Sauna, alcohol and workout – common mistakes

Sauna is often used by sports people. Unfortunately, it is also very common for amateurs to use such places and harm their health and sports results at the same time. What mistakes should be avoided? Does sauna really speed up the after-workout recovery process?

Fact: sauna helps recover after workout

Japanese scientists researched in what way various kinds of baths, or home wet saunas (in a form of mist) influence muscles recovery.

4 kinds of procedures were checked:

  • bath, body fully immersed under water (e.g. bathtub),

  • shower,

  • wet sauna of the mist type (special ventilation device),

  • control group (no procedures).

10 male volunteers took part in this experiment. They finished 4 sessions: 30 minutes of rest, 10 minutes of arms workout, 10 minutes of bath/shower/sauna and 10 minutes of rest. The electromyogram was used to measure the average strength of muscle tension, temperature, blood flow through skin and the concentration of oxigenated hemoglobin.

Results?

The average power of muscle tension (measured in the spectre of the EMG signal) was higher in case of bathing with full immersion in water. Additionally, it was stated that the amount of oxygenated hemoglobin, as well as blood flow through skin was the highest in the group of bathing with full immersion in water.

For those who used the wet sauna of mist type, the level of blood flow through skin and the amount of oxigenated hemoglobin was high (lower than for those bathing with full immersion in water, but higher than for those showering and the control group). The scientists claim that bathing with full immersion in water and the mist type sauna are efficient in after-workout recovery of tired muscles.

What's interesting, sauna is a part of a program, which is supposed to prevent from the side effects after contact with drugs in Utah, USA. The officers, who have had contact with methamphetamine (one of the most dangerous existing drugs) have suffered from insomnia, tiredness, headaches, burning in heart, changes in personality, memory loss, allergies, poor concentration, backaches, ect. Sauna, proper workouts and nutrition have helped overcome the symptoms for majority of sufferers.

However, remember, that using sauna right after training is a very bad idea.

MYTH: “Sauna + alcohol is a good match”

Using alcohol and staying in high temperature don't go well together. In years 1992-2003 in Sweden there were 77 cases of deaths connected with using sauna. 82% of men were middle-aged. Most of them died during weekend. 84% were found dead in saunas. In 69 cases the alcoholic concentration was found in blood. In 49 of these cases (71%) it occurred that the men had used alcohol. The reasons of deaths: 34 cases (44%) were connected with using alcohol, and 18 were caused by the cardiovascular system disorders. Other causes were following: drowning, intoxication with carbon monoxide, intoxication with amphetamin and scalding. In 13 cases the reasons of deaths were not established. As it's known, high temperature is not good for the cardiovascular system. The same is with sauna – it may lead to health complications. The connection of alcohol and sauna may be fatal.

Another data, from Finland (where there are 2 mln of used saunas), according to the authors of the research, out of 6 thousands recorded cases of “sudden deaths”, 1.7% may be directly connected with using sauna. Finland also has one of the highest rates of deaths due to heart attacks. There are cases of scalding and rhabdomyolysis because of using alcohol in sauna.

MYTH: “It's worth using sauna right after strength workout”

In many studies it was clearly stated that sauna has significant influence on its users. 60 candidates (33 men and 27 women) at the age of 18-63 took part in the experiment. The volunteers went into the sauna (80-90*C, relative humidity of 30-40%) after 20-minute rest, and stayed inside for 20 minutes (or until the feeling of major discomfort). The hight, weight, temperature, blood pressure and heart rate were established, additionally, the EKG test was done 20 minutes before using the sauna, during and 20 minutes after finishing. In the 20th minute of using sauna, the average heart rate was 143 +/- 25 (for 32% of volunteers it was over 160 beats per minute!), the skin temperature on average was 40.4 +/- 1 (for 35% of volunteers it was over 40*C), the systolic blood pressure on average was 130.5 +/- 26.6 (for 17% of volunteers it was over 160 mm Hg), diastolic blood pressure was 66.6 +/- 15.9. The loss of sweat was 457 +/- 264. Three volunteers lost consciousness, one volunteer suffered from the attack of breathlessness. [Isr J Med Sci. 1976]

Conclusions?

  1. Don't use sauna after strength exercises, intensive running or martial arts training.

  2. Excessive increase of body temperature right after physical effort is harmful for health.

  3. During hard work, body lost fluids and increased temperature – it should have been hydrated and cooled down.

  4. The heart was loaded, it should rest.

When going to sauna you act just opposite to these recommendations – you strengthen further loss of electrolytes and load the circulatory system. According to current knowledge, it's good to cool down the body, not increase its temperature. Each training session should include warm up (longer if the environmental conditions are worse, e.g. wind, coldness, humidity) with the elements of dynamic stretching, main part and the ending part (cool down, static stretching/PNF).

Using sauna is advised for healthy people, on a day free from training, for moderate amount of time. It's not advised to stay longer than 15 minutes per session in the finnish sauna (dry with high temperature). After leaving the sauna, you should hydrate and cool down well. Saunas with lower temperatures and higher humidity (e.g. steam sauna) may also significantly cause increased heart rate and temperature. In each case, it's good to contact a doctor before using sauna.

Sources: “Physiological functions of the effects of the different bathing method on recovery from local muscle fatigue”. J Physiol Anthropol. 2012 Sep 16;31:26. doi: 10.1186/1880-6805-31-26. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22980588 2. “Methamphetamine exposure and chronic illness in police officers: significant improvement with sauna-based detoxification therapy”. Toxicol Ind Health. 2012 Sep;28(8):758-68. doi: 10.1177/0748233711425070. Epub 2011 Nov 16. 3. “Sauna deaths in Sweden, 1992-2003”. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2008 Mar;29(1):27-31. doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e318145ae05. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19749613 4. “Rhabdomyolysis caused by hot air sauna burn.” Burns. 2005 Sep;31(6):776-9. 5. „Behaviour of persons using the Finnish sauna treatment” Edyta Szczuka, Wiesław Błach, Magdalena Konarska Journal of Combat Sports and Martial Arts © MEDSPORTPRESS, 2011; 1(2); Vol. 2, 45-48 6. „Effects of dehydration and rehydration on the one-repetition maximum bench press of weight-trained males.” J Strength Cond Res. 2001 Feb;15(1):102-8. Schoffstall JE, Branch JD, Leutholtz BC, Swain DE. Department of Exercise Science, Physical Education, and Recreation, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia 23529, USA. 7. „Effects of rapid weight loss and wrestling on muscle glycogen concentration.” Clin J Sport Med. 1996 Apr;6(2):78-84. Tarnopolsky MA, Ci