Will Sauna visits increase your performance?

sauna benefits, health benefits, performance

Will the sauna benefit your performance? To answer that you will need to know the byproducts of working-out/training: it increases energy consumption. This has several consequences: energy consumption produces heat and waste products, and damage to the body that needs to be repaired (not only muscles; bones, tendons, soft tissue and blood vessels are all exposed).

The body doesn’t like that, because it likes to keep it’s temperature stable, it likes to hold on to homeostasis

The production of heat due to energy consumption will increase the body’s temperature. The body doesn’t like that, because it likes to keep it’s temperature stable, it likes to hold on to homeostasis, since many processes in the body are influenced by changes in temperature. Meaning that is doesn’t like seeing it’s pH to increase or decrease, just as with its temperature, it will try to lower the temperature back to normal levels. For that is has several options: dilate the blood vessels (turning red), sweating and the signal to your brain telling you: ‘Hot!!’

An increasing body temperature will decrease the ability to perform, simply due to the amount of energy it costs to decrease the temperature. So if you are not used to the heat, a 35 degrees Celsius day will not be the day you will crush your 10k running PR.

Warmth can thus be a major factor in limiting your performance, but is it possible to train that? To do that you will need a room with a high temperature: like a sauna.

There is research on the subject, Scoon et al [3] did a study with well trained runners asking them to sit 30min in a sauna after a training 4 times per week comparing it with a control group that didn’t finish their training with visiting the sauna. After 3 weeks, the sauna group performed 32% better at a run test to exhaustion and decreased their 5k time with 1.9%. This is one of the few studies on the effect of sauna on performance, but there is a lot research looking at other health benefits of sauna visits which could increase your recovery.

Growth hormone [1,2,6,14,15,21,22,23]

A hormone that facilitates growth, cell reproduction and cell regeneration .

GH stimulates the production en reinforcement of bonetissue; production of muscle tissue; breaking down fat cells; and plays rolls in the immune system and homeostasis.  A loss of GH will result in a relative increase in fat tissue, decrease of muscle tissue and often a decrease in energy and quality of life.

Visiting the sauna is a big stimulant for the production of GH: 7 visits of 30min doubled it [14] and GH increased 16 fold after 7 visits of 2 hours [6]. Other studies [1,2,15,21,22] also show a significant increase in GH after visiting the sauna.

sauna benefits, health benefits, performance

Heat shock proteins [17,18,19,27]

Heat shock proteins stimulate the renewing of cells, the demolition of old cells and limit tissue inflammation [18]. Beside that they also seem to have an important role in improving thermoregulation and offer protection against stressful events like ischemia, cytokines and energy depletion [18]. Half an hour of heat therapy gave an 3.6 fold increase in the concentration of heat shock proteins in mice [17].

red blood cells, increase endurance

Left ventricular ejection fraction [12,16]     When the ejection fraction of the left ventricle (hart chamber) increases, the total amount of blood pumped to the organs rises.  During times of high demand (eg training) a increase in ejection fraction is a welcome quality bringing oxygen to the muscles more quickly.

Red blood cells

Red blood cells were present in higher numbers in a group athletes who finished their training with a sauna session [3].

Red blood cells are the guys that transport the oxygen from the lungs to the muscles which makes them essential for energy production. That’s the reason a lot of cyclists expose themselves to altitude training, the altitude training stimulates the production of EPO which leads to higher red blood cells levels. Injecting EPO was also very popular.

Norepinephrine [4,25,26] and cortisol [1,14,15,20]                                              (Nor)epinephrine also called (nor)adrenaline and cortisol, are often referred to as stress hormones. Stress hormones produces the feeling of alertness and focus, decreases inflammation, increases the glucose absorption in muscles and breaking down fat but also decreases the bloodflow to organs and elevates blood pressure. Besides norepinephrine there is also a elevation in cortisol concentration upon heat exposure. This stress hormone suppresses inflammation, heightens the glucose storage in the liver, but also facilitates the withdrawal and demolition of certain proteins inside the muscles.

