That’s not Sweat, That’s Liquid AWESOME

Sweat It Out (album)
Sweat It Out! It’s good for you!

Girls don’t sweat. Just like they don’t burp. And they don’t fart. And they always smell like roses. And they are made up of sugar and spice (especially us Salties) and everything nice, right?

Riiiigggghhhhtttt…..

As the weather heats up here in good ol’ Columbus, Ohio, (finally!) and I prepare for a long weekend in the humid and salt-laden air of Hilton Head South Carolina, I’m facing the one thing I really don’t like about running: sweat. A few days ago, I was running with my dog around 8 a.m. and it was already 80 degrees with a fog warning. As sweat began dripping down my face and staining my cute t-shirt, Otto was panting but looked as beautiful as ever…no sweat. Why is it that we humans are cursed with this natural occurence of liquid excretion? Especially in, of all places, our armpits? Yuck.

Let’s explore, shall we?

Otto was a superstar on my wedding day! Even if he was nervous, he never had to worry about sweating! 

What is sweat, anyway?

Simply put, it’s a watery fluid mixed with proteins and lipids (fats). Composition depends on the diet and health of the individual, too. For the more scientifically-inclined readers out there, sweat is usually about 99% water, mixed with mineral salts, which is why we get salty when we run (get it? We’re Salty Runners!). If you have a pet, you can relate–Otto loves licking my salty skin after a run. Your sweat also contains vitamin C, antibodies, urea, uric acid, ammonia and lactic acid (which just happens to attract mosquitoes…lovely). Even though it’s mostly water, all that stuff makes it a little on the acidic side, with a pH level between 4 and 6. We humans have about 5 million sweat glands located all over the skin, and there are two types: apocrine (in your armpits) and eccrine (everywhere else).

Ball-and-stick model of L -lactic acid
Sweat contains lactic acid, whih attracts pesky mosquitoes.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why Do Humans Sweat?

To control our body temperature the autonomic nervous system automatically reacts with perspiration. So when you’re out there pounding the pavement, your muscles are inevitably exerting themselves and overheating. Sweating takes that temperature back to normal. That means sweating is good for you!

As a result of its association with temperature regulation, sweating has a host of other beneficial results: you breathe faster, your heart works harder, your circulation improves and your metabolism accelerates, all in an effort to resume your normal body temperature.

Because your circulation is increased during sweating, many toxins and impurities are able to exit your body through opened pores, and your metabolism is even temporarily increased (cool!) It may sound weird, especially since sweating can make you feel so gross, but sweating is very cleansing for your body.

Cultures all over the world and throughout time have embraced the art of sweating, using sweat lodges, bath houses and steam rooms to improve their health. And they’re onto something! Even the immune system might benefit from sweating. When you heat up, your body generates more white blood cells, which are known to strengthen your immune system.

Your skin also benefits from sweating: the pores open and any dirt or impurities on the surface layers of the skin have a chance to exit. Sweating regularly will help you to achieve softer and smoother skin; just be sure to shower and cleanse the face immediately after, as dried sweat will just cause a layer of pore-clogging film.

So sweating makes you “thin”, right?!?

Yep, we’ve all heard it. The “sweat” diet. Sweating has been in the media as a tool for weight loss. The weight that you lose through sweating is simply water weight, though, so don’t think that sitting is a sauna is going to make you instantly skinny. This weight is quickly replaced when you replenish your fluids. If you’re sweating from exercise, however, you’re also burning up calories, which can lead to weight loss, so by that logic sweating is a good goal to incorporate as part of a healthy weight loss program. Sweating means you’re burning up calories and eliminating toxins. You’ve got to remember the balanced nutrition to go along with it, though.

Why do some sweat more than others?

When I was younger, I never used to sweat when I ran! Those were the days… In middle school cross-country I thought there must have been something wrong with me, as my teammates all glistened with sweat and I stood there dry as a desert. Turns out, I was just a late bloomer; I hadn’t hit puberty yet! How much you sweat varies by how many sweat glands you have; some have more and some have less. Now that my glands are developed, I sweat a lot, and I can tell my sweat glands are concentrated in two distinct spots: my armpits and right underneath my boobs (or lack thereof).

My body's lovely sweating spot of choice: boob sweat!
My body’s lovely sweating spot of choice: boob sweat!

People have different activation levels of sweat glands and each gland secretes a certain amount, regulated by your brain. Your body fat percentage and exercise intensity level also affect your sweat rate.

If you deal with excessive sweating to an extreme when you’re not moving or are even cold, this is called Hyperhydrosis. It’s a condition that results in sweaty palms, feet, back and face regardless of whether there are any “normal” triggers for sweating. It’s a condition that can be treated, so you may want to talk to a doctor if you find it affecting your daily life.

For those of you out there wanting more about this topic, Salty suggests checking out Tim Noake’s book entitled: Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports, which examines the science of sweat, and takes an in-depth look at hydration needs. Purchasing it through our link even helps keep Salty Running online! Hmmm…I think my next project may be a book review!

So the next time you rush in from a training run over your lunch break, don’t be ashamed, all that sweat means you are totally healthier! Just make sure to clean up so your co-workers don’t nickname you Stinky!

So, salties, what are your thoughts on sweat? Don’t mind it? Hate it? Did you know it was such a good thing?

I'm a new momma, full-time non-profiter, and coffee lover. I write about healthy body image, half marathon training, and recovery from eating disorders. I'm currently training to maintain fitness throughout the winter and break 1:27:00 in my next half marathon.

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4 comments

  1. No boob sweat here, but I do have big salty streaks down the side of my face, especially on long runs in the heat. I’ve heard this is a measure of how much electrolyte’s you are losing, and the saltier the sweat, the more things like S-caps you should take. Running sweat in general radiates on people and makes them shine and glow.

    1. I don’t know, Mark. Read Waterlogged and you’ll think really differently about products like e-caps and sports drinks! I’m in the middle of it now and it’s riveting!

        1. Ha ha…That’s right.

          That is interesting. My only knowledge is from some random dude in the parking lot after a training run pushing S-caps to me because of my face full of white streaks. I’m flipping over to the book on amazon now.