I looked at the clock: it had been 25 minutes. I looked at the thermometer: it was 160 degrees. This is as hot as I could make it go up to. I was ready to get out but my goal was 30 minutes. I had become more used to the feeling so it was a lot easier to make it to 25 minutes now than it had been a few months ago. I was heat-adapted. But with my heart racing and sweat dripping, I was ready to get out of there, and I could care less about being heat-adapted. Even so, I knew this was mental and just kept going...my goal was exhaustion. I knew all the benefits and I wanted to reap them.
I was in the sauna for a little over 30 minutes for that session, one of the several sessions I do per week. Though there are numerous benefits to sauna usage, there are three main benefits we’ll touch on. In this first of three posts I’ll focus on increasing muscle size, aka, hypertrophy.
But how can short heat exposure possibly help cause hypertrophy? Through our friends Heat Shock Proteins, or HSPs. These are activated by heat and are a hormetic (positive acute stress) response to said heat. They scavenge for free radicals (molecule(s) that damage cells), help maintain glutathione (a coenzyme that assists in reducing oxidation and the body’s master antioxidant), and even repair damaged proteins. All three of these effects help to prevent protein damage and degradation, thereby helping to maintain muscle.
Another way heat exposure assists hypertrophy is through Growth Hormone release. Growth hormone is a major catalyst for keeping and synthesizing new muscle. Generally speaking, the more growth hormone you have, the easier it is to build muscle. That said, it’s been shown to be increased significantly in sauna sessions of just 15 to 20 minutes (1, 2).
Insulin Sensitivity is key in decreasing body fat, but how can it help increase muscle? Well, insulin delivers nutrients like branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) into muscle. These nutrients are vital to synthesizing proteins, thereby acting anabolically. And heat exposure, like sauna usage, has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity by increasing glucose transporters (3), thereby making it easier to build muscle. In general, the more sensitive you are to insulin, the easier your muscles will absorb nutrients and have the ability to build new muscle.
So if you want to decrease muscle breakdown and increase your body’s ability to build new muscle, hit up a local sauna near you. At first aim for something manageable like 5 or 10 minutes. The more you do, the better you get, and the more heat adapted you’ll be. So are you ready to bring the heat?
In Excellent Health,
Garrett & Luc