Common questions that get asked about saunas are ‘can saunas help you lose weight?’ or ‘how do saunas help you lose weight?’, or some other similar variant. We are going to help to demystify this question for you once and for all; quite simply the answer is no, but sort of yes.
What does that mean? The truth is, saunas are not directly responsible for fat loss but that doesn’t mean that they are not an effective supplement in your weight loss journey. So hear us out.
But before we get into that, please note that the information in this post is strictly for informational purposes only. As each situation is unique, we urge that you consult with your health care practitioner before engaging in your weight loss journey, exercise regime, or sauna use.
Now with that out of the way, let’s dive into the fun stuff. We’ve got a well researched, detailed read laid out for you.
First of all, you might be asking yourself, “Hey- what about water weight?” Ok, sauna use does help you to lose weight when considering your water weight, so let’s start there.
If you’ve ever been conscious of your weight, then you’ve probably jumped on the scale from one day to the next and been shocked that you’d gained 3 lbs literally overnight! Don’t worry, it’s not just you- we’ve all had that moment. Instead, take solace in the fact that it’s not possible to gain 3 lbs of fat overnight. That weight gain is likely caused by your body holding on to excess water that could be due to a variety of factors such as consuming too much salt the night before. One of our most dynamic organs, the kidney, will hold onto water to help dilute the salt and correct that salt imbalance in your body. You will also appear to be bloated if your body is dehydrated as well, as odd as that may sound.
So yes, water weight is still weight and for some, that number on the scale is important. But there should be a distinction made between weight and fat.
By using a sauna, you will sweat and release fluids stored in your body. Depending on your usage, it is possible to lose somewhere between 2 - 4 lbs as a result. The sad news is that this is temporary weight loss. As soon as you rehydrate, you’ll generally put that weight back on per your body’s requirements. If you're holding on to excess water weight as a result of a full day of pizza, chips and soda, then the sauna may help to lessen this, so you’ll likely have to wait for your body to correct the salt imbalance to get rid of that bloating.
So that’s it? Saunas don’t really help then?
Not quite. Unsurprisingly we are advocates for regular sauna use, as not only are there clinical benefits to hopping in your sauna several times a week, but sauna use can also play a key role in your weight loss journey.
Weight Loss and Calories
Since 1824, nutritionists have used the calorie as a unit of energy to determine the amount of fuel produced by consumables. We get our fuel by ingesting foods, which then give us energy. Throughout the day, our body burns fuel (a.k.a. calories) simply by living and breathing. We can influence this number and burn more calories with certain activities such as exercise.
So it only makes sense that if we take in less energy than we burn throughout the day, then we are in a calorie deficit: our body needs more calories than we have consumed. Unlike a car, we won’t just cease to move once we are out of gas. Instead, we will use our reserves for more energy. These reserves are stored in our body as fat. If we consistently use more calories than we consume, we will then burn fat.
So let’s say that John needs 2,500 calories to maintain his current weight (you can roughly calculate this amount known as your Total Daily Energy Expenditure here) and he consumes 2,000 calories throughout the day. This means that John is in a calorie deficit and will thus lose body fat if he keeps it up. Conversely, if he consumes 3,000 calories, he will then gain body fat.
The question then becomes, how do we burn more calories and lose body fat?
Well, saunas use can actually increase the number of calories burned by 1.5 times. So if you burn around 40 calories sitting for 30 minutes, that same time spent in the sauna would burn 60 calories. It’s not much, but it’s something. Sadly it’s not enough for you to be able to sit and melt the fat away.
However, if you were to remove the benches in the Medical Ultra Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna series, there is ample space for a hot yoga session. Hot yoga has been shown to improve flexibility, but the exercise coupled with the heat would surely result in more calories burnt.
Muscle Mass and Calories
According to numerous studies, muscle burns more calories than fat does even when resting. Around 10 lbs of muscle would burn 50 calories at rest, whereas 10 lbs of fat would only burn 20 calories.
So by exercising, increasing resistance and volume applied to your muscles, and consuming sufficient calories and protein, you should be able to increase your muscle mass.
