least holds true for sweat that is produced by the so-called eccrine sweat glands in order to cool down your body’s temperature during exercising, heat or fever. However, there is also another type of sweat: the emotional sweating. In situations of nervousness or stress our bodies release hormones that activate a second type of sweat glands – the apocrine or smelling sweat glands – that in contrast to the eccrine sweat glands do not cover your whole skin but mainly exist in certain areas of your body such as your armpits. Sweat that is produced by these glands is known for its typical sweaty smell that occurs when substances lipids and proteins react with the bacteria on your skin.

The golden sweat rule: Hydrate!

Since sweat consists mainly of water, heavy sweating may lead to dehydration, which in turn can reduce your athletic performance. Moreover, through sweat, crucial electrolytes such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphate get lost. As useful as sweating may be during exercise, adequate water intake is a must to replace the lost liquid. Make sure to stay hydrated all day and drink at least an additional liter of water around the time of your workout.

Time to get that sweat running!