Are Sauna Suits Good for Weight Loss?

Are Sauna Suits Good for Weight Loss

A sauna suit is basically a waterproof tracksuit that retains your body heat and sweat when you work out while wearing it. As you exercise, heat and sweat build up inside the suit.

According to a 2018 study, exercising in a sauna suit increases physiological strain and induces larger sweat losses. These conditions can lead to dehydration and heat-related illness.

You probably already know that magic weight loss pills are a hoax. You might even know that waist trainers are B.S. So you might, naturally, assume that sauna suits are nothin’ but hype too.

The latest research, however, suggests that these scuba-style outfits might just have some legit workout perks.

Lance C. Dalleck, PhD and an ACE Scientific Advisory Panel Member, recently found that training in sauna suits can have serious performance benefits for athletes. “We know that for athletes who train in the heat, there are a number of adaptations,” says Dalleck. “You sweat earlier, and you have an increase in plasma volume, have a higher VO2 max and better ability to tolerate heat.”

But in his most recent study, Dalleck wanted to see how exercising in sauna suits would affect weight loss.

The research team from the High Altitude Exercise Physiology Program at Western State Colorado University recruited 45 sedentary overweight or obese adults between the age 18 and 60 years old with a BMI between 25 and 40, a body fat percentage over 22 percent for men and 32 percent for women, and rated as the low-to-moderate risk for cardiovascular, pulmonary, and/or metabolic disease. They were divided up into three groups: a sauna suit exercise group, a regular exercise group, and a control group.

For eight weeks, both exercise groups participated in a progressive workout program, performing three 45-minute moderate-intensity workouts (elliptical, rower, and treadmill) and two 30-minute vigorous-intensity workouts (spin class) per week. In addition, they all ate normally and didn’t do any exercise outside of the study’s guidelines. The only difference between the two groups? One group worked out in Kutting Weight sauna suits (a thick Neoprene garment similar to a wetsuit), while the other group worked out in their usual gym clothes.

Sauna suits are made from a waterproof fabric meant to hold in heat, causing you to sweat. Sauna suits for weight loss are often used by athletes attempting to cut weight for a competition, but the general public has been curious as to whether they can offer benefits to them.

This Means You Get Hotter, And You Sweat More

But just because you get hotter doesn’t mean there’s an increase in intensity. Most likely, you’ll be running or skipping if you’re wearing a sauna suit. As you feel hotter, you’ll also think the exercise is harder. When you feel the exercise is harder, you’ll naturally slow down and drop your intensity. 

This is a subconscious behavioural mechanism that prevents you from putting too much strain on your body. When this happens energy demand, (reflected by oxygen uptake) decreases along with metabolism. 

Even if you can fix the intensity of exercise, you’ll still be exercising at a relative intensity that is less than normal. And to top it off, you’ll probably quit exercising because it will get too hard.

Crucially, in all cases, you’ve cut your metabolic rate. 

Benefits Of A Sauna Suit

There are several sauna suits, shirts, and pants available for sale. Though there’s no clinical research to back up their claims, the companies selling these suits suggest benefits such as weight loss and detoxification through sweat.

Your kidneys and liver are your body’s best detoxifiers. Sweating only releases traces of toxins. Also, weight loss during periods of heavy perspiration is primarily due to fluid loss that should be replenished as you sweat.

If you’re using a sauna suit for rapid weight loss, there are some serious risks.

At the end of the trial, all exercisers saw improvements in systolic and diastolic blood pressure and total cholesterol and a decreased waist circumference. (Yay!) But, TBH, that’s not really groundbreaking. (You can get pretty awesome physical benefits from just one workout.)

However, what is interesting is that the sauna suit group saw a greater improvement in basically every key measure over those who exercised in regular clothes. For one, the sauna suit group dropped 2.6 percent of their body weight and 13.8 percent of their body fat versus the regular exercisers, who only dropped 0.9 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively.

The sauna suit group also saw a greater improvement in their VO2 max (an important measure of cardiovascular endurance), an increase in fat oxidation (the body’s ability to burn fat as fuel), and a greater decrease in fasting blood glucose (an important marker for diabetes and prediabetes).

Last but certainly not least, the sauna suit group also saw an 11.4 percent increase in resting metabolic rate (how many calories your body burns at rest) compared to the regular exercise group, which saw a 2.7 percent decrease.

It all comes down to EPOC, or post-exercise oxygen consumption, says Dalleck. (That super awesome thing behind the “afterburn effect.”) “Exercising in heat increases EPOC,” he says, “and there are a lot of favourable things (like burning more calories) that come with EPOC.”

Various factors can increase EPOC: for one, high-intensity exercise because it creates a larger disruption of your body’s homeostasis. After exercise, it takes more energy and effort to return to that homeostasis. Another factor: the disruption of your normal core temperature. All exercise increases core temperature, but if you accentuate that even more (for example, working out in the heat or in a sauna suit), that means it’s going to take longer to return to homeostasis and regulate your body temp. Both of those things result in a greater calorie burn and improved carb and fat oxidation.

Although sauna suits may not be ideal for weight loss, they may have some merits. For example, an article published in the March 2016 issue of the ​International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology​ shows that training with a sauna suit can improve cardiovascular health. The study concluded that regular moderate-intensity exercise training wearing a sauna suit improved cardiorespiratory fitness and several critical cardiovascular disease risk factors.

The decrease in risk factors occurred after a small study conducted over six weeks. 

