by: Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.
Fitness psychology covers many topics and this one is a stinky, er I mean sticky, one. Either way it just reeks.
You ever hear the joke about the pig that tells the skunk he has body odor? Neither did I. But how else can I begin writing about a touchy and very personal topic like putrid body odor in the gym?
I know The Sporting Club is a sweet smelling health club with only the finest, equally sweet smelling, members. It’s a meticulously clean club, too. But let’s face it—even the best of us sometimes, well, leave a memorable trail of, ok, I’ll say it, ghastly BO. And after a hard workout or training session, your sweat glands can showcase a bit too well what you’ve got going on.
Remember that sweating is natural and our bodies use sweat to cool us down and control our temperature, so chill out and read on—this is an important topic if you are honest about it. C’mon, we’ve all passed someone now and then who we can’t wait to pass and then hope that what they left lingering around us will pass quickly too.
If you are among those who suffer from hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, it can cause you a lot of unhappiness. For some, this disease can be so troubling that it becomes a key reason they avoid coming to the gym. Hyperhidrosis causes sweating even in cool weather, or when just relaxing, so it’s not especially related to working out.
The book I wrote back in 1988, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: P.S. It’s All Small Stuff” wasn’t about hyperhidrosis sweat. In fact, such a small percentage of the population actually has this, that’s it safe to say don’t sweat it if you sweat a lot, because it’s probably not primary (sweating from the armpits, hands and feet) or secondary (caused by another medical illness) hyperhidrosis. Check it out with your doctor, of course, if you have concerns. There are tests he or she can run, naturally.
Many inaccurately believe that it’s perspiration that causes foul body odor, so they assume that sweating is the problem. By itself though, perspiration is surprisingly odorless. Anaerobic bacteria that are more plentiful when the body has too little oxygen, is a likely culprit causing foul body odor. Your body’s increased metabolism during and after a workout, especially if there is an imbalance in your metabolism, can also give off a pungent odor since it’s one way the body rids itself of smelly waste products.
Two of the steroid compounds found in sweat’s 16-androstenes are really strong and utterly unpleasantly smelling: androstenol and androstenone. These are not favorite scents of anyone I know. And probably not anyone you know either. Unless you enjoy the smell of musky urine, that is. I know, I know, this is a family blog, but we’re adults.
Other toxins, poor diet, the inability to properly metabolize certain foods, and coming to workout having recently digested obviously pungent foods such as garlic, onions, curry, and fried and baked foods containing rancid fats and oils, can all lead to offensive body odor. Eating too much meat and eating only vegetarian foods also can leave a trail of an aroma others might find gag worthy. Your personal genetics, stress, dirt, diet and health all combine to leave your odor imprint.
Sweating is a normal part of human functioning, of course. Here’s how you can effectively deal with that nasty human bouquet though, if you don’t want to spend a fortune on Lululemon’s “anti-stink” shirts.
- Deodorant foot spray helps keep foot odor from becoming an upwardly mobile problem.
- Perfume or Cologne only makes things worse in a gym. Even your expensive stuff.
- Use the cool, refrigerated towels around the gym or perhaps discreetly carry mildly scented body wipes.
- Consider having two pair of gym shoes to switch off – it’ll cut down on moisture that is a breeding ground for offensive odors. Road Runner Sports will love this suggestion.
- Black looks cool when working out, but light colored, breathable, loose-fitting cotton gym clothing may also help by allowing air movement and thus help prevent odor build-up.
- If the latest Right Guard doesn’t do it, find a deodorant/antiperspirant that does. If it contains 10% to 15% aluminum chloride hexahydrate, it’s probably a good start. Your M.D. may be able to prescribe a deodorant medicine to you that is much more potent than anything you can find in the locker room, so don’t be embarrassed to ask.
- Shower before your workout. Please. Oh, and shower after your workout as well.
- Drink lots of water while working out to flush your system.
- Eat an apple prior to working out—it may add sweet to your sweat.
- Never use hyperhidrosis or simple body odor as an excuse to keep you from the gym. You need exercise for your wellness and fitness.
OK, so there you have my ten top tips to trip-up telltale BO. Use them. Please.
I’m curious though, how do you handle nasty BO when you get a whiff of it in the gym? Do you tell the perp? Do you complain to gym staff? Do you RUN GAGGING to the front door to get some clean oxygen? Do you point to the offender behind his or her back waving your friends away? Do you let your friends get a whiff and laugh in the locker room? Or do you just stick it out, let it go, say nothing and behave as maturely and kindly as most Sporting Club members do? After all, you never know for sure who is the pig and who is the skunk.