Smelling Ammonia After Exercise

Hispanic woman holding water bottle
Young woman sweating after a workout. (Image: Terry Vine/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Sweating and physical activity are inseparable when it comes to exercise, because sweating is needed to help keep your body temperature under control. However, sweat also creates odor based off of a wide range of variables from what you eat to the presence of bacteria on your skin. One odor that you may experience when exercising is a slight ammonia odor. (Always consult your doctor if the odor is particularly strong, or if it accompanies other physical symptoms.)

Why You Sweat

Your body needs to stay at a constant internal temperature of around 98.6 degrees to operate at its full potential. When you exercise, your body creates energy at an accelerated rate to keep up with the energy loss of muscle action during exercise. A byproduct of the energy creation process is heat. When the body gets too hot, it turns to sweating to cool the body down. Sweating works through evaporative cooling. As liquid sweat exits the pores, it is introduced to the natural movement of air around your body. As the sweat evaporates off the body, heat escapes as well, and is moved away from the body by the air current, resulting in a marked cooling of your internal temperature.

Bacteria and Odor

Sweat in itself is practically odorless. However, if sweat from your appocrine glands in areas like your armpits or groin comes into contact with bacteria on your skin, odor can develop as bacteria processes substances released with your sweat. Appocrine sweat contains fat, which bacteria on your skin consume, leaving a byproduct behind that gives off the familiar smell of bad body odor.

Nitrogen

In some cases, additional smells to your sweat can be released due to the types of foods you eat. A common example of this is garlic or onions, which can change the smell of your sweat if you eat large amounts of foods containing these products. The smell of ammonia is associated with eating too much protein in your diet. Protein provides essential amino acids to your diet, and within these amino acids is nitrogen.

Ammonia Smell

When too much nitrogen is present in your system, your body depends on the kidneys to process the excess nitrogen. This process creates urea, which can then be expelled through your urine. However, when there is too much for the kidneys to even process, then the excess nitrogen is secreted as ammonia through your sweat. When you exercise and sweat at a greater rate than normal, enough ammonia escapes for you to actually smell it.

Treating Ammonia Smell

To treat the ammonia smell in your sweat, switch your diet to consume more carbohydrates. Your body's first choice for energy is typically carbohydrates. When you consume enough carbohydrate sources, your body is less likely to use amino acids from protein to create energy, reducing the amount of nitrogen produced in your body. Choose complex carbohydrate sources such as legumes or whole-grain breads or cereals.

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