The first time it happened I was at Fette Sau, an excellent barbecue joint in Brooklyn. I was visiting my brother who’d moved to America and we wanted to do something American: eat brisket priced by the half-pound and buckets of smoky baked beans. Things were going well until they weren’t. Midway through the meal I started perspiring like a piece of cheese that’d been left out in the sun. It was a classic case of the meat sweats.
People have been talking about the phenomenon for decades. “Here come the meat sweats,” Joey Tribbiani said in a 2001 Thanksgiving episode of Friends after eating a hectic portion of turkey. In 2008, a man named Matthew Stubbs released an instrumental track called The Meat Sweats, which is racy like my heart after all that brisket. One Reddit user claimed in 2018 that he ate “3 burgers, 2 brats, a solid few servings of brisket and sides” at a grill out and ended up a “sweaty mess.” Early this year, Arby’s teamed up with Old Spice to launch Meat Sweats Defense, a spray-on deodorant for particularly beefy meals. And on Twitter, people regularly share photos of juicy steaks and racks of ribs with comments like, “Meat sweats be hittin.”
But are the meat sweats real? “While the term is not quite scientific, the biochemical process that results in excessive sweating after eating a lot of meat is quite real,” says dietician Naudia Jones Bell, RD, CDN, the founder and CEO of Brooklyn Nutrition Practice. While “meat sweats” is often uttered as a joke (or a cry for help), it can also be explained by some basic biology. Here’s what you need to know.
What causes the meat sweats?
There isn’t any research directly linking eating meat to sweating buckets. But it could be happening because it’s harder for the body to break down protein than carbohydrates, says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, a dietician and the author of Planted Performance. When you eat protein, 20%–30% of the calories ingested are used to digest it, compared with only 5%–10% for carbohydrates. Eating a lot of protein-heavy meats is probably raising body temperature through a process called diet-induced thermogenesis, says Jones Bell. Sweating is a natural response “so that the body can cool itself down,” she says.
How much meat is too much meat?
Eating just 30 grams (1 oz.) of protein at a time “can result in a significant increase in body temperature,” says Jones Bell. That amount probably won’t cause you to sweat, though, and the limit will be different for everyone depending on the age, gender, and lifestyle factors which determine individual metabolic rates. It’s also important to note that the meat sweats could apply to any high-protein foods, like turkey, fish, chicken, and dairy, says Rizzo. One Twitter user agrees: “Everyone talks about meat sweats but nobody talks about cheese sweats.”
Can you avoid the meat sweats?
You already know, don’t you? “The best way to prevent meat sweats is to limit the quantity of meat consumed,” says Jones Bell. She recommends eating no more than 3 oz. of animal protein per meal, “which is about the size of a deck of cards,” and filling at least half of your plate with vegetables like spinach and broccoli. Vegetables are packed with filling fiber, which “may help prevent you from eating too much meat,” says Rizzo.
Beverages also play a role in the meat sweats. Current CDC guidelines recommend limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks a day for men and one drink or less a day for women. Boozing can increase the thermic effect of meats when consumed in tandem, so Jones Bell also advises you drink separately from protein-heavy meals.
Oops, too late. Now what do I do?
If, like Joey, you accidentally plow through too much Thanksgiving turkey in one sitting, “drink water to help regulate body temperature,” says Jones Bell. She also recommends wearing breathable and loose-fitting clothes and relaxing somewhere cool until the meat sweats pass.
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