Enjoying the sauna, whether at the gym, spa, or at home, has become easier and more accessible. You don’t even have to have a barrel sauna constructed in your backyard. With the availability of various portable infrared saunas, you can experience the many benefits of using a sauna at home.
Although using a sauna provides a lot of benefits, one of the main concerns about using it is safety. One of the questions commonly asked is if it’s okay to go to a sauna after eating. In this aritcle, we’ll look at that issue, and explore the relationship between saunas and eating.
What Does A Sauna Do To The Body?
A sauna is traditionally a room heated by a wood or charcoal stove to high temperatures. Water is poured over rocks, placed on the stove, to produce steam. This method is still quite popular, though it is being overtaken by the infrared sauna (like the Radiant Sauna shown above) more recently.
Regardless, the goal of the sauna is to raise the temperature of the skin and the body.
When the temperature increases, heavy sweating is expected as your body tries to cool down. In order to produce more sweat, there are a few things that happen to the body.
First, your heart rate starts to rise as it pumps more blood to go to the skin. In order for blood to pass through your blood vessels more efficiently, the blood vessels also enlarge to improve the blood flow.
With this, the blood flow is directed to the skin as it needs to produce sweat to cool down.
Benefits Of Using A Sauna
De-stresses The Body
Using a sauna has many benefits, one of them is it helps de-stress the body so you can feel more relaxed. Traditionally, people go to the sauna to relax. The dilated blood vessels don’t only improve blood going to the skin but the overall blood flow in the body. The body also releases endorphins that help improve mood and make you feel relaxed.
Another benefit of using the sauna is to help deal with pain. Endorphins don’t just make you happy they are also great painkiller substitutes. Additionally, the improved blood flow also helps in reducing tension in your joints as well as relieving sore muscles.
Improves Skin Complexion
The increase in the blood flow towards the skin doesn’t only help with sweating. It also helps the skin cells as the blood also brings other nutrients with it. This can help in promoting new skin cell growth. The older and dead skin cells are removed and you’d also have a better complexion because of it. It also helps you look younger and more radiant.
Helps With Removing Toxins
The kidneys are usually responsible for removing the toxins through the urine. With heavy sweating, some of the toxins are also released along with the sweat. Toxins can come in the form of heavy metals like traces of lead, mercury, cadmium, or arsenic.
The weight loss that you get out of using the sauna is simply due to water loss. The sauna isn’t a substitute for regular exercise.
That said, it does help with weight loss by increasing metabolism and improving the use of oxygen through improved blood circulation. There are also some calories burned when the sauna is used.
Is It Okay To Sauna After Eating?
All those benefits you’ve learned about using the sauna can make you look forward to using it right away. However, if you’ve just eaten a significant meal, hold off on jumping in the sauna.
Unfortunately, it’s best to wait to use the sauna after eating, especially if you just had a big meal. If you really want to eat before heading to the sauna, then choose a small snack or a very light meal only.
The reason why it is not advisable to have a sauna session right after eating is that your body needs to digest the food you just ate.
Digestion requires a lot of work from the body.
You’d be spending energy to digest the food, which means that more blood flow is directed to the stomach and intestines during digestion. Your body needs to absorb the different food components, and digestion becomes the body’s priority.
That is also the reason why you may feel sluggish just after a meal. You don’t immediately feel energized right after eating because the food isn’t instantly digested. It takes time and effort from your body.
As we’ve discussed, the sauna heats up the body and the body responds by trying to cool itself down by directing blood flow to the skin. That process also requires a lot from the body. The process of digestion plus the body trying to regulate the temperature while you are in the sauna can be too much for the body to handle.
It is possible for less blood flow to be directed to the brain, which is why you might feel dizzy, weak or you may even lose consciousness. To avoid all those unwanted consequences, most firmly advise not to go to a sauna right after eating.
This is also similar to drinking. Some people suggest drinking right before the sauna session starts as you are going to sweat a lot. However, drinking immediately before the sauna does little help. It can only make you feel more uncomfortable when you feel the need to urinate because of what you drank.
It would be better to hydrate the body after the sauna session to replace the fluids. Water is recommended but tea and light fruit juices are also good. Take your time in drinking fluids in small sips and not in big gulps. Sugary beverages, alcohol, and coffee aren’t advised immediately after your sauna session.
How Long Should You Wait To Sauna After Eating?
If you would really like to eat a meal before you go for a sauna session, it would be best to wait for about 2 hours to sauna after eating.
This is the minimum amount of time that it could take for the food to pass through your stomach and intestines.
It takes a longer time for the food to be completely digested, but giving your body at least 2 hours to focus on digestion can greatly help you avoid unwanted consequences.
