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Are steam rooms good for muscle growth? Using the steam room at the gym at the wrong time can slow the muscle’s recovery process. Many of us spend a lot of time and effort on training to increase muscle mass. Since growing muscle takes a lot of effort, we want to make sure that we get as muscle growth as possible. Whenever there is a new way to maximize the effects of training, it’s worth looking into. If you work out at the gym, you might have noticed that some people use the steam room. Today, I would like to look at how using the steam room will affect muscle growth.
The Negative Effects of the Steam Room on Muscle Growth
The steam room can have positive effects on muscle growth, but I would like to look at the negative effects first. This way, we can learn about what to avoid before looking at how the steam room can boost muscle growth.
The steam room can cause dehydration
As your core body temperature rises, you start to sweat. Sweat is made up of 99% water. You will also lose water through respiration: Water vapor is released when we exhale. This solution might be to drink more water before, during and after using the steam room; but you need to time this correctly because the worst thing you want is for water to be redirected away from the muscles.
After a workout, the muscles need water and sufficient blood flow to get rid of negative by-products like carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Blood flow also needs to bring nutrients like water, oxygen, protein, and glycogen into the muscle so that it can start repairing itself. Muscle tissue is comprised of 80% water.
Drinking water while sitting in the steam room straight after a workout might not be the best solution. This is because it takes time for water to move from the stomach into the bloodstream. Muscle tissue might sacrifice water supply to help keep the body cool. Even if this happens for a few seconds, it could reduce recovery time.
For this reason, I would not recommend using the steam room directly after a workout. Lite steam might be a good way to get the blood pumping before a workout, but spending too much time in the heat could make the body focus more on cooling down than on preparing for a great workout.
The steam room increases body heat
Exercise increases body heat. This is why we sweat. If you work out hard enough, you will notice that it increases your body temperature and that your body takes time to cool itself down. After a muscle-building workout, you want your body to spend as much energy as possible on muscle growth and recovery. This is why cooling your body down as fast as possible after a workout will speed the recovery process: The body can focus exclusively on rebuilding muscle.
The steam room might compete with your muscles for caloric energy. It takes energy for the body to warm itself up or cool itself down. That is why sitting in the steam room gives you cardio-like effects such as an increased heart rate. This will stop the body from recovering at optimum speed as it siphons off energy to cool itself down.
Sitting in the steam room after a workout is a great way to increase the number of calories burned per exercise session – if your primary goal is to maximize the number of calories burned. Since it can compete with muscle for energy sources, it isn’t the best way to grow muscle fiber if that is your primary goal.
Loss of important nutrients
Because efforts to cool your body down costs energy, it will use up nutrients like glycogen (sugar) and lipids (fat). When done at the right time, this is a good thing. It will train your body to burn up fat stores as energy. When done at the wrong time, it will compete with your muscles for these important nutrients.
Temperature control can divert energy away from digestion
Your body will always prioritize survival overgrowth. It will maximize its recovery when it feels safe and secure. Your body does not know that you have chosen to sit in a sauna for a few minutes. It does not actually know how long it will need to survive in this heat. Because of that, it will hold off on recovery processes and focus on cooling itself down so that you don’t overheat. This can reduce the number of precious nutrients like glycogen and fat that your muscles receive post-workout.
Mineral and electrolyte loss
Sweat also reduces minerals and electrolyte levels. These minerals are responsible for holding onto water stores. Your body releases these minerals through sweat so that it is easier for water to pass through the skin barrier and cool the rest of your body down.
The importance of electrolytes
Your muscles need electrolytes to grow and function. Sodium helps the muscle to retain water. Electrolytes carry the electric charge that is needed for muscle contraction. Calcium is needed for cell signaling. Magnesium ensures optimal muscle recovery. Potassium prevents cramps and maintains a healthy electrolyte balance. By losing these important nutrients through sweat, the muscles have less of what they need to recover and grow. This is why it is important to replace electrolytes when you sweat a lot.
Rest is best for optimal digestion
Your body is better at digesting food and using it when it is in a restful state. This is why stress so closely interlinked with gut health. When you sit in a steam room, your body is more concerned with cooling itself down than it is about breaking nutrients into usable pieces and sending them to the places that need it. Turning food into tissue takes energy.
