Are saunas the new steroids? The effects of saunas on body building

saunas and body building

This week’s episode of the BBC Apprentice saw the two teams battle it out at the Birmingham Bodybuilding Expo to avoid the dreaded boardroom. 

One of the products on show was the far infrared sauna. While we aren’t sure about the team’s suggestion to sell it as an office. Home saunas, both traditional and Infrared are increasing in popularity. And are becoming especially popular in the fitness and bodybuilding circuit.

We already know that saunas have multiple health benefits and make you feel great.

But can they help you build muscle mass and cut fat? 


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What is hyperthermic conditioning

What is it that causes the benefits that we can get from a sauna?

Hyperthermic conditioning.

It’s the science-y term for what happens to your body when you put it under extreme heat conditions (a.k.a a sauna). It causes your body to undergo some physiological changes.

But can these help you in bodybuilding prep?


How can saunas help with bodybuilding

There are a few ways that the hyperthermic effect of a sauna can help with bodybuilding. Specifically with fat loss and an increase in lean muscle mass. 

Saunas can help with the following:

  1. Saunas can help with weight loss
  2. Saunas can improve muscle recovery
  3. Saunas help build lean muscle 

1. Saunas can help with weight loss

weightsThere is lots of information out there suggesting that saunas can help you burn additional calories. The hyperthermic effect of the sauna improves your blood flow, as it increases the plasma levels. Plasma is what carries white and red blood cells, plus the platelets round the body.

This has the result of speeding up your bodies metabolic rate. Which, will cause you to burn more calories than you would if you were sitting in normal room temperature.

Estimates of how many calories can be burnt in a sauna typically range between an additional 60 – 300 calories/30 minute sauna. Although it’s difficult to tell how many extra calories you will burn. But it will depend on your overall mass and typical resting metabolic rate.

As well as burning additional calories, saunas will result in a weight loss. But this will mainly be due to water loss. This will not be sustainable. However, it may be useful in the lead up to shows to emphasize the muscles. 

N.B. If you are already dehydrated you need to be careful with the amount of time you spend in the sauna. Ensuring you do not become dangerously dehydrated.

So, can saunas help you lose weight?

You will burn a slightly increased number of calories. But, it’s not likely to be significantly more. However, if you are in prep or training hard, then those extra calories might make all the difference. You will also lose some water weight, which is not sustainable but could help emphasize your muscles. 


2. Saunas can improve muscle recovery

endurance athletesThe increase in plasma caused by the hyperthermic training improves blood flow to the muscles This allows you to recover faster by disposing of lactic acid which, causes the dreaded DOMS. It also helps you train for longer before running out of “fuel”.

While this doesn’t help build muscle in itself. Recovering faster will allow you to potentially squeeze in an extra session. Which can result in building more muscle and definition.

Therefore, quicker recovery has an indirect effect on building muscle. And helps you conquer the stairs after leg day a wee bit faster. 


3. Saunas help build muscle 

custom built saunaThere is evidence to suggest that saunas and hyperthermic training can help to improve the bodies ability to gain lean muscle

There is evidence to suggest that the heat of the sauna can trigger a response in the body that restrict protein from breaking down. At the same time, the production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) ramps up.

This protects muscle that is already built and improves the ability to build more. 


Is a traditional or infrared sauna better for bodybuilding?


In contrast to the traditional sauna, which uses an electric stove to heat the room. The far- infrared uses light waves, similar to that of the sun (without the UV).

While they have very similar effects on the body, lovers of the Infrared sauna are adamant that the benefits outweigh those of the traditional sauna.  The light waves of the infrared sauna penetrate deeper into the skin, which can potentially amplify the effects of the sauna especially for muscle recovery and joint pain. Plus, infrared saunas manage to achieve this at a lower temperature, so can be more comfortable for people to sit in.

However, which one is better for you is usually personal preference as they both have a tonne of health benefits and are useful for building muscle and losing weight. 

In summary

So, can you sit about in a sauna-like a potato and build some muscle and lose weight?

Sadly not.

Saunas can help you to burn calories, lose water weight, improve muscle recovery and gain lean muscle. But alone, they will not help you lose weight and build muscle. 

So, if you need to go that extra few % to win a competition, then a sauna might just help you get that edge. But for the average gym goer, saunas will not add much in the way of weight loss or muscle building.


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Debbie Ekins
Debbie Ekins
Eagle Leisure - Sales & Marketing Manager Mission = to arm you with the knowledge you need to make the best buying decisions. Fuelled by coffee (and naps). Explorer of Scotland and the world.