Should You Go For A Sauna When You’re Hungry?
As we’ve mentioned, you shouldn’t go to the sauna when you just ate, especially if it is a large meal. So does that mean that you should go to the sauna while you are hungry? Well, you shouldn’t but you could.
When the sauna heats up the body and the body tries to cool down with sweat, it uses up calories and energy to improve blood circulation towards that skin. The body forced into overdrive, and if you don’t have enough energy stored, the body breaks down to cope up.
Having a sauna session while you are hungry can also result in unwanted consequences. You can feel lightheaded too. The feeling would be similar to doing a rigorous activity when your body can’t handle it because it does not have enough energy to do so.
You can eat a light snack like some fruit or crackers before you go for a sauna. This is a better choice than going in hungry or with a full meal.
Risks of Using Saunas
Even if there are many benefits that using a sauna could bring, you should also consider the risks before using them. Knowing them would help you determine whether you are fit for its use and it can also help you better prepare so that you don’t end up regretting using it.
The first risk of using saunas is dehydration. The sauna is meant to make you sweat and you can lose a lot of fluids simply by sweating. That is why it is important to keep yourself well-hydrated if you plan to use a sauna.
You should take dehydration seriously. Severe dehydration can cause various complications.; it is a medical emergency. Some of the complications that could be due to severe dehydration are as follows:
- Kidney failure
- Hypovolemic shock
- Low blood pressure
Blood Pressure Fluctuation
The sauna can help lower blood pressure, which is a good thing for most people. However, those who already have low blood pressure should consult with their physician first before going to the sauna.
Additionally, what you do right after the sauna can cause blood pressure fluctuation. Some suggest cold plunges (jumping into cold water, or a cold shower) but there are warnings about it.
Most will tell you not to stay in the cold plunge for longer than 10 or 20 seconds.
Taking a shower after the sauna is also okay as long as you allow the body to first cool off with fresh air. The abrupt changes in temperature may not cause any dangers to healthy individuals. But there are some that can’t take the quick temperature changes.
It is known that high temperatures can negatively affect the production of sperm cells. Men who use the sauna could produce a lower sperm count and there could also be a negative effect on the quality of the sperm cells produce as per this research.
Of course, this may be a benefit or a concern, depending on your circumstances!
Regardless, the effects aren’t permanent. They are reversible and the study has concluded that more research is needed to fully understand how saunas can affect fertility in men. However, some suggest that men who already have fertility issues should avoid using the sauna to prevent further fertility issues.
Other Sauna Safety Tips
Yes, there are risks involved but that doesn’t mean that saunas are unsafe for use. They are perfectly safe to use with precautions and you should also make sure you know what you are doing. Here are some safety and tips for using the sauna (see here for more sauna etiquette info):
Limit Your Sauna Time
Sauna feels relaxing especially if you have already been doing it for several sessions. However, you shouldn’t push yourself to the limits. Sauna should only be used for about 20 minutes or less. If you haven’t reached the 15- or 20-minute mark and you start to feel uncomfortable, then just stop the session.
Remove Your Jewelry
Metals heat up fast and you can possibly burn yourself if you wear jewelry while in the sauna. It may not cause burns but it could still cause skin irritations because of the reaction of the metals to the heat.
Don’t Drink Alcohol
It is best to keep yourself hydrated but that doesn’t mean you should drink any fluid. Alcohol shouldn’t be consumed as it can lower your blood pressure. It can also cause you to pass out or get dizzy while in the sauna. In the worst-case scenario, it can lead to sudden death so it is best to stick to water, tea, or low-sugar fruit juices
Gradually Cool Off
Once you’re done with your sauna session, your body’s temperature is still higher than usual. It is best to let your body cool off gradually. You may leave the sauna room or remove your sauna blanket and then just sit and rest. The air will help to gradually cool down your body.
Don’t take a shower immediately and if you do take a shower after a few minutes of resting, make sure to start wetting your feet first. This helps gradually further lower your body’s temperature.
Consult With Doctor Before Going To The Sauna
Those who have health issues like those who know they have diabetes, heart diseases, seizures, low or high blood pressure, and respiratory diseases should first consult with their doctors regarding the use of saunas. Additionally, those who are pregnant should also clear it out with their doctors first.
Drinking enough fluids to hydrate yourself not only right before you go to a sauna will help make sure you can handle the heavy sweating. After the sauna session, you shouldn’t forget to rehydrate yourself too. Water is the best thing to drink. You can also have some celery juice because it doesn’t only help with hydration, it also provides you with electrolytes and vitamins.
Watery fruits like melons, watermelons, and cantaloupes are also great for hydration and are delicious too.