Is Sweet Sweat Even A Little Bit Legit?
Sweet Sweat gels claim to enhance your workout, prevent injury, and ward off shin splits—but is any of that true?
I'm skeptical of any product that promises to ~enhance my workout~, without actually requiring that I exercise smarter, longer, or at a higher intensity. But recently, on my Instagram discover page, two very fit influencers were pictured posing with a jar of Sweet Sweat gel waxing poetic in the caption about the products performance-enhancing ability.
I admit: I was intrigued. (Plus, the 3,000+ Sweet Sweat stick reviews on Amazon give it 4.5 stars.)
But what is Sweat Sweet, and is it just another case of Instagram hype preying on the easily-influenced? Here's what experts have to say.
What Exactly Is Sweet Sweat?
Sweet Sweat is a line of products intended to increase your rate of perspiration by a company called "Sports Research"—which, TBH, given the lack of research on their products is a wildly misleading name. In addition to the gel, the line offers Neoprene sleeves called "Waist Trimmers," "Thigh Trimmers," and "Arm Trimmers," (similar to waist trainers) which also claim to increase the amount you sweat. *Insert major eye roll here.*
The topical products (which come in a jar or stick that you swipe on like deodorant) are made of petrolatum, carnauba wax, acai pulp oil, organic coconut oil, pomegranate seed oil, organic jojoba oil, virgin camelina oil, olive oil, aloe vera extract, vitamin E, and fragrance, and require that you apply an ~ample~ amount to the skin pre-workout.
If you read the ingredient list, it's not too different than what you'd find in a moisturizing cream or balm. Yet, the brand claims that these Sweet Sweat ingredients"encourages thermogenic activity during exercise, fights muscle fatigue, helps warm-up and recovery time, targets 'slow to respond' problem areas, and substantially improves circulation and sweating."
WTF is a thermogenic response? It basically just means that it makes your skin your warm, says Michael Richardson M.D., a physician at One Medical in Boston.
Experts have differing opinions on whether or not the above ingredients will actually make you feel warm. "Looking at these ingredients, I don't see anything that is going to warm up the skin. It's just a bunch of oils from the most part," says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company.
There may be a slight warming effect from the petroleum jelly, says Elsie Koh, M.D., an interventional radiologist and chief medical informatics officer at Azura Vascular Care in New Jersey. It adds a layer of insulation to the skin and therefore might cause your internal temperature to rise faster, she explains. The result of that heat and insulation? More sweat.
That may be true—and, in fact, some research does show that petroleum jelly has insulation-like capabilities—but there's no research that to support that Sweet Sweat works similarly or more effectively than a product such as Vaseline.
Does Sweet Sweat Work?
There is an argument to be made that Sweet Sweat does make you sweat. "If you coat the skin with something thick, it's going to clog your pores and keep your skin from breathing well, which will trap some of the heat, making you warmer, and as a result, you'll start sweating," says Wickham.
But just because something makes you sweat, doesn't mean you're getting a better workout (!!). Consider an hour-long hot yoga class compared to an hour-long run in the winter or a CrossFit class in a non-insulated box. The run and WOD will burn more calories because of the activity itself, despite that fact that you'd probably sweat more in the heated yoga class. (Related: Are There Benefits to Hot Workout Classes?)
"Sweating is your body's way of regulating temperature and cooling off," says Richardson. "When you sweat, you may be losing water and therefore lose water weight, but that doesn't mean your workout is better, that you're burning more fat, or that you're losing 'real' weight." (Related: How Much Should You Really Sweat During A Workout?)
Sweet Sweat claims "it takes energy to sweat, more energy than most people realize, like all energy consuming processes sweating helps burn calories"—but that's actually a myth. The amount you sweat doesn't have anything to do with the number of calories you burn.
"This statement is incredibly misleading; anything your body does requires energy to do it—sleeping, thinking, sitting, etc.," says Wickham. "The implication that sweating burns extra calories is false." (Interestingly enough, sauna suits might actually have some weight loss and performance benefits.)
On the flipside, sweating too much can actually lead to dehydration if you're sweating out fluids and electrolytes faster than you can rehydrate. And if you're feeling lightheaded, nauseous, crampy, or fatigued your workout is going to be the exact opposite of ~enhanced~. Womp.
No, It Can't Replace a Proper Warm-Up
Sweet Sweat also claims that it accelerates warm-up and recovery times. It's true that warming up before a workout is a must for preventing injury. However, Sweet Sweat doesn't exactly help with that.
"There is zero association between warming up the skin and fitness performance. When we talk about "warming up" a muscle it's a figure of speech. It's not a temperature thing," says Richardson. Rather, it's about preparing the body for the movements required in the coming workout and sport through dynamic stretching, he says.
Wickham agrees: "Warming up for a workout includes priming the nervous system, activating certain muscles, taking the joints through their range of motion." This, in turn, will increase blood flow and increase the temperature of your body, he says. But simply warming up the skin will not have the same effect.
And, while the phrase "afterburn" also implies being H-O-T, Sweet Sweat will not increase the afterburn effect (when your body keeps burning calories after your workout), notes Dr. Koh.
Sweet Sweat Won't Reduce Injury Risk Either
Sweet Sweat says the gel can: "Target slow-to-respond problem areas", and "helps fight against shin-splints, muscle pulls & strains." Any truth here? Nope, according to the experts. (And, a friendly reminder: You can't spot-reduce fat loss anywhere.)
The theoretical logic here is that "warming up" the muscles helps reduce risk of injury, but, again, the warming up that comes from a topical gel is not the same as the muscle-prep that comes from the strategic movements you do before a workout.
"This an outrageous claim, especially when you look at the ingredients," says Wickham. "None of these ingredients are going to prevent shin splints; there is no research to support this." Shin splints come from the overuse of muscles on the front of the shin as a result of lack of mobility and muscle compensation, he explains. "There's no cream or gel that will help you avoid that." (Here's How to *Actually* Prevent Shin Splints).
Similarly, muscle pulls are a result of mobility issues, bad positioning, and overcompensation, while a strain is micro-tears in a ligament. "No research supports the idea that a skin-heating product will prevent a tear or a pull," says Wickham.
The other issue? None of these claims have been backed by the FDA. (Read: The product can make lofty claims it doesn't actually deliver.)
So, Should You Try Sweet Sweat?
The one reason you may decide to try it: "The product could be useful for people who plan on doing a big workout when it's cold inside or outside because the petroleum jelly adds a layer of insulation," says Dr. Koh.
But all our experts, as well as the (lack thereof) research, suggest that the product probably doesn't live up to the many other lofty claims.
The only one that seems to hold up? That it smells good.
But what about all those Sweet Sweat reviews on Amazon, you ask? This is one scenario where crowd-sourcing your purchase isn't the best idea.
"Slathering on Sweet Sweat won't enhance your workout or lead to any better than coating your skin in petroleum or coconut butter," says Wickham—it has some serious #moisturizingpower and also smells delish, but that's about it.