Sitting in a sauna can be a great way to relax and unwind. But there’s also some evidence that saunas can benefit athletic performance.
That thinking is what lies behind the sauna suit as a way to improve the results of exercise. If you’ve been thinking about giving one a try, you’ve come to the right place!
We’re going to look at 3 1/2 sauna suit benefits that mean it might just be worth taking the plunge. And we’ll also look at some claims that don’t hold water.
So if you’re ready, let’s find out more!
What is a sauna suit?
You might imagine that a sauna suit heats you up. And it does – but it doesn’t generate any heat itself. Instead, it gets you warm by keeping in the heat your body generates. And if you sweat, your sweat can’t evaporate to cool you down.
The suit achieves this because of the material it’s made from. This is usually neoprene or rubber, sometimes with a layer of fabric on top. Neoprene is the same stuff that wetsuits are made of, and it’s both flexible and completely waterproof.
If you’re exercising, you’ll be raising your body temperature. The suit will mean you’re not able to cool down as effectively through sweating. That in turn makes you sweat more.
So why might be a good thing? Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of wearing a sauna suit.
1. Heat acclimation
If you’re an athlete, you may be competing in events all over the world. And that might mean enduring temperatures much higher than those you’re used to. In that case, a sauna suit can be a very effective training aid.
By wearing it as you’re working out, you’ll get used to the feeling of being hot. That can be an important part of the preparation for competition.
When you compete in an environment that’s naturally hotter, you’ll have the confidence to know you can cope with the conditions. And that can help you to relax and perform at your best.
2. Improved endurance
There are very different views out there on whether sauna suits can improve endurance levels.
Those who say they can point to a recent study by researchers at Western State Colorado University. This looked at a group of 14 endurance athletes, 12 men and two women.
Baseline fitness assessments were undertaken. The researchers then divided the group in two, with each sub-group having roughly the same fitness levels.
One of the sub-groups undertook a set training regime over 14 days wearing their normal training gear. The other sub-group followed the same regime, but wore a sauna suit. At the end of the two weeks, the participants’ fitness levels were tested again and compared.
The results were significant. The athletes who’d worn the sauna suits had higher VO2 max levels and higher respiratory thresholds. That basically means their bodies were able to perform better over longer periods.
Easier to understand was the impact on their times for running 5 kilometers. These improved by an average of 3 per cent in the group that wore sauna suits.
Interestingly, unlike the control group, their times during runs in heated and normal conditions were almost the same. That suggests that the sauna suits helped the athletes optimize their performance in the heat.
This all sounds great. The only problem is that it’s just one study, and it used a small number of people. The participants in the study were all very fit already too. There’s no way of knowing whether you’d get the same results with a different group of people.
And there were considerable differences in the changed running times within the sub-group that wore sauna suits. That may mean other factors also influenced the changes. Or it could mean that sauna suits are more effective for some people than others.
In short, the signs are good. But more research is needed before we can say for sure that sauna suits improve endurance.
3. Improved health if you’re overweight
One of the often mooted benefits of saunas in general is that they help users to lose weight. Unfortunately, whilst that’s true, it’s not the whole story.
The weight you’ll lose in a sauna is water, not fat. You lose it because you’re sweating. Your body then needs to replace that water, and it does so as soon as you take a drink. So the weight you’ve lost will go straight back on again.
But is it the same story for sauna suits?
We’ve already seen that one study indicated that sauna suits could help elite athletes improve their performance. But what about your average Joe trying to lose weight?
Another study by the same group of researchers set out to answer this question. The study used a group of 45 participants aged between 18 and 60, all of whom were overweight or obese.
The group was divided into three sub-groups. The first group undertook an exercise regime in their normal workout clothing. The second followed the same regime, but wore a sauna suit. And the third group didn’t change their levels of exercise.
The individuals in the groups who exercised were matched as closely as possible in terms of their existing fitness levels.
The results underlined the importance of exercise to losing weight and other health outcomes. The two groups who exercised showed improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And their waist measurements had reduced significantly too.
The difference between the two groups who had exercised were less pronounced. But there were still some added benefits for the group who’d worn sauna suits.
The biggest difference was in the VO2 max levels for the two groups. The group who had worn sauna suits saw an 11.7 per cent improvement in this measurement. That compared to an improvement of 7.3 per cent in the group that had exercised in their normal gear.
The study also suggested that wearing a sauna suit could help with weight loss. The group who had exercised in their normal gear saw an overall weight loss of 0.9 per cent. That rose to 2.6 per cent in the group who exercised wearing sauna suits.
