First comes the salivating, induced by a single sniff of roasting meat. Then comes that juicy first bite, the joy spreading as the fatty goodness ignites your tastebuds. It’s all you can do to swallow before you shovel more more beefy bliss into your gullet. Ounces of top-cut sirloin or whole hog later, you’re in carnivore heaven—for about 60 seconds.
That’s when the sweats set in. Suddenly you’re flushed, your skin is moist, and you’re perspiring like you’re in a workout warmup—even though your only expenditure has been due to delectable carnivorous gluttony.
Congratulations: You have the meat sweats.
Surprisingly, that’s not the scientific name for it, because there is in fact no research to directly explain the phenomenon of the meat sweats. (At least none that we could find.) But there is something called the thermic effect of feeding, wherein your body temperature rises after you down a ridiculous amount of food—particularly protein.
“In simple terms, [the thermic effect of feeding] is the amount of heat it takes your body to break down protein,” explains Natalie Rizzo, R.D., a New York-based nutritionist. When you eat food, your body has to work to convert it to fuel, and this work raises your core temperature. Protein is the hardest macronutrient to break down, so some people experience a spike in body temperature after a meat-heavy meal that they might otherwise not after eating a ton of fat or carbs. When that core temperature rises, they start to sweat, Rizzo explains.
While it may feel like your body’s rebelling against the gluttonous goodness you just put it through, the sweating is actually a good thing: “It means that your body is burning more calories and fat than it typically does when processing a meal,” says Chris Lockwood, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., president of performance nutrition consulting and R&D firm Lockwood, LLC.
But while protein is more difficult than fat or carbs for your body to break down, protein isn’t the only reason a steak will stimulate a higher TEF response than, say, eating a tofu “meat” patty.
For one thing: “Ingested protein also stimulates the release of certain hormones that affect your thyroid and are involved in regulating metabolism,” Lockwood says. Plus, bigger guys perspire more, and, in general, some guys just sweat more than others naturally.
Another obvious but often overlooked reason: The simple act of chewing activates your metabolism, he adds.
So does that mean you need to swear off steaks during dates and business dinners to avoid the dreaded armpit stains? No way.
“Your cells learn from, and adapt to, all new experiences to help you expend less energy the next time you encounter that same physiological stressor,” Lockwood says. Translation: Eating the same-size steak won’t make you sweat as much the 10th time as it did the first.
The other huge factor in determining why you get meat sweats is what kind of carnivorous delight you’re delving into. If you’re trying to avoid the meat sweats, opt for fattier cuts: “From the studies that do exist, it appears that leaner cuts of meat will result in a higher TEF,” Lockwood adds. “The higher the cut of meat is in protein and the lower it is in total and saturated fat, the greater the TEF response will probably be.”
Ultimately, though, to order the steak but hold the sweat, the answer is really even simpler: Eat less. Rizzo recommends you keep portions to less than 40g of protein. Similarly, “if protein is less than 20% of total calories consumed in a typical meal, then most studies suggest there will be no significant rise in TEF,” Lockwood adds. To put that in perspective, an 8-oz top sirloin contains roughly 68g of protein, 18g of fat, and 456 calories. “You’d only want to eat about half of that, unless you typically consume at least 1,360 calories per meal,” he adds.
And if you’re determined to knock down that porterhouse without sweating through your shirt? We have a few antiperspirants we can recommend.