the purpose of sweat


The body is approximately 60% water. The blood is mostly water and is used to distribute oxygen, nutrients, hormones and other substances to cells as well as remove metabolic byproducts (not toxins as is commonly thought). Water is used to cushion the spine and brain and acts as a kind of shock absorber to prevent injury. Water is a critical component of our body’s cooling system (through evaporation of the sweat). The electrolyte components of water regulate nerve and muscle function, blood acid balance and the amount of fluid in our cells. The body regulates the levels of all substances such as minerals, trace elements and electrolytes and so some of these are naturally eliminated through the sweat and eliminatory systems.

The primary purpose of sweating is to regulate body temperature. Sweat transfers heat from inside the body to the skin where it is released into the air through evaporation. The effect of vigorous exercise in a hot room is an increase in the amount of sweat which may therefore result in the elimination of more minerals and electrolytes — simple dehydration. A healthy diet with plenty of water intake is sufficient for most people to maintain appropriate levels of electrolytes and minerals. How much water is plenty? A common sense determination is to drink until you’re not thirsty. The more you sweat, the more you will need to replenish. (I say more about this below.)

If excessive sweating leaves you feeling any of the following symptoms during or after class you should increase your daily water intake but you may also benefit from taking electrolyte supplements: excessive thirst, fatigue; headache; dry mouth (or sticky saliva); decreased urination; muscle weakness; dizziness. Most hot yoga studios, including SHY, sell electrolyte supplements but a good homemade solution is to mix a little sea salt and fresh lemon (or lime) juice in a glass of water.

Sweat and Body Odor

Sweat itself has no odor. The odor from sweating results from the interaction of the sweat with bacteria that lives on the skin. Regular bathing with soap and water helps reduce the amount of bacteria in the skin and therefore may reduce or eliminate most body odors. A common odor in the sweat of some people who exercise vigorously is ammonia. Ammonia is a natural component of sweat but it’s usually too dilute to be noticed. A strong ammonia odor may indicate a high protein diet in which case it might be wise to increase your dietary intake of low-glycemic carbohydrates such as fruits (most), legumes, whole grains, certain starchy vegetables (try eating an apple or a small amount of unsweetened oatmeal an hour before class). A very strong ammonia odor that persists over time could also indicate liver dysfunction in which case a visit to the doctor is advised.

“Toxins” is a Misnomer

When people speak of “toxins” being eliminated through the sweat they are — whether they know it or not — referring to natural byproducts of metabolism. These eliminated elements might be considered waste products but, by definition, they are not toxins. In a literal sense the only detoxification that happens in the body happens through the eliminatory system. In extreme cases of metal toxicity there are chelation drugs that can be used to remove the metal poisons. The way in which hot yoga acts as a kind of “detoxification” process is to support our bodies natural systems and to assist in their optimal functionality. The best detoxification program is to maintain a healthful lifestyle including a healthy nutritious diet, minimizing intake of harmful substances such as caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, exercise regularly and reduce stress (before the fact when possible).

Bottom Line: How much water should you drink?

No matter what you may have read about minimum daily water requirements there is no one rule that applies to everybody. As with all lifestyle choices and decisions you are going to have to discover your own unique needs. Fortunately, all it takes is a little common sense and practice. I’ve already given you one solid piece of advice that is almost foolproof: drink until you’re not thirsty. Below are some other suggestions for you to consider. The ultimate goals are to develop a sensitivity to your body’s needs so you know when to drink more or less as well as to form healthy habits that will help keep you hydrated without having to think too much about it.

Before I get to specifics, a discussion about drinking water isn’t complete without mentioning pee. Notice that none of the suggestions below tell you to drink a large quantity of water at one time. Your body can only process so much water at once so if you drink large amounts you will end up peeing most of it away. Drinking small glasses more frequently is going to be more efficient than guzzling. The other thing about pee is that it acts as a barometer for dehydration. When you are properly hydrated your pee should be clear. Unless you’re taking Vitamin B supplements your pee should not have much color to it. The darker your pee, the more likely you are dehydrated.

In all of the following “a glass of water” equals approx. 8-12 ounces.

  • Drink a glass water immediately upon rising.
  • Drink a glass of water at bedtime.
  • Drink a glass of water 60 minutes before practicing hot yoga.
  • Drink a glass of water 30 minutes before practicing hot yoga.
  • Drink a glass of water 1-3 times during hot yoga practice, depending on how much you sweat.
  • Drink a glass of water immediately after practicing hot yoga.
  • Drink a glass of water every 15 minutes after practicing hot yoga until you are no longer thirsty.
  • Drink a glass of water any other time during the day when you feel thirsty.

Remember, these are suggestions and not rules. Try some or all of them and discover what feels right. Common sense and healthy habits are all you need to stay properly hydrated. You don’t need formulas or special programs to maintain a healthy lifestyle. You have all the information you need within you.

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