As it makes you lose a ton of sweat, it’s an obvious question. What’s the effectiveness of using a sauna for fat loss? Do saunas really help you lose weight or it’s just another gimmick? After all, it seems that you burn a ton of calories during a hot and steamy sauna session.
- Do Saunas help you lose weight?
- 4 Potential Benefits of Sauna for Fat Loss
- Rapid Fat Loss Method for MMA Fighters
- Practical Tips for Using Sauna
Do Saunas help you lose weight?
Short answer, no. Saunas are not a weight loss remedy. Although they may impact other factors that can boost fat loss indirectly, it’s not a magic weight loss bullet. Most of the weight acutely lost after a session comes from water loss.
Weight loss is a result of being in a caloric deficit, which is expanding more calories than ingested.
But it can’t just be that simple. There has to be a reason why many athletes and biohackers use it. Why it is present in every spa, hotel, and beauty salon. So what’s the catch?
First and foremost, sauna originates from Finland. In such cold places as in northern Europe, when you’re experiencing winter all year round, you’d want a hot steaming blast, wouldn’t you? Aside from that, saunas have numerous benefits on heart health, metabolic health, and muscle recovery.
What are the health benefits of using a sauna?
Numerous health advantages of saunas have been demonstrated, including improving cardiovascular health, assisting in weight loss, lowering stress and anxiety, encouraging relaxation, and better sleep. Additionally, they might strengthen the immune system and lower the risk of developing chronic illnesses.
Does sauna help with weight loss?
By boosting the body’s metabolic rate and encouraging sweating, which can aid in calorie burning and water weight reduction, saunas may indirectly aid in weight loss. The weight reduction brought on by using a sauna, however, is more likely to be transient and is predominantly brought on by the loss of water weight than fat.
Increased Metabolic Rate by 20%
Entering a sauna sets the body up for cooling. When the surroundings are too hot, you need to start sweating. It’s through evaporation that the body can keep its vital core temperature around the optimal, 37°C.
Our heart rate increases in the sauna. The body is fighting to keep a vital temperature, working harder to cool itself off. Just sitting in the sauna can increase the number of calories burned.
Increased demands on the body increase metabolic rate. It’s estimated that heart rate is increased by 30%, and regular sauna baths or 4-6 weekly sessions can speed up the metabolism by 25-30% during the session. (1)
This corresponds to expanding a bit more energy, or in simple terms burning a bit more calories. How much? Around 1.5 x your BMR, which is basal metabolic rate. However, if you do the math, this isn’t effective enough to be used as a weight loss tool, it’s just too few calories.
Important Factors for Weight Loss
Where saunas can shine their benefits though, even as it relates to weight loss, is affecting other factors indirectly associated with fat loss, or greater metabolic health. Here are some:
- Stress. High-stress levels, especially high cortisol is associated with greater weight gain and visceral fat. If saunas can help us relax and wind down, that’s a plus.
- Sweating Efficiency. Non-adapted people lose less sweat meaning they can’t cool off during heat exposure. Saunas help improve sweat efficiency which may help you run further in the deserts of Dubai. (you get it)
- Hormones. Adaptations to heat or cold can greatly impact hormones like growth hormone, testosterone, or insulin. This may lead to better exercise performance and muscle recovery.
- Detox. Flushing toxins out is probably the most surprising, but important factor. It can reset metabolic health, reduce inflammation and revitalize our bodies. Again, a plus point for weight loss.
- Sleep. Many report better subjective sleep, which is kind of expected. Heat adaptation can lead to relaxation and further stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. And as we know, deep sleep is very important for maintaining a healthy weight.
While saunas may not directly affect weight loss and burn fat, they can improve other factors that indirectly impact our ability to lose weight. These include improving sleep and sweat efficiency, internal detox, balancing hormones, and reducing stress levels.
The 4 x 10 Minutes Sauna Study
An interesting study investigated the correlation between dry sauna use and body composition and specific physiological and anthropometric parameters.
Participants were young, sedentary, and overweight men, not heat-adapted. They used 4 x 10 min sauna sessions with 5 min breaks in-between, at a temperature of 90°C and humidity of 15%. (2)
Heat exposure led to an increase in many physiological parameters like heart rate, energy expenditure, VO2max, respiration, etc. What’s interesting is the highest increases were in those with higher body fat. (2)
Point is, sauna and heat exposure in itself acts as a form of workout. The body needs to work hard to adapt to heat stressors and keep its temperature at optimal levels.
4 Potential Benefits of Sauna for Fat Loss
Flush Our Toxins and Heavy Metals
Drinking celery juice to detox can seem like a trend, but why is detox important? You may be surprised to find out that toxin accumulation can increase inflammation, insulin resistance, and even your cravings.
