Maybe you’ve experienced this phenomenon before. Maybe you’re weighing the pros and cons of a career in competitive eating. More likely, though, you’re curious about the origin of a popular internet meme. So, what exactly are meat sweats? Are they a joke or the real thing?
According to the ever-dependable Urban Dictionary, meat sweats refer to the excessive buildup of perspiration that happens after eating massive quantities of meat. Perhaps not surprisingly, science doesn’t yet have a definition (or a word) for this particular malady.
Keep reading to learn about the prevailing theories attempting to explain why some people say they sweat profusely after eating meat.
Are meat sweats caused by a medical condition?
Some people believe that they have an allergy to red meat in the same way that others have allergies to shellfish. While food allergies and intolerances are common and often quite serious, this is not that. Here’s why:
When someone has a food allergy, their immune system has a reaction to a particular food’s protein. Even a tiny amount of that protein may cause immediate symptoms, such as hives, rash, digestive problems, or a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis. However, delayed symptoms may also occur due to involvement of other parts of the immune system. The vast majority of adult food allergies are caused by cow milk, shellfish, fish, tree nuts, and peanuts.
Previous studies have found that meat allergies are very rare among children and adults. When they do occur, symptoms are typical of an allergic reaction, including itching, runny nose, cough, anaphylaxis, diarrhea, and vomiting.
The lone star tick, which can be found across much of the United States, is the cause of this allergy-inducing condition. Unlike other meat allergies, however, this tick-related allergy doesn’t cause any symptoms other than anaphylaxis, during which your throat closes up and you can’t breathe.
However, sweating is not a symptom of a food allergy.
Food intolerances may still involve the immune system but are different from allergies because they do not result in anaphylaxis. Most food intolerances occur because you lack a particular enzyme necessary for breaking down certain foods or have compromised intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut. Food intolerances primarily cause digestive symptoms, like diarrhea, gas, and nausea.
It’s possible that you have a meat intolerance, but very unlikely. If you can consume a standard-size serving of meat without having a bad reaction, you probably don’t have an intolerance.
Now that you know what it’s not, let’s take a look at a possible scientific explanation. To be clear, no scientific studies have directly researched meat sweats, but a few studies have provided relevant information about a possible connection: diet-induced thermogenesis. Here’s what it is.
How digestion creates heat in your body
Through the process of metabolism, your body converts the food you eat into the energy it needs to live. Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body needs to function properly when it’s at rest. Sometimes — such as during exercise — your body uses a lot more energy, so your metabolic rate speeds up.
In the human body, energy equals heat. The more energy you’re expending, the hotter you’re going to feel. To cool itself down, your body sweats.
Exercise is not the only reason that your metabolic rate increases. When you eat meat, or any other food, your body expends extra energy breaking down that food. This energy causes heat. Scientists call this heat diet-induced thermogenesis, or the thermic effect of food. Typically, though, there’s not enough heat involved to trigger a significant rise in temperature.
Different foods create different levels of heat
When it comes to digestion, not all foods are created equal. Carbohydrates are broken down easily and quickly, which means the body doesn’t use too much energy. Proteins are much more complex and take a lot longer for your body to break down.
According to some research, your body uses 20 to 30 percent more energy breaking down protein than carbohydrates. Therefore, protein has a more powerful thermic effect. Of course, the more protein you eat, the more energy is required to digest it.
It’s possible that eating massive amounts of meat (protein) could require so much energy that your body must sweat to cool itself down.
If you were to binge on tofu dogs, you may not experience the same effect. One study found that your body uses more energy to break down animal protein than vegetable-based proteins, like soy.
Preventing meat sweats
The easiest way to prevent meat sweats is to eat less meat.
Try spreading your meals out throughout the day. If your meat sweats are indeed caused by the energy you expend during digestion, then it follows that less food will require less energy. Less energy equals less heat.
There is one other thing to consider: going vegetarian. Before you balk at the idea, consider that
The bottom line
Meat sweats are usually nothing to worry about. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing other symptoms along with sweating. They could be caused by another underlying condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome.