Does Sweating Burn Calories? Here’s What Exercise Physiology Experts Say

Updated: Jun. 10, 2024

For anyone trying to shed weight, it's appealing to think of sweat as evidence of calories burning. We asked clinicians who specialize in exercise science.

Sweating is an essential physiological process that helps control body temperature, especially during physical activity. As the body’s temperature rises during exercise, sweat glands release moisture that evaporates from the skin, cooling the body to keep its internal temperature stable.

Experts explain that it is good to sweat while working out—without sweating, you would overheat. Kendra Weekley, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic Center for Human Nutrition who also holds a master’s degree in exercise science, highlights the importance of this process: “Overheating makes exercise feel harder than it really is,” referring to the increase in the rate of perceived exertion (RPE), a measure of how difficult a workout feels. She adds, “Overheating can also increase your heart rate and decrease blood flow to the muscles and the brain.”

While sweating helps regulate your body temperature, could it also assist in burning calories? Ahead, experts answer whether sweating can lead to calorie burn, explore why sweat levels vary from person to person, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of sweating.

"The longer your core temperature is elevated, the more calories are being burned"
Kendra Weekley, MS, RD, LD
registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic Center for Human Nutrition

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Does sweating burn calories?

While sweating does use up some energy—since the body expends energy to heat the water produced by sweat glands—the amount of calories burned purely through sweating is quite minimal. Weekley shares that the main source of calorie burn during exercise is the activity of the muscles, not the production of sweat.

If you’re curious about how many calories you can burn through sweating, Weekley points out that it primarily depends on the intensity and duration of your exercise. “The longer your core temperature is elevated, the more calories are being burned,” she explains. “Burning calories depends on someone’s muscle mass, intensity and duration of the workout being performed, fueling strategies, and so many other factors. Calorie burn is not a one-size-fits-all.”

This naturally leads to another common question: Does sweating indicate a high metabolism? Many factors influence metabolism. Weekley states, “An elevated core temperature is going to drive metabolic demand, and if you are well hydrated, your body might sweat more when your core temperature is elevated.” This suggests that sweating can indicate an effective metabolism and good hydration.

Since metabolism involves the transfer of heat, more heat production through exercise could boost metabolism, although there is a limit; if the body becomes too hot, metabolic processes can slow down.

Why do some people sweat more than others?

The amount of sweat an individual produces can be due to several influencing factors. Here are some key determinants:

  • Health conditions: Conditions like hyperhidrosis lead to excessive sweating. Melissa Holtz, CNP, a dermatology nurse practitioner at the Cleveland Clinic, explains, “When we’re sweating too much, it’s thought to be an abnormal or an exaggerated central response to normal emotional or physical stimuli. Usually, the glands themselves are normal. You’re just having an exaggerated response to normal stimuli.”
  • Age: Younger individuals generally sweat more than older adults. As people age, the efficiency of thermoregulation changes, meaning older individuals may store more heat and sweat less.
  • Gender: In general, men sweat more than women due to physiological and hormonal differences.
  • Fitness level: Active individuals, particularly those with more muscle mass and aerobic capacity, tend to sweat more and might start sweating sooner and more intensely as their bodies are better adapted to regulate temperature.
  • Weight: Individuals who are overweight or obese may experience increased sweating because of the greater degree of insulation more body fat provides.
  • Environment: Humidity, temperature, elevation, and wind can affect sweat production.
  • Hydration status: Well-hydrated individuals sweat more because their bodies don’t need to conserve water for other functions.

The benefits of sweating

Sweating offers additional health benefits beyond its main role in body temperature regulation:

  • Detoxification: Recent 2022 research suggests that dynamic exercise can effectively remove heavy metals through sweating, potentially more effectively than exposure in static, hot environments like saunas. However, it’s important to remember that the liver and kidneys are primarily responsible for detoxification.

  • Skin health: Sweating can enhance skin hydration, according to some studies.

  • Immune function: Research suggests that components found in sweat, such as dermcidin, have natural antibiotic properties. This means that sweating can potentially help combat harmful bacteria and infections on the skin.

The disadvantages of sweating

Despite its benefits, sweating can also present some drawbacks. Primarily, it leads to the loss of fluids and electrolytes, which are crucial to replenish after exercise. For those who sweat heavily—evidenced by wet clothes or white salt lines on the skin—restoring these lost resources through hydration is essential. “Two to three cups per pound of body weight lost is the current recommendation for replenishing fluids after exercise,” notes Weekley.

Edidiong Kaminska, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, explains that while sweating helps eliminate impurities from the body, it can also clog pores, leading to breakouts and other skin issues. Excessive sweating can also trigger seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), especially in those naturally prone to this condition.

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