The Ultimate Guide to Sauna Benefits for Athletes

The Ultimate Guide to Sauna Benefits for Athletes

When it comes to improving athletic performance and enhancing workout recovery, it’s hard to find a more powerful tool than the sauna. It supplies you with the massive benefits of heat shock proteins and endurance-improving adaptations of heat acclimation. 

This article covers a comprehensive list of benefits that sauna use provides – specifically tailored to you as an athlete. 

Sauna Benefits – Table of Contents:

  1. Jumpstarts Recovery After Exercise
  2. Enhances Production of Heat Shock Proteins
  3. Improves Cardiovascular Health
  4. Lowers Core Body Temperature During Training
  5. Improves Delivery of Oxygen to Muscles
  6. Improves Insulin Sensitivity
  7. Improves Cognitive Functions and Brain Health
  8. Improves Immune Response
  9. Burns Calories
  10. Can Help You Live Longer

You can use the table of contents above as links to jump directly down to a section in the article. So if one of the benefits in the list caught your eye, you could use the benefits list to jump right to it below!

You should always start by talking with your doctor or preferred healthcare professional before starting any new health or fitness protocol. They can also help you set up a protocol specific to your body and needs. This post is for informational use only.

1.) Saunas help jumpstart your workout recovery.

To get the most results out of your athletic training, you’re constantly balancing the process of breaking down muscle tissue and then waiting enough time for your body to repair and become stronger. 

Saunas help improve circulation and transport oxygen-rich blood back into your depleted muscles. The improved circulation helps supply your body with the tools and nutrients it needs during the repair process. 

The inflammation response after a hard workout can leave you with a reduced range of motion and feeling drained. Combined with muscle damage, it’s one of the major factors that delay when your next training session can be.

A study on the effects of sauna on exercise-induced muscle damage showed that incorporating sauna use had a significant reduction in loss of mobility post-exercise. It also suggests increasing tissue temperature can help reduce muscle tension. 

Heat stress triggers your body to produce heat shock proteins, which improve your inflammation response and helps tissue repair. 

Because of how powerful heat shock proteins can be and their potential for reducing recovery time and increasing muscle development – we’ll give them their own section to dive into the details. 

2.) Saunas increase the production of heat shock proteins. 

Heat shock proteins are fascinating, and their positive effects have been getting a lot of attention in recent research. Resources not filled with difficult-to-understand technical jargon are a challenge to find. So let’s simplify their function in a way that’s easier to paint the picture of what these proteins actually do for you. 

Think of heat shock proteins like little cellular directors. When you damage your muscle tissue during exercise, they signal which amino acids are needed to repair the damage. 

When your body creates new muscle tissue, the proteins have to take the right shape. If they don’t, you run into all kinds of problems. Heat shock proteins are responsible for making sure they ‘fold’ correctly, leading to healthy new muscle tissue. 

So what could this mean for you? In a study done on exposing rats to 30min of heat stress, the increased production of heat shock proteins correlated with 30% more muscle regrowth. 

Along with their impacts on muscle regeneration, some of the other benefits of heat shock proteins are: protecting the heart, improving insulin resistance, preventing cell death, and supporting the immune response. 

3.) Saunas improve cardiovascular health and enhance endurance performance.

When you regularly use a sauna, your body gradually adapts and becomes more acclimated to heat stress. 

Heat acclimatization improves your endurance by increasing blood flow to the heart and reducing how hard your heart works during exercise. Combined with the effects of lower blood pressure from sauna use, you have an excellent environment for improved endurance. 

You can almost think of the time in your sauna session as a low-intensity cardio workout. Even better, it’s about as low impact as you can get! While you’re sitting in the sauna, your heart rate naturally rises, giving you some of the same endurance benefits as a long and slow run. 

4.) Heat acclimation from sauna use lowers core body temperature during training. 

Heat acclimation improves your body’s thermoregulatory control. Thermoregulation is how efficient you are at cooling or heating your body to its normal body temperature. 

How well you regulate your body temperature is critical for your athletic performance. If your body gets too hot and can’t cool down, you’ll find yourself moving slower but with the same exertion level. 

Regular sauna use can improve how your body uses blood flow to cool the skin and sweat effectively. These are the primary tools your body has to keep your core temp where it needs to be during exercise. 