That’s all well and good, but what role do saunas play in all this you ask?
Well, studies have shown that regular sauna use can help to increase muscle hypertrophy by preventing protein degradation. Here’s how:
Improving the Release of Growth Hormones
Heat has shown to induce muscular hypertrophy (growth) according to this study. Coupled with exercise, which also induces muscular hypertrophy, the two of these can build upon each other.
According Dr. Rhonda Patrick, ‘At any given time, your muscles are performing a balancing act between NEW protein synthesis and degradation of existing proteins. The important thing is your net protein synthesis, and not strictly the amount of new protein synthesis occurring. Protein degradation occurs both during muscle use and disuse.’
This is where things get interesting. When your body is exposed to high temperatures for brief periods (also known as hyperthermic conditioning), heat acclimation has shown to reduce the amount of protein degradation. This would help to boost your net protein synthesis, and thus, aid in hypertrophy.
Inducing Heat Shock Proteins
Heat shock proteins are induced in heat and can support cellular antioxidant capacity. Oxidative stress, by the way, is a major source of protein degradation. So simply put, heat shock proteins help to fight oxidative stress. They can also heal and repair damaged proteins and help to support their proper structure and function.
Selsby et al. showed that controlled hyperthermic conditions in rats induced a robust expression in heat shock proteins in muscle, which correlated with up to 30% more muscle regrowth.
To put it in simple terms, heat shock proteins are what we need to recover. So saunas are thereby a great supplement to exercise, as they will help to heal your muscles so that you can get back in the gym or studio much quicker.
Improving Insulin Sensitivity
Sauna use may be linked to improving insulin sensitivity, as insulin regulates protein metabolism in skeletal muscle by increasing protein synthesis; it stimulates the uptake of amino acids and decreases protein degradation through the inhibition of protein complexes found inside the cells that are primarily responsible for the degradation of most cellular proteins.
A study found that regular sauna bathing helped to reduce cholesterol, as hyperthermic conditioning aided in reducing low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and slightly increasing high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
LDL is typically known as ‘bad cholesterol’ since it takes cholesterol to your arteries, where it may collect and ultimately cause blood clots. If a blood clot breaks away, it may block an artery in your heart or brain, which may result in a heart attack or stroke. HDL on the other hand is known as the ‘good cholesterol’ , as it helps to move cholesterol along to your liver, where it is processed and then released from your body.
Over the course of 10 complete sessions, the study found that cholesterol levels improved and were even likened to a similar effect that ‘can be obtained through a moderate-intensity physical exercise.’
A lack of good quality sleep has shown to throw out the regulation of ghrelin and leptin, which are two neurotransmitters that are thought to be central to appetite. To make matters worse, there’s also evidence that suggests that sleep deprivation can even influence your choice of foods, increasing tendencies to choose foods that are high in calories and carbohydrates!
Saunas are a great way to improve your sleep. They can help to influence your body into a parasympathetic state where rest and digestion is improved. So by regularly using your sauna, you may actually improve the quality of your sleep (although you can’t skip out on the hours!), and will help you rest and even aid in muscle recovery. It can also help curb your cravings and appetite.
So there you have it.
In a very roundabout way, we have taken a closer look into how saunas can influence weight loss. While saunas themselves may not directly result in the loss of fat, regular use has other benefits that would in turn influence your weight loss journey by burning slightly more calories, helping to build muscle (which in turn burns more calories), regulating your cholesterol (which correlates to weight loss), and improving sleep patterns (which curbs your appetite and cravings).
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Gryka et al. The effect of sauna bathing on lipid profile in young, physically active, male subjects, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25001587/
Howell, S & Kones, R, “Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories., https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00156.2017
Levine, DI. The curious history of the calorie in U.S. policy: a tradition of unfulfilled promises. Am J Prev Med 52: 125–129, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2016.08.012.
Magee, L. 8 Ways To Burn Calories and Burn Fat, https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/features/8-ways-to-burn-calories-and-fight-fat#
Selsby, J. T. et al. Intermittent hyperthermia enhances skeletal muscle regrowth and attenuates oxidative damage following reloading. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00722.2006 (2007).