Fat loss is heavily linked to mitochondrial function. When the Ms work perfectly, we can create more energy from less food, meaning energy drops won’t stimulate our desire for more food. That’s why detox is extremely important, whether you choose fasting, celery juice, or a sauna.
Sauna, and aerobic exercise have something in common. Yes, that sweating. Sweating helps flush out toxins, heavy metals, and metabolic by-products like lactate through the lymphatic system. (3) It resets our metabolism and circulatory system.
Reduce Stress and Cortisol Levels
Increased rates of stress are linked to an increased rate of fat gain, especially visceral fat, the one around the belly. High cortisol levels contribute to this, so if saunas can promote relaxation and better sleep, that’s a win.
One of the reasons for it is, stress makes us hangry. When stressed, it’s much easier to pick something with a poor nutritional value, something quick and calorie-dense. It increases sugar cravings and appetite levels.
Research shows that sauna exposure in elite wrestlers elicited a significant reduction in cortisol levels. (4)
Additionally, saunas can help improve heart health by boosting circulation, reducing inflammation, and modulating the autonomic nervous system – a natural stress relief.
Increase HGH and Muscle Recovery
One of the main weapons athletes use to accelerate recovery is an infrared sauna. Yes, there are even these long-looking boot-like things to wrap around and turn on the infrared light.
IR can penetrate deeper into one’s skin and help heal deep tissue micro-injuries which speeds up muscle recovery. Saunas, along with cold baths are some of the most commonly used recovery methods in athletes.
Tested in 55 healthy volunteers, at 80-120°C Finnish sauna increased serum Human Growth Hormone by a whopping 142%. (5) That’s the most regeneration-supportive hormone that helps replenish energy and recover tissues.
Infrared Sauna on Cellulite
The topic of infrared light therapy on reducing cellulite isn’t easy, as the research is not yet as conclusive. However, there have been practical results around in the beauty-cosmetics space that show a reduction through the use of IR light.
Part of that is redistributing fat tissue, so it’s not accumulated in one area. It’s important to note that this doesn’t burn the fat or remove it. It’s mostly for practical or aesthetic purposes, a non-invasive version of liposuction.
The exciting thing is, Infrared light (IR) thermal blankets can actually improve blood circulation, enhance mitochondria function, stimulate skin repair, and even promote an internal detox. If you take all of this into account, there’s a good case to be made for infrared light. (6)
Rapid Fat Loss Method for MMA Fighters
Hot sauna is one of the most popular methods athletes can achieve great weight loss before a ranking event that’s weight sensitive. For example, many bodybuilders, MMA athletes, and gymnasts use the sauna to drop a few pounds before weighing.
Let’s just not confuse it with fat loss, it’s pure water weight loss. It’s absolutely unusable and inefficient for health, wellness, and vitality purposes. It’s a quick trick for athletes to fit into a specific weight category, or enhance aesthetics.
Research shows a 2-5 pounds of water loss during a 20-minute sauna session is possible.
(7) In 674 students, 2 x 10 minutes sessions with a 5-minute break led to rapid weight loss as well, most of which is water. (8)
Practical Tips for Using Sauna
Pre Hydration – it’s extremely important to drink enough water and replenish lost fluids. Adding electrolytes helps maintain fluid balance, nervous system, and muscle function. Before sauna exposure, it’s important to be in a euhydrated state, or drink an additional 500 ml of water.
Post Hydration – after sweating it off, we can lose a lot of fluids which can detrimentally affect our physiology. A loss of 2% of total body water (which can occur in the sauna) can heavily reduce our performance. We should aim at replenishing 25-50% more of the lost fluids, weighing pre and post can help determine the number of lost fluids
Take Breaks – it’s generally recommended to not stay in a sauna for more than 15 minutes at a time. The body goes through various stressors trying to release heat and keep a vital temperature. For some, more than 15 minutes can be too much. It’s essential to step out, take a rest and cool off a bit before continuing a session. That can means 5+ minute breaks, neutral-cold showers, or drinking cold fluids.
Saunas do increase our metabolic rate by 20-30% during heat exposure, but this is not substantial enough to result in significant weight loss. Heat exposure using a sauna can indirectly improve other factors like sweat efficiency, cardiovascular function, stress reduction, and muscle relaxation which can enhance weight loss. One of the main is detox, the removal of toxins that can lead to positive changes in hormone balance and weight maintenance. The rapid weight loss athletes use is nothing more than a dehydration method, as most of the weight loss is water loss, so no, saunas do not burn fat.