As with the previous study, however, the sample sizes here were small. There were only 12 people in the group who exercised in normal clothing, and 16 people in the group who were sauna suits.
The balance between men and women in the two groups was different too. And while participants were instructed to eat normally and not to undertake any other physical activity during the study, they weren’t monitored.
All this means that we need to take the results with a pinch of salt. The signs are good that sauna suits can help with health outcomes if you’re overweight. But it’s too early to say for sure.
What we do know is that getting active really does help. So whether or not you choose to wear a sauna suit, exercise is a great way to improve your health.
3 ½. Fat loss?
The potential benefit of sauna suits to fat loss is – pardon the pun – hotly disputed.
Parts of the sauna industry have claimed for years that saunas in general melt away fat. But there’s no scientific evidence whatsoever to support this.
We’ve also seen dubious inventions like the sauna belt, which claim to allow users to “trim” their waist. Again, there’s no scientific basis for such claims. Even if heat could melt away fat – which the evidence suggests it can’t – it’s impossible to target particular spots.
The only likely outcome from wearing a sauna belt is a hot waist. And if you keep it on too long, you may find yourself with heat rash.
But there is some evidence, albeit meagre, that sauna suits combined with exercise can help with fat loss.
It’s the same study from the University of Western Colorado cited above, the one that studied overweight and obese people. As well as finding differences in VO2 Max and weight, it also found a difference in the reduction in body fat.
The group who wore normal clothes to exercise reduced their body fat levels by 8.3 per cent over the two weeks. That’s pretty impressive.
But for the group who were sauna suits to exercise, the results were even better. Their body fat levels dropped by 13.8 per cent.
That’s a significant difference. But there are the same problems in trying to draw firm conclusions from this. The sample size was small, the groups weren’t monitored at all times, and the comparator groups weren’t identical.
It’s also very difficult to see how a sauna suit could help with fat loss. In fact, other studies seem to suggest that the opposite might be true.
In 1994, a study of cyclists found that when exercising in different temperatures, different nutrients were used as fuel. At lower temperatures, the body burned fat. But when it got hotter, the body switched to burning carbohydrates instead.
Unfortunately, this study also had a small sample size. In this case, 13 cyclists participated in the research.
So what’s the verdict? Well, there’s evidence both ways – and none of it is very strong! If you want to wear a sauna suit to help with heat acclimation or to improve endurance, go for it. But if fat loss is your main goal, you’ll do better to focus on your diet and exercise levels.
A couple of myths
You may have heard other benefits touted for sauna suits. We’re going to look at a couple of those claims that just aren’t true …
The idea that saunas help you detox is a persistent one, and it’s been extended to sauna suits too. On the face of it, it makes sense. When you use a sauna or sauna suit, you sweat more. Sweat carries toxins. So more sweat equals more toxins removed from your body.
But unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Sweat actually contains very few toxins. It’s mostly water with small amounts of electrolytes.
It may contain some heavy metals, but the amounts are tiny. And they’re nothing compared to the quantity you’ll consume in a normal day’s diet. Sweat even ten times as much as you would in a normal day, and you’ll still barely dent toxin levels.
The function of sweat is to cool your core temperature. Getting rid of toxins is the job of your kidneys and liver. And sweating a lot can actually cause your kidneys to save water. That makes them less able to get rid of the toxins circulating in your body.
Improved immune function
Another of the benefits sometimes claimed for sauna suits is that they improve your immune function.
This seems to be related to the idea that when you get hot, your body thinks it has a fever. It then sends out antibodies to combat this imaginary ailment, improving your overall immunity.
Fortunately, our bodies are much cleverer than this. Getting hot is a normal part of the human condition anywhere the sun shines! There’s no reason for your body to imagine it means you have an infection. And while the vitamin D in sunshine does boost immunity, getting warm doesn’t.
Is a sauna suit right for you?
That brings us to the end of our look at 3 ½ sauna suit benefits! We hope you’ve found it helpful.
There are lots of myths out there when it comes to the benefits of saunas and sauna suits. But as long as you don’t expect miracles, they can have some advantages.
They’re particularly useful for athletes who want to get used to training in hot conditions. And it seems they can also help build up endurance levels, no matter how fit you are to start with.
But the evidence for wider claims is patchy at best. And there are some things – like detoxing or boosting your immunity – that sauna suits simply won’t do.
Whether or not you decide to try a sauna suit is up to you. But for a healthier body, keep your focus on diet and exercise, and you won’t go far wrong.
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