Infrared Sauna? Cuz Science, That’s Why!

Infrared Sauna? Cuz Science, That’s Why!

📅April 11th, 2017, 16:55

Why Infrared Sauna? Cuz science, that’s why!

Leaving aside the anecdotal “it feels really freaking good,” let’s dive into some of the fascinating science that this wonderful tool provides. Since we’re all active individuals here driven to reach individual goals, we’ll start with the performance enhancing benefits of hyperthermic conditioning (sounds fancy, doesn’t it?) aka heat training.

First off, since Recharge is an athletic recovery and performance center, sauna sessions and especially infrared saunas are known to produce increased heat shock proteins (HSP). And what are these HSPs doing for you? They are essentially the secret service guy that will jump in front of a bullet for your other proteins. They protect other proteins from heat damage (Badwater, anyone?), and even repair proteins that were damaged previously. And this extends beyond the potential damage of extended heat exposure to the damage caused by muscle trauma, which covers problems from short explosive efforts to ultra-distance events. The way that these HSPs prevent damage is by encouraging the production of glutathione (our master antioxidant), scavenging free radicals directly themselves, as well as repairing misfolded proteins back to their proper structure.

The next big benefit of infrared sauna is an increase in plasma volume. What does that mean for you as an athlete? More plasma volume means thinner blood, which means less stress on the heart, which means that you can go longer at the same output. Pretty awesome. And this thinner blood also means that you get more blood flow to the skin, which means better thermoregulation by increasing sweat rate. And more efficient sweating means you keep your cool while the competition overheats. Even more awesome. Increased plasma volume also means more glucose and oxygen get to the muscles, and more lactic acid leaves the muscles. This limits the likelihood of “bonking” and takes longer for blood lactate levels to build up, keeping you going longer. How much longer, you ask? A group of trained ultra-runners who did two, 30 minute sessions after workouts per week for 3 weeks went 32% (!) longer until fatigue than before the sessions. Really freakin’ awesome!

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The thought of human growth hormone can invoke images of bobble-headed baseball players, but HGH is an important molecule for muscle strength, bone health, fat loss, mood and sleep quality. And the amount that HGH can increase in the sauna can be massive, as in a 16-fold increase after three days of two 1-hour sessions. I wouldn’t suggest this if you aren’t already heat acclimated, but significant increases are also seen around 20 minutes and you can always work your way up. And at the same time cortisol (the stress hormone) is reduced, which is commonly high in athletes, and increases testosterone production (and yes, ladies need it too).

We’ve all experienced some degree of pain from working out, but there is the infamous “runner’s high” that keeps us coming back for more. This pain is actually caused by an opioid called dynorphin, which actually causes the release of the beta-endorphins that blocks pain signals to the brain and give us that warm, fuzzy feeling. This same mechanism is experienced to an even greater degree with sauna sessions, which means that you can get the same reward as working out while at the same time increasing pain tolerance.

Infrared sauna is an excellent detoxification tool, and this is where infrared truly shines over conventional saunas. While the blanket term “toxin” can seem ambiguous at best, there are a host of chemicals that affect hormones, brain function, cancer growth, heart function and lung capacity that even people making healthy life choices are regularly exposed to. A study done by Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Environmental Working Group showed an average of 91 chemicals known to cause such conditions in nine (seemingly) healthy American adults who did not work directly with chemicals. With the skin being the largest organ in our bodies, it presents a lot of surface area to remove toxic substances. InfaredSaunaGraphic2These toxic substances are stored in our fat cells, and the capacity of the far infrared waves to penetrate up to 1.5 inches below the skin means that a significant amount of toxic material can be mobilized along with sweat. A cool biohack to exaggerate this effect, used by soldiers exposed to agent orange and 9/11 firefighters, is the use of niacin (not niacinimide or inositol hexanicotinate) just before exercise and sauna to increase vasodialation. This is known as a skin flush and can be quite uncomfortable if a tolerance isn’t built first. 50 mg is a safe starting point, and its regular use causes lipolysis where triglycerides (yup, fat) and the bound toxins are released from fat cells. Sounds like a win-win to me.


To wrap it all up, infrared sauna is an excellent tool that should be in the toolbox of any serious athlete, weekend warrior, or health-conscience individual. Muscle repair, increased plasma volume, hormone regulation, and toxin shuttling combine to make this one of the best uses of your time at Recharge. Remember to replenish electrolytes lost with a good salt, multi-mineral, or coconut water, treat it like any form of exercise and work up slowly, and check with your doctor if you have a medical condition that you think may be a problem. So grab a towel (or three) and hop in our full-spectrum infrared sauna!

-Created and researched by Mitch Ridge/Recharge

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