Pain                                                                                                                                                Although there’s not much research on the matter, visiting the sauna does seem to enlighten the pain symptoms in patients suffering from spondylitis [9] and rheumatoid arthritis [8]. But if you are experiencing a lot of muscle soreness/pains as an aftereffect of heavy training (weightlifting for example) I would not recommend it. The increase in stress hormones does decrease the inflammation, but the elevated body temperature will do the inflammation no good. This also applies to hot showers and baths. Lowering the inflammation (which is a big cause of the pain) is better done with cold therapy (showers, baths etc.)

Further sauna benefits?

lots of them: a lesser chance of getting the cold [5], fewer experienced symptoms in patients suffering from ankylosing  spondylitis [9] (a type of arthritis) and rheumatoid arthritis [8]; and patients with heart disease show increased ejection fraction and lowered blood pressure [11,12,13,16] (sauna visits are contraindicated with instable angina pectoris, recent heart attack or severe stenosis of the aorta). Furthermore the body adapts to heat making it easier to cope with increased body temperature by better heat regulating mechanisms.

blood pressure, lower blood pressure

Besides that, upon repeated sauna sessions, the body will be able to cope better with the heat, which has important benefits for performance.

Concluding.

Despite the low volume of research regarding the effects on recovery from exercise training (strength and endurance) and the mechanisms involved, the sauna benefits the health of athletes . The production of muscle en bone tissue is being stimulated by the elevation in growth hormone and heat shock proteins.  Further-more, research shows an elevation in red blood cells, which results in more capacity for oxygen transportation.

Besides that, upon repeated sauna sessions, the body will be able to cope better with the heat, which has important benefits for performance.

Due to the heat that is produced during training by elevated energy consumption, the body temperature rises which can be a major factor in limiting your performance. So being able to deal better with distributing heat and keep the temperature from rising as much, will give you a great advantage.

Got interested in buying one?

A sauna doesn’t take very much space and is a great investment if you want to increase your performance. Buying a sauna will cost you depending on the size between 700 to 1500 dollar.

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References:

  1. Effect of the sauna-induced thermal stimuli of various intensity on the thermal and hormonal metabolism in women.
  2. Haemodynamic and hormonal responses to heat exposure in a Finnish sauna bath
  3. Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners
  4. Response of plasma endorphins, prolactin and catecholamines in women to intense heat in a sauna
  5. Regular Sauna Bathing and the Incidence of Common Colds
  6. Endocrine effects of repeated sauna bathing
  7. Sauna-Induced Rapid Weight Loss decreases Explosive Power in Women but not in Men
  8. Infrared sauna in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis
  9. Effects of thermal therapy combining sauna therapy and underwater exercise in patients with fibromyalgia
  10. Effect of Repeated Sauna Treatment on Exercise Tolerance and Endothelial Function in Patients With Chronic Heart Failure
  11. The Effects of Finish Sauna on Hemodynamics of the Circulatory System in Men and Women
  12. Beneficial effects of sauna bathing for heart failure patients
  13. Effects of Sauna Alone and Postexercise Sauna Baths on Blood Pressure and Hemodynamic Variables in Patients With Untreated Hypertension
  14. THE INFLUENCE OF SAUNA TRAINING ON THE HORMONAL SYSTEM OF YOUNG WOMEN
  15. Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men
  16. Combined effects of repeated sauna therapy and exercise training on cardiac function and physical activity in patients with chronic heart failure
  17. Whole-body hyperthermia-induced thermotolerance is associated with the induction of Heat Shock Protein 70 in mice
  18. Invited Review: Heat shock proteins: modifying factors in physiological stress responses and acquired thermotolerance
  19. The Exercise-Induced Stress Response of Skeletal Muscle, with Specific Emphasis on Humans
  20. Effect of a Single Finnish Sauna Session on White Blood Cell Profile and Cortisol Levels in Athletes and Non-Athletes
  21. Effect of hyperthermia and physical activity on circulating growth hormone
  22. Exercise-induced hyperthermia and hormonal responses to exercise
  23. Growth hormone.
  24. METABOLIC AND HORMONAL RESPONSES TO EXOGENOUS HYPERTHERMIA IN MAN
  25. Unaltered norepinephrine-heart rate relationship in exercise with exogenous heat
  26. Heat acclimation: role of norepinephrine in the anterior hypothalamus
  27. 72 kDa Extracellular Heat Shock Protein (eHsp72), Norepinephrine (NE), and the Innate Immune Response Following Moderate Exercise

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