Does Your Workout Make You Smell?

Sporting an unseemly outfit or eating cereal before hitting the gym can cause you to reek. Make sure you’re not the one stinking up the locker room

February 25, 2011
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Exercise reaps many positive benefits: increased energy, improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk of  diabetes, a sharper mind, and even a better sex life. But there's one fitness by-product you could probably live without: body odor. While nobody smells powder fresh after hitting the gym, you can exacerbate the stench with habits such as wearing the wrong clothes or eating certain foods. Read on to discover six surprising reasons your workout is making you stink, and how to make it more pleasant for you (and those around you).

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You Wear Spandex

Traditional nylon or polyester can hamper air flow and trap perspiration on your skin, which becomes a breeding ground for nasty smells. "If we can move or channel moisture away from the body more quickly, odors cannot grow," says Ingrid Johnson, a Fashion Institute and Technology professor in the textile development and marketing department. She suggests wearing performance apparel specifically designed to wick away sweat, such as Tactel, and favors looser garments that don't hold in perspiration.

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You Eat Cereal Before You Hit the Gym

High-fiber foods, such as beans and certain cereals, may produce gas during a cardio routine, says Erin Palinski, RD, CPT. To avoid a smelly workout, steer clear of foods containing at least 5 g of fiber immediately before exercising. Also, limit your intake of sugar alcohols (like those found in sugar-free gum), which can cause gas and bloating, says Palinski. If you are going to eat a high-fiber food, wait at least 1 to 2 hours before hitting the gym.

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You Wear Antiperspirant

If your antiperspirant doesn't contain deodorant, you are fighting an uphill battle against body odor. Antiperspirant effectively minimizes the odorless water (aka sweat) secreted by eccrine glands to keep you cool. But it's the other sweat glands you need to worry about. Apocrine glands--located primarily under the arms, near the groin, and on the breasts--release a viscous, odorless substance that produces a bad smell when it comes into contact with bacteria on the skin.

To avoid reeking in the weight room, apply deodorant such as Degree Motion Sense. Most products combine antiperspirant and deodorant, but keep in mind that deodorant merely masks the odor, says Dee Anna Glaser, MD, president of the International Hyperhidrosis Society, an organization dedicated to the community of excessive sweaters. No personal hygiene product can actually eliminate the stench.

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You Never Wash Your Gym Bag

You probably make a habit of throwing your sweaty gym clothes into the hamper when you get home. But don't forget to wash your gym bag, because it will eventually start to stink. Johnson recommends tossing your bag into the washer at least once a season. When it comes to doing laundry, she subscribes to the "less is more" philosophy. Choose the medium cycle over the long one; be stingy--not generous--with the detergent; use lukewarm water instead of hot. You will save water and money, and keep colors bright without sacrificing cleanliness. "It doesn't take long to remove smell out of a garment," she says. "We're not that dirty."

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You Wait Until You Get Home to Shower

Bathing is the most important thing you can do to minimize odor (obviously), but when you hit the showers can affect how much stench your body develops in the first place. Remember, the sweat itself won't make you smell, but as soon as it interacts with bacteria on your skin, an odor is released. Bacteria double about every 20 minutes, so it's better to shower sooner rather than later, says David Pariser, MD, secretary of the International Hyperhidrosis Society. You may also notice a foul smell on your hands after touching gym equipment. This is probably due to the combination of metal, rubber, and cleanser, Glaser says. "The best thing is to wash your hands afterward."

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You Sport the Wrong Footwear

The wrong shoes can act as a bacteria breeding ground, trapping moisture and causing that stinky-feet stench. Look for a breathable training shoe with holes that allow perspiration to escape. The faster the sweat evaporates, the less time odor-causing bacteria have to make trouble. "Mesh shoes are better than nonmesh shoes. Just don't run through a puddle," Johnson says. Moisture-wicking socks, such as CoolMax, can also help your feet stay dry and reduce funky smells.

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