If you’ve ever eaten a meal that’s very high in protein, let’s say from meat, eggs or fish, and then noticed that you feel pretty hot and even sweaty afterward, it’s not all in your head. This phenomenon has even been nicknamed “meat sweats.”
What are meat sweats? Compared to carbohydrates and fats, protein is the macronutrient that the body uses the most energy to digest. The process of breaking down food, especially dense sources of protein, causes heat, which is called thermogenesis.
Not only that, but meals high in protein tend to be the most filling compared to higher-carb or higher-fat meals. Although in many cases adding more protein to your diet can help with weight loss/weight management, this strategy doesn’t work if you overeat in general.
Are Meat Sweats Real?
Yes, meat sweats can be a real physical reaction to eating lots of protein within a short period of time or even over the course of a day. It’s especially likely to occur if you eat a big, protein-rich meal at night shortly before going to sleep, which means you’re body will work hard through the night to metabolize your most recent meal.
As mentioned above, feeling extra toasty, uncomfortable and sweaty following a high-protein meal is due to the thermogenic effect of protein. When you eat protein, which is broken down into amino acids, many metabolic pathways are activated that use up lots of energy, resulting in a rise in your body temperature.
You’re most likely to experience meat sweats if you eat lots of meat/protein in one day, along with other warming foods like spices as well as alcohol.
High-protein foods, spices like cayenne and chili, other spicy foods like peppers, and alcohol can all lead to you feeling warmer than usual.
Studies suggest that protein oxidation drives up thermogenesis and body heat most when you consume 30 grams of protein or more at one time.
Eating processed meat might also play a role in worsening digestive symptoms that can accompany meat sweats if you’re someone who is sensitive to added nitrates, sodium and preservatives. If your sweats occur with stomach pains, bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms, then try avoiding processed meat in the future — like hot dogs, cured meats and salami — especially because these are generally unhealthy anyway.
How to Prevent/Treat Them
1. Try not to overeat, especially close to bedtime
Eating heavy meals of any kind, especially if they contain lots of protein, can increase body heat and sweating.
Limit portion sizes of meat and fish to three to eight ounces per meal, or about the size of the palm of your hand. This provides plenty of protein, around 24 to 30 grams, which is all you really need at one time. (Ideally choose high-quality protein sources, like grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry and wild-caught fish.)
If you’re tempted to eat much more than this, up your intake of other foods groups in order to make your meals more balanced, especially vegetables and other high-fiber foods.
Also try spacing out large meals by at least three hours to give your digestive system a break.
2. Avoid too much alcohol
Combining a hardy meal with alcohol is a recipe for digestive disaster. Alcohol often causes indigestion, poor sleep and increased body heat.
Ideally, stick to one to two alcoholic drinks per day or less. If you’re going to have more, space them out as much as possible, and drink water in between.
3. Go easy on spices
Barbecue sauce, chili sauce, cayenne pepper and other spicy foods can worsen sweating. These ingredients aren’t necessarily bad to have — in fact, they can be fat-burning — just be mindful about how much you consume if you’re already eating a big meal or if you’re prone to GI issues, such as acid reflux/heartburn.
4. Drink plenty of water
Water improves digestion and detoxification all around — plus it supports a healthy metabolism. The last thing you want to do is add insult to injury by being overly full and dehydrated, so drink fluids throughout the day.
5. Walk around and move afterward
You might feel sluggish after a big meal and want nothing more than to crash on the couch, but moving around stimulates digestion and can help you feel better more quickly. Don’t push yourself too hard if you’re feeling full and unwell, but try not to lay around stay sedentary either.
6. Consider intermittent fasting following a big meal
If you experience meat sweats after flooding your body with protein, chances are you’re full enough to skip the next meal or snack. Try giving your body a break by fasting for 12 to 16+ hours, including overnight.
You might choose to skip late-night snacks or dessert and even skip breakfast the next day so you have a chance to bounce back.
- If you’ve ever eaten a lot of protein and felt hot and sweaty afterward, you’ve experienced what some have nicknamed “meat sweats.”
- This reaction is caused by increased thermogenesis, which is the production of heat that the body produces when digesting foods, especially protein.
- Protein is the most difficult macronutrient for the body break down, so it raises your body temperature more than fat or carbs, causing sweating if you consume a lot of it at once.
- You’re most likely to have meat sweats if you eat lots of meat, fish, seafood or eggs within a short period of time, especially if you also consume spicy foods or alcohol.
- To manage it, try not to overeat, slow down and take breaks, drink lots of water, add more fiber to your meals, and move around afterward to enhance digestion.