The Sweat Lab Q&A

All athletes have unique responses to training, and the rate at which individuals react in the heat and varying weather conditions is often the difference between a great day or a rough one.

Before the 2016 Rio Olympics, many of the athletes underwent testing on sweat rate and composition to determine how their bodies would respond in the heat of Brazil and how to fuel accordingly. Hydration is a massive variable that can affect performance, but it no longer needs to be a matter of trial and error.

Recently open for operation in Melbourne, the SOS Sweat Lab can now pull back the curtain on how to accurately replace what you’re actually losing when you sweat.

the-sweat-lab-6“The Sweat Lab” – sounds like a sauna or a day spa. What is it?

The sweat lab is our attempt at the new generation of contemporary sports science practice – moving away from the old stationary bike in the white sterile clinic and into the age of multifaceted training and more specified personalised training and testing.

Effectively the sweat lab’s major draw card is that we can analyse an athlete’s sweat volumes, sweat rate and most importantly sweat sodium concentration whilst training in a myriad of scenarios from weight training, treadmill, bike, rower, kayak ergo functional movement, indoor, out door etc.

What does the test involve?

After a short briefing with one of our sports scientists and a quick warm up athletes will be weighed and have 2-3 small absorbent patches applied to body sites that may include, forehead, chest, back, forearm or thigh.

The athlete’s actual test protocol will be quite fluid depending on the information sought. Actual exercise testing time will likely be between 30 – 45mins. Eg. For a 10km runner who wants to know their sweat profile for race prep we would get the athlete to perform at race pace. If someone wanted to know their sweat profile for a strength session we could facilitate that also.

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Why is it important to understand how each person sweats?

Sweat sodium concentration is highly variable amongst individuals and can differ well over 10-fold. Sodium is crucial to maintaining fluid balance within the body and thus aids hydration massively. Understanding both sweat rate / volume (how much fluid you lose) and how much sodium you lose is the starting point to personalising a rehydration (fluid replacement) and electrolyte balance strategy.

Can the sweat lab simulate varying conditions such as dry heat, humidity etc.?

In our current capacity, we will test athletes in normal atmospheric conditions. There may be the capability to alter the environment in the future however this step is an interesting one. As anyone who has trained in a heat chamber or an altitude chamber with a good number of people in it will know, the environment becomes quite unique – the inability for air to circulate and the heat generated by the exercising bodies creates quite an humid environment in itself which will then affect the evaporation of the sweat thus compromising the sweat profile results.

One thing that we are trying to educate people on is that just having your sweat profile done once isn’t necessarily the answer. Whilst genetics play a large part, things like heat acclimatisation and training status, environmental conditions will influence the result massively.

So being tested at the end of winter versus the middle of summer will show that you sweat differently (e.g. After heat training in Summer you will likely start to sweat earlier, sweat more fluid, however retain more sodium once acclimatised to the heat – but take someone from winter in Melbourne and go to Kona and jump straight into the heat and they will react very differently.

Being tested at 15deg C 50% relative humidity (RH) and 30deg C 75%RH will not only yield different sweat volumes but sweat sodium will also be affected which isn’t often considered in once off testing options.

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Is there anything like this currently available in Australia or New Zealand?

Not to my knowledge – we consulted with many dietitians and athletes who identified this gap. Previously sports institutes would offer similar services but this service fell away from public and elite sports offerings. There are some options on the market but we stand by the research and development that have gone into our systems.

We are led by an ESSA accredited Level 2 Sports Scientist with well over 10 years experience in testing and training collegiate, amateur elite and professional athletes and teams and establishing and running reputable analysis facilities and high performance centres.

We use research grade, evidence based analysis protocols and have merged it into a real world practical training environment. We are really trying to live up to the applied science ideal without losing any of the high end academic validity and reliability.

Will the Sweat Lab recommend actual products based on the findings or just an interpretation of the results?

The sweat lab was developed out of the desire from our clients to know how to best use SOS for them individually. The only way to help advise in this manner is to understand sweat profiling.

In my expert opinion SOS is the ideal hydration formula whether you have a sweat test or not. That is why I became involved with the company. The sweat test merely allows dosages to be advised based on actual sweat fluid losses and actual sweat sodium losses (which cannot be estimated by any other means – it must be collected and analysed).

In saying that, the results are given in generic form also outlining the sodium and fluid losses, which may be interpreted by an athlete or dietitian, and the method of replacement may be through any other means.

I would prefer people understand that the sweat lab has been developed as a commitment to better understand (through massive data collection and testing) differences in sweat profiles across sports, ages, genders, environments etc. so that we can guide athletes better.

We can still offer guidelines around SOS and water use without sweat testing – this is about individualisation and research and development.

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How much can an accurate understanding of individual sweat profiles alter performance?

Bit of a hard one to answer. If an athlete already has a solid hydration and electrolyte replacement strategy developed through guidance or trial and error and time may merely get some satisfaction that they are actually doing the right thing by their body and be confident moving forward.

For other athletes who have performance, endurance, motor control, muscular contraction and cramping issues attributable to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, the numbers may really paint the picture to rectifying the issue and paving the way forward to personal intervention.

Proper hydration should be seen as a fundamental and relatively simple factor that is within an athletes control to manage. We aim to simply help manage this with information and understanding.

the-sweat-lab-2Can a sweat profile change across varying lengths of competition as fatigue accumulates? I.e. in the first half of a marathon compared to the second, or first half of a football match compared to the last 10mins?

Again this is little hard to answer simply. If hydration is not managed properly then we cannot continue to sweat effectively and therefore cannot dissipate heat and our body overheats. If we hydrate well then we can continue to sweat and keep cooling our bodies. So the aim should be to understand our sweat profile in order to maintain effective sweating and replacing what is being lost.

Is a sweat test only worthwhile for elite’s or could more recreational athletes benefit as well? How about those working outdoors, in the mines etc?

Sweat testing is worthwhile for anyone who frequently trains and sweats. Accurate testing can help with training effectiveness, recovery, and increase performance improvements. Whether a professional athlete or a weekend warrior, a gym junkie or a fun runner this information will help you perform and feel better.

The sweat lab is available for occupational sweat testing and has a particular sway towards emergency service and military workers for welfare and effectiveness. For example sweat testing firefighters in heavy protective clothing and extreme environments has shown some quite extreme sweat rates and electrolyte losses in short intense work periods.

How can people in Australia set up a test?

The sweat labs home base is in Melbourne and people can reach out to lead exercise scientist Andy Garlick to set up a test andy@thesweatlab.com.au.

Andy is also busily training up independent and club dietitians and sports scientists to run the tests within Victoria and interstate who will then send sweat samples back to Melbourne for analysis. Allied health professionals interested in becoming sweat lab accredited can also reach out to Andy Garlick.

Interstate clients can contact us at the sweat lab and travel to Melbourne for testing and in early 2017 we will also be able to refer you to your local sweat lad accredited professionals.

The Sweat Lab will only refer clients to professionals we have personally trained in our strict protocol.

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