Sauna Suits – They work! But how?
In her most recent video, Dr. Rhonda Patrick (PhD) discusses the benefits of conditioning the body to heat (i.e. saunas and sauna suits), something she calls ‘hyperthermic conditioning’. The benefits she discusses are far and wide, including increasing muscle mass and endurance, increasing blood flow to the heart, and improving cognitive function! This video is a must watch put together by a very highly trained medical professional.
The video is however, a little hard to keep up with at times due to the technical and scientific language used! So, provided below is an overview of her most important points:
How does heat conditioning improve athletic endurance?
In this new video, Dr. Patrick starts by discussing the ways in which our body adapts in response to heat and how these adaptations help to improve athletic endurance:
Heat adaptations can improve athletic endurance by:
- Increasing blood flow to the muscles - when we heat up our blood vessels become wider, allowing more blood to reach our muscles. This means more nutrients, sugars, fats and oxygen are delivered to our muscles during a high temperature workout, when compared to a regular workout. The benefit here lies in the fact that during exercise, our muscles can quickly use up the nutrients and energy delivered via the blood stream and will then draw upon the energy stores within the muscle itself. When this happens our muscles will quickly fatigue and this is the feeling many refer to as ‘hitting a wall’ during exercise. Training in higher temperatures, i.e. using a sauna suit, can prevent muscle fatigue by the mechanisms mentioned above – delivering more blood, nutrients and oxygen to our muscles, therefore reducing the need for them to utilize their own precious and minimal energy stores!
- Increasing blood flow to the heart – by the same principle, blood flow to the heart is also increased during a high temperature work out. This means that when working out in a Sauna Suit, there will be less strain placed on your heart than if working out in regular clothing at a regular temperature. This is a good thing, as lowering strain on the heart allows us to work out for a longer period of time without tiring!
- Increasing blood flow to the skin – the hotter we are, the more blood that reaches our skin as our blood vessels widen. This process also switches on our Sympathetic nervous system, necessary for sweating to occur. These effects take place during a sauna or sauna suit work out sooner than if working out in regular conditions, meaning we will start to sweat earlier. Sweating earlier means we can release body heat more quickly, allowing us to feel more comfortable, regulate our body temperature and maintain a work out for a longer time.
From here, Dr. Patrick then discusses a specific study demonstrating how sauna use can improve athletic endurance. In this study, six distance runners were able to increase the distance they could run by up to 32% by using the sauna twice a week. This really is an outstanding result, and likely due to the endurance enhancements caused by heat conditioning mentioned above.
How does heat conditioning help build muscle?
Next, Dr. Patrick discusses how hyperthermic conditioning can improve ‘muscle hypertrophy’. This is the term used for gaining muscle mass by increasing the size of our muscle cells (which is the aim of the game right!?). To increase the size of our muscle cells we require extra protein and ‘protein synthesis’ is the term used for the creation of new proteins in the body. Exercise has long been known to assist in protein synthesis, resulting in increased muscle mass. On the down side, exercise can also place oxidative stress on our bodies, meaning that some of these new proteins we create may be broken down – not ideal! So, we must find a balance between the building up and breaking down, which is how wearing a sauna suit during exercise can play a part (see below).
Increasing our body heat during exercise i.e. wearing a sauna suit, can combat oxidative stress resulting in ‘muscle hypertrophy’ by the following two methods:
- ‘Heat shock proteins’ are, as the name suggests, produced when our body heat is increased (again think saunas and sauna suits). The name may sound scary, although in actual fact they are very beneficial proteins responsible for repairing other proteins in the body that have been damaged by oxidative stress (or otherwise). This is great news, as we need our proteins to be healthy and working at their prime in order to increase muscle mass! The positives don’t stop there, these ‘heat shock proteins’ are also responsible for producing the anti-oxidant Glutathione, which acts by removing harmful ‘free radicals’, which could otherwise cause tissue and cell damage in the body.
The next point of discussion is a little technical, but essentially Dr. Patrick is explaining how heat conditioning can result in ‘heat shock protein’ levels remaining high post workout, even when we are at rest (referred to as basal) and additionally, that the amount of ‘heat shock protein’ we release will increase with each subsequent high temperature work out.
- Insulin is a hormone you are likely familiar with, primarily responsible for lowering blood sugar levels. An additional function of insulin, much like heat shock proteins, is to build up new proteins and prevent them from breaking down, therefore contributing to ‘muscle hypertrophy’. There is evidence to suggest that heat conditioning can increase our sensitivity to insulin, meaning it can do its job a whole lot easier!
How does heat conditioning positively affect the brain?
Now, if improving athletic endurance and muscle mass is yet to have you convinced about the benefits of heat conditioning, listen up! Heat conditioning has also been shown to have positive effects on brain function, including improved memory, attention, focus and nerve cell repair! This is due to the brain hormones Norepinephrine and Prolactin and heat conditioning has been shown to significantly increase the amount of these hormones released and stored in the body.
Exposing our body to heat on a regular basis can also improve neurogenesis – the production of new brain cells, a vital and important process that we should all want to maximize! This is because, during heat exposure, the body releases a substance known as Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (lets go with BDNF for short) which promotes neurogenesis. Along with helping to produce new brain cells, BDNF has also been shown in to improve learning and memory, reduce depression and anxiety and promote muscle growth.
Exciting stuff hey!!!
So what about the ‘runner’s high?
In the last part of her video, Dr. Patrick discusses what causes the ‘runner’s high’, or that buzz you get during or after a long run/workout. She goes on to explain that this feeling is due to the presence of Dynorphin in the body, a substance released when we feel discomfort i.e. exercise, heat. Dynorphin allows the body to then release and respond to Endorphine, the substance well known as a ‘feel good’ hormone. Wearing a sauna suit further increases our body heat and can maximize this process, helping us to respond to Endorphine during a workout – hence the runner’s high!
Ok, information over load, but the content is very valuable! So let’s summarize Dr. Patrick’s main points.
Conditioning the body to heat can:
- Improve muscle growth – by promoting the release of ‘heat shock proteins’ and growth hormone and increasing our sensitivity to insulin, all of which help to build and repair muscle proteins.
- Improve memory, focus and nerve cell repair – by enhancing the release and storage of Norepinephrine and Prolactin.
- Help to produce new brain cells – by promoting the release of BDNF, a substance with many beneficial properties!
- Allow us to reach the ‘Runner’s High’ and feel good after exercise – by allowing us to respond more readily to those happy hormones, Endorphins!
We knew that getting hot and sweaty was good for us, but now we know why (beyond the burning of extra calories)! Of course, as with any workout, it is important that you don’t overdo it and listen to your body when using the sauna or working out in a sauna suit. Make sure to always rehydrate and take a break if need be. So there you have it, working out in a Kutting Weight sauna suit can not only help you to lose weight, but also build muscle, improve our memory and fill us with feel good endorphins! What is not to love!