Sweating is a natural bodily reaction to exercise, fever or stress and can even release endorphins and toxins and improve skin health. However, when too many nutrients are lost in sweat, you may feel depleted and fatigued.
Profuse sweating can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and a loss of vitamin C. You can replace these nutrients lost in sweat by increasing your intake of certain foods in your diet and consuming sports drinks during or after exercise.
Excessive sweating can lead to the depletion of important nutrients and vitamins, particularly potassium, sodium, calcium and vitamin C.
Why You Sweat
Your sweat glands are an essential part of your ability to cool your body. When your temperature rises, sweat glands release water where it then evaporates from the skin surface to cool the skin and blood below.
Sweat is also important to skin regeneration after injury, such as a burn. And, as noted in a paper published in Glycobiology in March 2016, sweat protects the body from infection by washing away bacteria.
Read more: Ew! Why Do I Sweat So Much When I Work Out?
The_ International Journal of Analytical Chemistry_ published a paper in March 2015 affirming that sweat is a biofluid — just like blood and urine — that can be analyzed to screen for certain diseases and test for certain drug usage.
Electrolytes Lost With Sweat
Athletes and people who sweat a lot during a serious illness are probably familiar with electrolytes. These charged ions that conduct electrical activity in your body to help you maintain fluid balance, promote muscle contraction and facilitate neural activity, explains the American Council on Exercise.
Heavy sweating and dehydration trigger the release of high concentrations of electrolytes through your sweat, especially sodium and chloride, and to a lesser extent, potassium, magnesium and calcium.
During a tough sweat session, a loss of sodium can cause cramping and decreased performance. You may lose your appetite and feel dizzy due to a sodium depletion and can also be at risk of hyponatremia, or abnormally low levels of sodium in the blood. If you rehydrate with lots of water and don't include sodium, it dilutes your blood's sodium levels and can lead to complications, explains the Cleveland Clinic.
Symptoms of depleted chloride, another electrolyte you lose in large quantities when you sweat, include changes in your pH levels and irregularities in your heart rate.
Read more: Vitamins and Minerals for Leg Cramps
While you do lose less potassium, magnesium and calcium in sweat as compared to sodium and chloride, you can experience symptoms from this loss. These symptoms affect athletic performance and your overall well-being. They include:
- Muscle weakness and cramps
- Mental confusion
- Muscle spasms
If you lose enough calcium regularly, the loss can put you at risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Read more: Symptoms of a Potassium Overdose
Excessive Sweating and Vitamin Deficiency
Along with potassium and calcium, people who sweat excessively may also excrete vitamin C. As noted in a study published in Industrial Health in May 2016, steelworkers who lost a lot of sweat during their eight-hour workdays lost vitamin C, potassium and calcium. These micronutrient losses negatively affected blood pressure in these more than 200 workers, causing the researchers to suggest that working temperatures be lowered.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, and you need 75 to 90 milligrams per day. The National Institutes of Health explains that vitamin C is important to a healthy immune system and the development of collagen, which is a protein essential to tissue development. Without adequate collagen, wounds don't heal quickly and you're more prone to wrinkling and fine lines.
Vitamin C is also an antioxidant that protects you from free radicals, elements in the environment that degrade cells and put you at risk for inflammation and chronic disease. Vitamin C also helps you absorb iron from food.
Replacing Lost Electrolytes
If you exercise for long periods of time, such as during a marathon, sweat a lot when working outdoors or suffer a bout of vomiting or diarrhea and are low in electrolytes, you benefit from replacing these essential nutrients. Electrolytes taken with food, primarily carbohydrates, are absorbed most readily, explains the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
The American Council on Exercise suggests a sports drink for exercise sessions lasting longer than 60 to 90 minutes. You may need electrolyte replacement if you do strenuous work in hot temperatures, too.
Natural sources of sodium include dill pickles, pretzels and tomato juice. Adults up to age 50 should aim for up to 1,500 milligrams per day. Chloride is found in table salt and some produce, such as tomatoes, celery, olives and lettuce. Aim for 2,300 milligrams per day as an adult.
Potassium is readily replenished through bananas, beans, plain yogurt and baked potatoes with the skin. You benefit from as much as 4,700 milligrams per day. Halibut, tofu, tomato paste and pumpkin seeds, among other foods, are rich in magnesium; you need 320 to 420 milligrams daily depending on your gender.
Aim for 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, on average, through foods such as dairy products, spinach and other leafy greens and canned fish with the bones. Calcium needs rise when you sweat a lot, and aiming for more is always a good idea to boost the health of your skeleton.
Getting More Vitamin C
You know you get a good dose of vitamin C in a glass of orange juice, but that's not the only source. Whole oranges, grapefruit juice, red peppers, strawberries and broccoli are also good places to get vitamin C, explains the National Institutes of Health.
Eat these foods raw to maximize your vitamin C intake. High heat or prolonged cooking breaks down the vitamin, explains the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Toss raw broccoli and peppers in a salad or munch on fruit as a snack.
- Industrial Health: "Relationships Between Micronutrient Losses in Sweat and Blood Pressure Among Heat-Exposed Steelworkers"
- American Council on Exercise: "Electrolytes: Understanding Replacement Options"
- Glycobiology: "Sweating the Small Stuff: Glycoproteins in Human Sweat and Their Unexplored Potential for Microbial Adhesion"
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "Electrolytes: Performance Perks and Real Food Sources"
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin C"
- StatPearls: "Anatomy, Skin Sweat Glands"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Hyponatremia"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Vitamin C"
- International Journal of Analytical Chemistry: "Recent Developments in Sweat Analysis and Its Applications"