The result? You’ll have a much easier time maintaining higher efforts during your training once you’re acclimated to heat stress.

5.) Saunas improve the delivery of oxygen to your muscles. 

When you improve your heart function, you’re also getting better oxygen delivery to your muscles. Not only is oxygen delivery important for your performance during a workout, but it’s also just as vital to your recovery. 

Your muscles are in a depleted state after a hard training session. Oxygen is what helps replenish your body with the tools that it needs to repair. 

The food you eat uses oxygen to convert into glucose, and then oxygen and glucose work together to restore your ATP. For your body to recover properly, you need to have adequately replenished stores of ATP. 

All of this leads to the fact that oxygen delivery in your muscles is absolutely essential to effective post-workout recovery.

6.) Sauna use improves Insulin Sensitivity. 

Insulin plays an essential role in your athletic performance as well as recovery. It’s what regulates glucose in your muscles and promotes protein synthesis to build new muscle. 

Healthy insulin sensitivity is what has a positive effect on your muscle development and overall weight management. If you become insulin resistant, your body has a hard time using glucose for energy. 

Using a sauna can help promote insulin sensitivity, which can help improve muscle growth and decrease the effects of catabolic muscle breakdown. 

7.) Saunas improves cognitive function and brain health. 

Improved circulation, combined with the benefits of heat shock proteins, may play a role in enhancing cognitive function and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. 

In a Finnish study exploring how sauna protects against dementia, thousands of participants were assessed and adjusted for lifestyle factors and sauna use.  

The results showed that participants who regularly spent time in the sauna were associated with a reduced risk of dementia. It also supports the suggested benefits of sauna and passive body heating in the brain. 

This study also suggests that sauna use leads to enhanced resting neural network relaxation. The same study also showed improvements in the cognitive ability for a bunch of oddball tasks.

In order to perform well in your sport of choice or in your daily life, you need to have a high functioning mind that’s ready for whatever challenges you throw its way. Adding in some time spent in the sauna can be an easy way to promote healthy brain function. 

8.) Sauna use reduces the effect of stress hormones.

Spending time in the sauna helps your body balance the stress hormones in your body, like cortisol. 

Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. It breaks things down and can also inhibit protein synthesis. What that means for you is that you’ll have a more challenging time recovering and building new muscle. 

When you finish a workout, your body’s cortisol levels need to return to their baseline to promote healthy repair and recovery. The heat stress acclamation that comes with sauna use can help the body more effectively balance stress hormones in the long run. 

9.) Sauna improves immune response.

Just like cold exposure therapy, heat stress causes an immune response in your body. During your sauna session, your body will increase its white blood cells, neutrophil, and lymphocytes.  

Regularly generating small amounts of oxidative stress is what helps increase your antioxidant capacity. In the long term, it’s what helps prevent you from getting sick. 

10.) Sauna use burns more calories.

It takes a lot of energy to regulate your body temperature. Every time you hop into the sauna, your body responds by starting the processes that cool you down. 

You double your caloric expenditure just by sitting in the sauna compared to sitting anywhere else. 

Just like doing some light cardio after a workout helps you add to your daily calorie expenditure – a quick session in the sauna also adds up to help you burn fat.

11.) Saunas can potentially help you live longer. 

The effects of sauna use supplement a lot of the factors that come into play for your longevity. Just reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease can add years to your life. 

To take the benefits of saunas up a notch. This study on the association of sauna use and mortality showed that of 2315 men – there was an association with reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease, and even all-cause mortality. 

Hormesis is the response to mild stressors like heat shocks that give us long-term improved health and longevity. Regularly exposing yourself to these mild stressors is what provides you with all of the benefits listed in this post. 

Final Thoughts:

Saunas have been a powerful health-improving tradition spanning back thousands of years. It has only been until recent history that we have begun to unpack the science of how its benefits work.

For most people, the benefits of sauna use are an excellent way to take your athletic performance and workout recovery to the next level. 

In our next post about heat shock therapy, we will talk about the different ways to work sauna use into your own training. From quality home saunas to inexpensive solutions that you can pop up and use in any room, we’ll show you the different ways you can start taking advantage of its numerous benefits. 

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