What Are Meat Sweats? Why Do We Get Them?

If you’ve ever been to a buffet you might have tried to “win” by eating as much red meat as humanly possible because it’s one of the more expensive things per-pound. Maybe you just ate too much red meat, because Westerners (generally, but also Americans in particular) tend to eat a lot of red meat. Whatever the reason, if you’ve eaten a lot of meat you may have found yourself… weirdly sweaty later. So what are meat sweats? Why do we get them?

They’re maybe real?

There’s actually some discourse as to whether or not the meat sweats are a real thing. For starters, not everyone experiences them and you’re probably here because either because you heard someone talk about them and you were confused because you don’t get the meat sweats, or because you do get the meat sweats and your friends who don’t looked at you like you were a crazy person. Or you’re still watching Friends. Fun fact, the term “meat sweats” was popularized by Friends. 

It’s unlikely that you’ll be going to the doctor and getting told directly that you’re suffering from the meat sweats. Some doctors don’t think they exist, while others might contest with lived experiences. The thing is, there’s not a lot of research going into meat sweats in particular, so there’s no concrete, evidence-based study that seeks to prove the existence of meat sweats that we could find. 

There’s still hope for meat sweat believers and experiencers though, since there are mechanisms in the body that might explain the meat sweats. 

Protein and body temperature

When you eat stuff, it takes some amount of energy to digest it. As a byproduct of that, there’s some heat that gets generated—like how every appliance you have heats up with use. That’s why we “burn” calories, by the way. Calories represent how much energy is required to heat one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. At least in the dietary sense, since calories can also measure how much energy it takes to heat just one gram of water by one degree. But when your nutrition label or dietician is talking calories, they mean the one in kilograms. What is science if it’s not needlessly confusing?

Anyway, not every food requires the same energy investment for digestion. That also means not all calories are created equally. About 20-30% of the calories in protein go to its digestion, which means for every 100 calories of protein consumed 20-30 of them are being reinvested into the digestion of that protein. Contrast that with carbohydrates, where a comparatively smaller 5-10% of the calories contained are reinvested into their digestion. Big takeaway, proteins take more energy to properly digest. This counts more so for things like animal proteins (IE red meat), which take more energy to digest than vegetable-based proteins. That might explain why people don’t complain about getting “tofu sweats.”

On average, 10% of the calories that go into us are used simply for digesting our food. When our bodies have to invest energy into metabolizing food, our body temperature can increase. That increase, though, is probably not going to make you sweat profusely—you’re probably just going to feel lethargic or bloated first. Profuse sweating when eating regularly, then, is generally taken to be caused by some other underlying condition. 

Speaking of meat, see if you know your meats and tofu here.