It’s summertime, and you’re seated at a picnic table eating another rack of ribs and hoping that circling bee finds a flower to bother. And then you feel it. Sweat. Beads of it on your brow and on the small of your back. But wait. You’re not even sitting in direct sunlight. Why is this happening? You’re not sweating because of the outdoor temperature. Or even because that bee is making you nervous.
Welcome to the meat sweats.
Meat sweats: More than just a feeling?
“It’s a physical reaction that happens when you eat large amounts of protein,” Dr. Brunilda Nazario told HuffPost. Nazario’s an internist, endocrinologist, associate medical director of WebMD and someone who believes meat sweats are a real phenomenon. (For a deeper look at the science behind this physical reaction when you eat protein, check out studies on protein thermogenesis and the thermic effect of food.) “Talk to anyone who’s had them and they’ll say, ‘Hell yeah, they’re real,’” she said.
Adam Perry Lang, the bestselling barbecue cookbook author who recently opened the meat palace APL Restaurant in Los Angeles, concurs. But he also believes the meat sweats are partially mental.
“Maybe on a psychological level, it’s primal,” Perry Lang told HuffPost. “There’s a lot of adrenaline going, and you’re excited when you tear into something.” Seeing as how his restaurant serves 150-plus-day dry-aged tomahawks, the anticipation his guests feel is understandable. But he concedes it’s physical, too. “And then afterwards, it comes from heavy digestion,” he surmised.
Another person who vouches for this sweaty experience is Crazy Legs Conti (his legal name!), a legendary competitive eater currently ranked 30th in the country by Major League Eating. He’s been in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest more than 10 times, so he knows about eating a ton of protein in a short amount of time. He believes that when you see people sweating in competitive eating, part of it is due to athletic exertion.
“There’s some sweating that happens from the aerobic activity,” Conti said. “[Competitive eater] Joey Chestnut looks like Trombone Shorty playing the trumpet ― a lot of up and down movements ― and you’re going to get some sweating.” But even people who aren’t competitive eaters also sweat profusely. That’s why Conti says something else is happening to your body, which is typical during the hot dog contest. “The meat sweats are less about traditional Kevin Garnett athletic-type sweating and more about, ‘I am purifying my stomach and soul and the conduit is the Nathan’s hot dog.’ And the more you eat, the more that comes out of you, leaving you drenched.”
It’s more than just sweating; it’s a journey.
Even if you’re not “purifying your stomach and soul” at the Nathan’s competition, you can still get the meat sweats eating a more normal portion of meat. And there does appear to be some universality to the type of sweat you experience. Perry Lang, who is not a competitive eater but who does consume meat almost every day, explained what it’s like for him. “It’s not [sweating under] my arms,” he said. “It’s a whole body experience, and not one particular area. You just feel full. It’s a whole body thing.”
Conti, who has a philosophical streak, describes the experience using more flowery language. “The meat sweats are a very personal thing. The effect is based on [the type of] meat and the eater themselves. For me, it’s an all-body [thing] ― it’s a journey into the psychedelic experience. You’re out there and you can’t really tell where the sweating is happening, but you know it’s happening. It’s armpits and behind the knees. When your elbow is dripping sweat, that’s when you know you’ve reached the nirvana of meat sweats.”
Here’s how your body generates meat sweats.
While it’s fun to think about meat sweats as a psychedelic experience, there are far less heady reasons why your body is profusely sweating when you consume excess amounts of protein. “The act of eating uses energy, and, depending on what you eat, you can burn different amounts of energy,” Nazario said. “When you go to the gym, you’re burning calories, and when you eat meat you can burn calories as well. That’s what’s happening with the meat sweats. Some foods burn more calories than others.”
Protein burns calories like crazy. “To digest and process protein, your body will have to burn a lot more calories compared to, say, carbs or fat,” she said. “And when you consume large amounts of protein, you can get this meat sweat. You’re burning calories almost like you were at the gym.”
Nazario said that nutritional guidelines recommend that only 10% to 35% of your daily calories come from protein, and one serving of protein is the size of the palm of your hand. Picture a plate with brisket, ribs and pork shoulder, and it’s easy to see how you could go over that in one meal. When this happens, your body experiences dietary thermogenesis, which literally heats you up to break down all that protein.
When you get the meat sweats, the side effects are typically discomfort and the need to change T-shirts. But studies suggest that you can also use the thermogenic effect to your benefit. Consuming a high-protein diet while also restricting your overall caloric intake could help you increase weight loss and fat loss. One of those studies, conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, also notes that “rigorous longer-term studies are needed to investigate the effects of high protein diets on weight loss and weight maintenance.” So don’t cut everything but meat from your diet in an attempt to lose weight.
How to prevent the meat sweats.
Preventing the meat sweats is as simple as consuming less protein. But since that’s no fun, Nazario said spacing out your meat consumption over the course of a couple of hours may help reduce the risk. If meat sweats are a regular occurrence, our medical expert said it may be a wake-up call. “If it happens to you, you might want to participate in a little more exercise and boost your cardiovascular fitness,” Nazario said.
If you’re unable to prevent the meat sweats, the next time your elbows are dripping, keep Conti’s advice in mind, however unscientific it may be: “The body is an amazing instrument of human consciousness, and our stomach can fill up, but our mind never can. The mental game in overcoming the meat sweats will be held somewhere between the frontal lobe and the hypothalamus, and not between the esophagus and the lower intestine.”
Always remember: It’s mind over meat sweat.