The phenomena of meat sweats — the tendency to sweat excessively after consuming substantial amounts of meat — was perhaps solidified into pop culture fame by none other than Joey Tribbiani of “Friends.” In a 2001 Thanksgiving episode of the sitcom, he exclaimed, “Here come the meat sweats!” just after finishing an entire turkey by himself.
Though an affinity for meat was mostly a comic hallmark of Tribbiani’s personality, turns out, there is some truth to the idea of the “meat sweats.”
“Protein, like all foods, requires energy from our body to process and metabolize,” says Sapna Bhalsod, registered dietitian at WellTheory. “But protein happens to require more energy to break down compared to carbs or fats. And more energy means more heat.” Enter: the meat sweats.
That said, the effect of protein on sweating can depend on factors such as the amount and type of protein consumed, as well as individual differences in metabolism and heat tolerance. “For most people, enjoying a steak dinner or even an all-you-can-eat BBQ won’t show up in the form of sweat pellets on your forehead,” Bhalsod continues. “Will your body temperature get warmer? Yes. Will you look like you just wrapped a spin class? No.”
Whether or not you want to stop the sweats or encourage it (to each their own!), POPSUGAR spoke with health and nutrition experts about why meat sweats happen and whether there’s anything you can do about them.
What Are Meat Sweats and Why Do They Happen?
“Meat sweats” is the term coined for sweating after eating large amounts of protein — usually meat.
Why do you sweat after eating meat? Well, in general, your body has to work to digest food, explains Ken D. Berry, MD, a board-certified family physician in Tennessee. This metabolic process is called diet-induced thermogenesis. “Thermogenesis, otherwise known as the thermic effect of food (TEF), is the energy your body uses to digest, metabolize, and absorb nutrients from the food you eat,” Bhalsod explains. It also helps maintain your body temperature.
During thermogenesis, excess energy from food is converted into energy for your body, and that reaction creates heat. Protein, in particular, requires more work to digest than carbs or fats, Dr. Berry says, thus creating more heat. “Carbs are digested quickly with little effort, therefore not much thermogenesis occurs,” Dr. Berry says. “Fat in the diet has a slightly higher thermogenic effect [than carbs], but not nearly as much as protein.”
TEF peaks about 60-120 minutes after a meal, which means that’s when you might feel the hottest. As a result of this temperature increase, you may sweat a bit as your body tries to cool itself down.
How Can You Prevent Meat Sweats?
Rest assured that meat sweats are “not a bad thing,” Dr. Berry says. Sweating is a normal and necessary bodily function that helps regulate body temperature. But if you’re trying to avoid meat sweats, there are a few ways to do it.
Different foods create different levels of heat, and not all proteins are created equal. One study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the human body uses more energy to break down animal protein than plant-based proteins, like soy, which is why “tofu sweats” aren’t a thing. For that reason, Dan Gallagher, registered dietitian at Aegle Nutrition, suggests opting for plant-based proteins instead, which are also lower in calories and have the added benefit of reducing your blood pressure.
If eating vegetarian doesn’t sound appealing, Gallagher also recommends trying to eat smaller portions or spreading protein-rich meals throughout the day versus eating one heavy meal. For context, one serving size of cooked lean meat or poultry is just three ounces (roughly the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand), according to The American Heart Association.
You can also support your digestion by eating balanced meals and staying hydrated. “To process protein, you need optimal stomach acid to denature the protein into smaller amino acids and a variety of nutrients to support metabolism,” Bhalsod adds. In most cases, meat sweats are harmless and will resolve on its own. However, if you’re concerned about excessive sweating or are experiencing other symptoms, it’s best to chat with your health-care provider for a proper evaluation.
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