The Myth of Melting Fat

It gets hot in the gym. One of the reasons I don’t like working out in the afternoon, especially during summer, is with all those bodies generating all that heat, I’m so warm that I don’t feel I get the best workout I can.

sweat
Photo credit: Rebloggy.com

There’s a reason why there are so many ceiling fans in most gyms. They’re to help the people exercising keep cool. The reason we sweat when working out or in warm weather is because our body is maintaining a certain core temperature in order to operate effectively. In winter, I go to the gym wearing a t-shirt and shorts and I just put on a hoodie just to keep warm while traveling to and from. Once I get to the gym, I take the hoodie off and get to work.

When I see someone hop on a cardio machine wearing something like sweat pants and a sweat shirt or otherwise all bundled up, I can’t imagine what they think they’re doing (well, yes I can, but I’ll get to that in a minute). According to Michael Roizen, MD who commented at sharecare.com, a person exercising won’t sweat, at least profusely, until they’ve hit about 80% of their maximum heart rate (adjusted for age). That’s why I don’t sweat as much when lifting as I do when doing cardio. My heart rate spikes while lifting but drops during rests between sets and between different resistance exercises. It only rises consistently to around 80% of max during my cardio workout.

But there’s this old idea still out in the world that says we can sweat off or even (literally) melt fat. According to gofigure.co.nz, the idea that wearing a lot of clothing including sauna suits comes from “old school” exercise logic born in boxing and racing arenas where the athletes had to be within a certain body weight range to qualify for an event:

To get to their desired weight, athletes often spend hours in saunas and steam rooms or try to sweat out extra kgs by running or doing aerobic exercises while wearing layers upon layers of clothing. The human body is composed of almost 75% water, so it makes sense if you need to shed a few kgs to try and sweat as much as possible-but you are only losing fluids-not fat.

That’s not just a single person’s opinion. I checked various websites including brianmac.co.uk and military.com in addition to the ones I’ve already cited, and they all say the same thing.

At sharecare.com, Mike Clark, DPT said:

Sweating is a physiological reaction to heat, working to cool the body down. It is a means of thermoregulation. When your muscles heat up, your body works to cool you down. It is not connected to fat loss – however you might see a downward shift in your weight from the loss of water. This can actually be dangerous and lead to severe dehydration. If you find that you have lost significant weight after your workout, you will want to replace those fluids over the following 30 minutes to an hour, steadily drinking water or a drink with electrolytes (to help replace the salt you have lost during your sweat session).

sauna suit
Sauna Suit – Photo credit: voooya.com

That’s it. raising your body temperature to the point where you are sweating, either just by some form of exercise or exercise coupled with wearing a lot of heavy clothing, only results in you losing water and a bit of salt. That’s all. Whatever weight you drop from water loss during exercise, you pick right back up once you start drinking water after your workout.

I’m not saying that resistance and cardio exercise doesn’t help you lose body fat. It does. It just doesn’t work by sweating off fat or melting body fat. Quoting military.com:

You have to burn calories through cardiovascular activity such as walking, running, biking, swimming or even household chores. Lifting weights or doing calisthenics burns calories and spikes your metabolism to build lean muscle and stronger bones. You may not see a weight loss immediately, but you will see inches lost, because muscles takes up less space than fat and weigh more. But, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest.

That’s it in a nutshell.

But I want to address one more myth about heating up your body and “melting” fat. Whenever you hear someone talking about exercise “melting fat,” it’s not meant to be taken literally. Body fat doesn’t really melt the way you think of melting butter in a frying pan.

In fact, literally melting your body fat is kind of complicated. According to Nurse Practitioner A. Schuyler at justanswer.com:

There is no one melting point of adipose tissue because there is no one type of adipose tissue. Fat is made up of different chains of triglycerides and varies from person to person, from one part of the body to another, and even to the type of diet that resulted in the deposition of the fat tissue. It isn’t like saying that water boils at 212ºF at sea level.

I did find an abstract of a study the Wiley Online Library that stated the melting point of most human fats varied widely between 41 degrees C and 0.5 degrees C. In Fahrenheit, that’s 105.8 degrees to 32.9 degrees.

That said, you still don’t lose fat because you’re hot. You lose weight because you are losing water.

I understand that especially during winter, when you walk into the gym from outside, you are probably a bit cold or maybe a lot of cold depending on what the weather is like and what your tolerance is for low temperature. The ceiling fans are likely on in the gym so you may not want to take off your sweater right away.

melting fat
Photo credit: healthcentral.com

Personally, I know that even if I feel cold, it will be very short-lived. The first set of any weight training exercise will warm me up and I’ll welcome the breeze from the fans in the weight room. The same goes for when I do cardio. I try to pick out a machine that’s right under a fan to keep as cool as possible while I’m working up a sweat.

However, if the cold makes you feel too uncomfortable when you first start exercising, you can probably get away with keeping your sweater on for the beginning few minutes of your workout, but you shouldn’t need to wear it after that. You’re not getting any benefit out of wearing sweat clothing throughout your workout, and in fact, deliberately or accidentally raising your core temperature will actually inhibit your athletic performance. That’s according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the Mayo Clinic.

So to get the most out of your exercise routine, don’t get all heated up. Keep your cool.

The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own.

Bob Moawad

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s