Who remembers the rule that we were told as kids to avoid exercise for an hour after eating a meal? Your body will perform a task better if it can dedicate all of its resources into one task. If you have a protein shake or nutritional supplement after your workout, your body will be able to digest it better at cooler temperatures. Since most of us have a protein shake after our workout, this gives us another reason to avoid using the steam room post-workout.
The Positive Effects of Using the Steam Room on Muscle Growth
After reading through all the ways that using the steam room could compete for muscle-building resources, you might doubt whether it has any benefit at all. The truth is that the steam room can carry a lot of muscle-building benefits – if done correctly.
Heat expands blood vessels
Muscles rely on blood flow to receive nutrients and expel waste products. We often focus on consuming the right nutrients, but making sure that they get delivered to the muscle is just as important. Heat therapies such as the sauna, hot baths, and steam rooms dilate blood vessels. This increases the amount of blood that can pass through the rest of your body.
Exercise increases body temperature and therefore increases blood vessel circumference. This helps the muscles to perform at their best. Increasing blood flow during rest periods will increase the rate at which muscle tissue can recover.
Expanding and constricting blood vessels over a period of time increase blood vessel elasticity. Blood vessel elasticity is a good thing. It allows the body to adapt the width of blood vessels to the best size that it requires. Loss of blood vessel elasticity is linked to cardiovascular disease. This is because blood vessels aren’t able to expand or contract in response to what the body needs at a given point in time. They should expand when muscles need nutrients, and contract when temperatures drop to allow for the protection of your vital organs. Blood vessels should also expand to lower blood pressure and contract to increase blood pressure.
Blood vessel dilation improves muscle recovery
Steam rooms increase blood vessel circumference. This temporary increase in blood vessel dilation allows the muscle to get a flood of nutrients. It also lets the muscle expel its waste products a lot faster. This makes steams rooms a great way to speed up muscle recovery. I often use it as a form of gentle, active rest.
Heat increases blood flow
We have already examined the way that heat expands blood vessels and how that benefits muscle recovery. There is another way that heat increases blood supply.
When your body’s temperature rises, it will push blood to the skin so that it can cool down. This is why our skin turns red when we get hot. The large movement of blood from the core to the outer areas of the body encourages massive changes in blood flow. This re-positioning of blood volume is beneficial to muscle tissue because it allows for old blood to be moved out of the muscle and for new blood to move in.
Cold temperatures increase blood flow in a similar way
In the same way, cold temperatures also benefit muscle recovery. The massive re-positioning of blood from the outer areas back into the core increases the total movement of blood. This gives muscle mass the opportunity to expel old blood and feed off new blood.
Alternating between hot and cold temperatures for muscle recovery
Alternating between hot and cold temperatures is a very popular way of increasing blood flow in and out of the muscles to speed up recovery. This should be done according to your physical tolerance level. Switching between hot and cold places physical stress on the body as it tries to maintain the right balance. While this is beneficial because of increased blood flow, too much of this stimulus can place more of a stimulus on the body than what is beneficial.
Do not switch between hot and cold for too long if your body is not used to making these fast adjustments. Your body will be better able to cope with this new stimulus over time.
The heat helps the body to detox itself
We have spoken a lot about making sure that the muscle gets the right nutrients. We have also looked at the nutrients that we lose through sweat: electrolytes. One of the major benefits of sitting in a steam room is its ability to rid the body of waste products. Just as much as the muscles need to receive nutrients, they also need to remove the by-products of these nutrients or chemical processes. These include carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and free radicals.
How to Use the Steam Room for Optimal Muscle Growth?
As you can see, the steam room can be very beneficial to muscle recovery and growth. It can also compete with the muscles for energy. For this reason, the best time to use the steam room is during recovery periods. Your muscles already experience increased blood flow during exercise. The sooner that your body can relax, the sooner it can start rebuilding muscle tissue. Rest periods that are too long without increased blood flow can slow down the recovery process. This is why using a steam room can speed up recovery.
Use the steam rooms on your rest days. I personally like to use them on my active rest days to make sure that the muscles get all of the nutrients that they need.
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