The participants were found to have significant improvements in body fat percentage, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol and maximal oxygen uptake.

Another December 2017 article published in the ​International Journal of Research in Exercise​ physiology showed similar results.

After an eight-week study on 45 men and women, the participants who exercised wearing a sauna suit showed significantly greater improvements in V̇O2max, body mass index, body fat percentage, blood glucose, fat oxidation and resting metabolic rate. In addition, the study concluded that heat stress induced by a sauna suit might be beneficial for those who have overweight or obese.

Again, be sure to receive proper training, guidance and supervision before ever attempting to use a sauna suit.

This Means You Get Hotter, And You Sweat More

But just because you get hotter doesn’t mean there’s an increase in intensity. Most likely, you’ll be running or skipping if you’re wearing a sauna suit. As you feel hotter, you’ll also think the exercise is harder. When you feel the exercise is harder, you’ll naturally slow down and drop your intensity. 

This is a subconscious behavioural mechanism that prevents you from putting too much strain on your body. When this happens energy demand, (reflected by oxygen uptake) decreases along with metabolism. 

Even if you can fix the intensity of exercise, you’ll still be exercising at a relative intensity that is less than normal. And to top it off, you’ll probably quit exercising because it will get too hard.

Crucially, in all cases, you’ve cut your metabolic rate. 

Before You Go Work Out In A Sauna Suit

Note that the study was conducted using only moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise, but not high intensity, and always for 45 minutes or less, in a controlled, unheated environment. “In this instance, if used appropriately, sauna suits can be very beneficial,” says Dalleck.

That being said, subjecting your body to heat and a super intense workout when you’re not trained for it can put too much stress on your body and result in hyperthermia (overheating). “We recommend keeping the intensity moderate to vigorous, not high,” he says. Another important note: If you have diabetes, heart disease, or any other conditions that make it difficult for your body to thermoregulate, you should skip the sauna suit or check with your doc first.

Plus, you might be able to get the perks from just going to your usual heated spin class, vinyasa, or another steamy workout studio. The sauna suits simulate about a 90-degree Fahrenheit environment with 30 to 50 percent humidity, says Dalleck. Though you can’t exactly control the environment of your workout class to a T, challenging your body to adapt to that environment is similar to heating it via a sauna suit. 

One last interesting perk: “Acclimating to one environmental stressor can offer protection against other environmental stressors,” says Dalleck. For example, acclimating to heat can help you acclimate to the altitude.

Have a big hiking trip coming up or ski vacation? Consider sweating it out before you head up the mountain-you may get a whole bunch of body perks (and breathe easier up there) because of it.

The Risks of Sauna Suits

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a notice regarding the 1997 deaths of three collegiate wrestlers who died while attempting to lose weight rapidly to qualify for the competition. The deaths were determined to be a direct result of dehydration through sweating and resulting hypothermia that occurred while wearing the suits. The wrestlers were restricted in their food and fluid intake during this time and were exercising with high intensities in hot environments.

The CDC notes that vigorous exercise accompanied by dehydration increases body temperature, which is exacerbated by the use of sauna suits that don’t allow evaporation and convection of heat loss to occur. This causes dehydration and other heat-related issues, such as elevated sodium and urea.

If you are attempting to use a sauna suit for weight loss, be aware that fast weight loss due to the loss of fluids and not the loss of body tissue is only temporary. Moreover, losing too much water weight without proper nutrition can put you at risk for an electrolyte imbalance, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Not only is the weight loss from wearing plastic sweat suits temporary, but the water loss can be extremely dangerous. As you prevent your sweat from evaporating, your body is unable to cool itself adequately. This can lead to overheating, which can result in heatstroke. In addition, the increase in fluids that you lose will cause you to become dehydrated, which will adversely affect your blood volume. As a result, you may be unable to provide your heart or brain with adequate oxygen, and a stroke or a heart attack can result.

Sauna Suits Cause An Increase In Body Temperature But Do Not Increase Intensity

Humans waste a lot of energy. For example, most of the energy we create to move our limbs is wasted as heat. We need to remove that heat from our body to maintain our body temperature at around 37 C. To do this (as adults), we sweat. 

When we sweat, we transfer heat away from our skin, which helps maintain our temperature. But if the air around our skin is humid and contains a lot of water, evaporation doesn’t work so well. 

So when our sweating mechanism is impaired, we start to store heat and our body temperature rises. This is exactly what happens when you wear a sauna suit because the sweat you produce has nowhere to go. It stays between your skin and the surface of the sauna suit. 

Sauna Suits And Eczema

If you’re experiencing chronic inflammation from eczema, your doctor might recommend therapies to hydrate the skin and increase the penetration of topical medication.

According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), applying topical medication immediately following a bath increases penetration up to 10 times.

The AOCD suggests that wet wraps following baths can also help. Wet wraps are commonly done with layers, such as gauze, followed by two pyjamas sets — the first set is damp, and the second dry. Sometimes, a sauna suit is used in place of the dry pyjamas.

Takeaway

Although sauna suits may promise benefits such as weight loss and detoxification, these claims are not based on clinical research. In addition, exercising in a sauna suit can have risks, such as hyperthermia and dehydration.

If you notice symptoms of these conditions, see a doctor immediately. In addition, when you’re exercising or sweating in a hot environment, avoid dehydration by drinking during the workout to replenish fluids.

If you’re looking for weight loss solutions, discuss options with your doctor. They can help put together a balanced nutrition and exercise plan that meets your current health and specific needs.

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