The Sweat Factor: Maximizing Performance in Triathlon Training

Sweat is part of our body’s physiological response to heat from both internal and external sources often experienced in our triathlon training.

In this post, we’ll explore the reason we sweat, compare the benefits of sweating through exercise versus sauna use, look at differences between saunas and steam rooms, discuss strategies for maximizing the benefits of sweating during exercise, and examine the unique considerations for older athletes with sweating.

Whether you’re a seasoned triathlete or a novice competitor, understanding the role of sweating in training can help you reach your peak performance on race day.

Sweat: It’s Personal

Learning about sweating is near and dear to me because I sweat a lot during exercise.

The stares of those around me who notice the puddles of sweat on each side of my stationary bike toward the end of a cycling class still intimidate me. Having seen me sweat during an earlier class, one woman changed bikes after I began setting up one next to her. She admitted she did not want my sweat getting on her; I couldn’t blame her.

And, I will always remember the sloshing sound that came from me as a 30-something woman slapped me on the back during the Lake Lanier Triathlon in Georgia.

Still, people have often told me that my sweating is a “good thing”.

Why Do We Sweat?

Sweating is our body’s natural mechanism for cooling during physical exertion or exposure to heat.

As we engage in exercise or face high temperatures, the brain signals the sweat glands to produce sweat, which evaporates from the skin to dissipate heat and maintain a stable internal temperature. This process, known as thermoregulation, is crucial for preventing overheating and ensuring optimal athletic performance during training and competition.

Related post: Pros and Cons of Running in the Heat

However, according to research published in Biology of Sport, “if heat production exceeds the body’s ability to dissipate it, an athlete’s Tc [core body temperature] will increase, often resulting in a reduction in pace or power output”. Science has proven the relationship between the body’s ability to cool itself and athletic performance.

Which is better: Sweating with exercise or sauna?

Sweating can occur during exercise and while sitting in a sauna. Is one better than the other?

Both offer unique benefits for triathlon training, though they serve different purposes. Exercise-induced sweating not only helps regulate body temperature but also provides cardiovascular benefits, improves endurance, and strengthens muscles.

Saunas provide a passive means of inducing sweat by exposing the body to high temperatures, promoting relaxation, stress relief, and potential detoxification. Surprising me are the many research-based benefits to an athlete of sitting in a sauna after a workout.

This table includes a comparison of the most common types of saunas used by endurance athletes.

Dry (also known as “Finnish sauna”)InfraredSteam
Temperature, typical160°F to 200°F
(70°C to 95°C)
120°F to 150°F
(49°C to 66°C)
110°F to 120°F
(43°C to 49°C)
Relative humidityaround 5%5% to 20% at or near 100%
Main applications for endurance athletes-increase circulation
-increase heat tolerance
-faster recovery and reduced muscle soreness through deeper penetration of heat
-increase circulation within the skin
-open up airways, loosen congestion, and alleviate symptoms of some respiratory conditions
-hydrate the skin
-promote physical and mental relaxation

The best sauna to support your triathlon training hinges on preference, training needs and goals, individual health considerations, and facilities you have available to you. Some athletes may prefer the intense heat and dry environment of a traditional dry sauna, while others may favor the gentle, penetrating heat of an infrared sauna or a moist, steamy environment that can be gentler on the respiratory system and may offer hydration benefits for the skin, especially important during cold, dry winters.

Regardless of the type of sauna used, incorporating sauna sessions into a triathlon training regimen can help athletes optimize performance, enhance recovery, and improve overall well-being.

Remember, consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating sauna sessions into your training routine, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns.

Make The Most of Sweat In Triathlon Training

To maximize the benefits of sweating during exercise, triathletes can employ various strategies:

  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise to replenish fluids lost through sweat and maintain optimal hydration. And while you are hydrating, consider your need for electrolytes.
  • Dress appropriately: Wear lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing to help with sweat evaporation to cool your body during workouts.
  • Choose the right environment: Exercise in well-ventilated areas or outdoors during cooler times of the day to prevent overheating and allow you to sweat longer.
  • Listen to your body: Pay attention to signs of dehydration or overheating. Adjust intensity or duration as appropriate. Take breaks as needed to prevent heat-related injuries.

Age-Specific Risks And Benefits of Sweating

Aging can affect how older athletes experience and benefit from the sweat in their triathlon training.

Certain risks increase with age. Older athletes may have reduced thermoregulatory efficiency, increasing the risk of overheating and heat-related illnesses during training or competition. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances are also common concerns among older athletes, requiring careful attention to hydration and nutrition.

On the other hand, the benefits are significant. Despite age-related changes, regular exercise can help older athletes maintain cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and cognitive function. Sweating during exercise may also promote detoxification, improve mood, and enhance overall well-being in older adults.

Embrace The Sweat

Sweating is integral to triathlon training, facilitating thermoregulation, enhancing performance, and promoting overall health and well-being. By understanding the benefits of sweating, we can choose a course to help build strength and endurance and recover faster and more completely. The ideal approach may involve a combination of exercise and sauna induced sweating.

With a balanced approach to sweating in triathlon training, athletes of all ages can unlock their full potential and excel in their athletic pursuits.

What works for you?

Do you have a preference in the type of sauna you use? Why?

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