Movement is one of the most important pillars of health, and that means that regular exercise in addition to avoiding being sedentary for prolonged periods is totally non-negotiable (see The Benefits of Gentle Movement and Why is Exercise so Important?). I encourage both committing to some time of activity that builds type 2 muscle fibers (strength training, power training, metabolic conditioning, yoga, swimming, CrossFit, pretty much any exercise with the possible exception of extreme endurance sports) as well as incorporating movement throughout the day (such as movement breaks every 20 minutes while at work, lunchtime walks, or investing in treadmill desk). It doesn’t really matter how you chose to move—it’s always easiest to make time in our day for something we truly enjoy.
However, if our fitness routines involve some sweat (and let’s face it, pretty much any activity we do that builds type 2 muscle fibers is going to get those sweat glands going), we might notice something a little…erm…funky in our gym bags from time to time. Maybe worse, WE might be the source of the funky smell! And, even though I choose to eat like a caveman, I’m not super enthused by the idea of smelling like one! Never fear! I’ve compiled my favorite ways to beat ‘gym stank,’ without the harsh chemicals!
It’s stating the obvious to say that an effective natural deodorant is the pinnacle of our stink-free gym routine. But did you know that how we approach our deodorant and antiperspirant regimen can have a huge effect on how, and how much, we sweat?
During times of exertion (such as while exercising), sweat allows us to regulate our internal temperature. Most conventional antiperspirants/deodorant combos (what you’ll find in nearly every store-bought “deodorant” stick) rely on fragrance to mask odor and on chemicals, including aluminum (linked to Alzheimer’s disease), to limit perspiration. These chemicals build up in your skin and block the body’s ability to sweat. And, this is almost certainly something we want to avoid! Sweating is part of our body’s natural detoxification pathways and healthy sweat glands (meaning they aren’t interfered with by chemical-laden antiperspirants) may help reduce oxidative stress, regulate immune function, and even reduce insulin resistance. Suffice it to say this isn’t a great long-term solution, especially if you have chemical sensitivities!
However, embracing sweat is not the same as being doomed to smelly armpits! Natural deodorants skip the sweat gland-interfering chemicals and work to deodorize using natural antimicrobials, odor absorbers, and and plant-derived fragrances like essential oils. But I’ve found that even natural deodorants can irritate my skin. That’s because many rely on baking soda to absorb odor. I think this is a fabulous alternative, but (not surprisingly) I don’t like having red, itchy armpits. So, when I found baking soda-free Zak Detox Deodorant, I was seriously excited!
Zak Detox Deodorant is an aluminum-free, paraben-free, all-natural deodorant that really, seriously, not-kidding-around-here works! It lasts all day, goes on smooth, nourishes my skin, and smells good! And since their Super Smooth and Roll-On varieties don’t contain baking soda, they’re perfect for more sensitive skin. I like using the Super Smooth Unscented, (their Original variety does use baking soda for those of you who love baking soda-based natural deoderants) but Zak comes in plenty of great scents for both men and women.
Right now, you can use code ZAKMOM for 15% off your deodorant purchase!
Sweat, the culprit behind all manor of stinky situations, is our body’s way of cooling itself. When we become overheated, we sweat in order to regulate our internal temperature and make sure our bodies can still function optimally. Manually cooling ourselves with a fan, a cool drink of water, ice or other external items is a great way to stop sweating (and the stink that comes with it) without interfering with our skin’s detoxification system!
My husband and I work out regularly at a CrossFit box, and that means we’re sometimes outside doing exercises like tire flips, running or battle ropes. During the summer in Hot-Lanta, this can get pretty intense! When we come in from outside, we like to use the BOJE Cooling Towel, a relatively inexpensive and portable chilled towel, to bring our temperature back into the normal range! It’s great because it automatically feels cool when wet (thanks to the microfiber cloth its made of) so it doesn’t require any planning ahead and is always ready when we are! A BOJE Towel would also incredibly convenient for outdoor mowing, gardening, or beach days as well.
You could also easily achieve the same result by wrapping a frozen water bottle or ice pack in a towel and holding it to your pulse points (at the back or side of your neck, your temples or your wrists) for 5-10 minutes after intense exercise.
Most of us know by now that our digestion (and immune system, and brain health and…I digress) is regulated by the colony of bacteria living in our gut (see The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods). So is it really any surprise to learn that our skin and body odor are ruled by the same little dictators?
Sweat itself doesn’t stink, but the bacteria that grow in the dark, damp conditions created in sweaty places (like our armpits…ew!) do (or rather, the byproducts of their metabolism do!). But as antibacterial soaps and shampoos have risen in popularity, we’ve begun to strip the good oils and beneficial bacteria from our skin right along with the nasty folks. Rebalancing the bacteria on our skin can help eliminate the unwanted ones of those little guys before they have a chance to stink everything up. And, bonus, it can help improve the look and feel of our skin, as well!
So, how do we solve the bacterial imbalance that could be contributing to your stinky post-workout state? I love the AO+ Mist from Mother Dirt! This totally innovative company is dedicated to helping us embrace the good bacteria, and even makes alternative products that don’t strip them away in the first place! AO+ Mist contains ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (normal probiotic residents of our skin that are very sensitive to soaps and chemicals) and helps restore the natural balance of your skin’s microbiome. Plus, it’s designed to help us cut down on washing, showering and, yes, stinking!
Spraying with AO+ Mist anywhere you sweat after a workout is a great way to directly target your gym stank. That means targeting your armpits, feet and anywhere else you get particularly sweaty. And over time, you should begin to re-colonize the bacteria on your skin and find you need less to smell good!
Gym funk has a funny habit of hanging around in the worst places. Now that we’ve discussed the best ways to keep our bodies smelling fresh, there’s one last piece to address: our stuff! Because no matter how good you smell, a pair of sweaty gym socks, shoes or a reeking bag can put us right back where we started!
One of the simplest rules is to remove dirty clothes from your gym bag as soon as you get home and wash them as promptly as possible. It helps to give shoes, workout gloves, wristwraps etc. all a chance to air out too, which could be as simple as leaving the zipper open on your bag until your next trip to the gym.
My favorite trick for keeping my gym gear fresh is similar to my choice for my skin—I use a probiotic spray. Chrisal’s ProbioClear PIP Spray uses Probiotics in Progress (PIP) to create a beneficial layer of good bacteria that totally eats through odors and eliminates them at their source! This hypoallergenic spray is a great option for allergy sufferers too, as it helps balance allergens in the home in a totally natural way.
Since PIP Allergy-Free Spray lasts about three days, a good beginning place is spraying your gym back inside and out (along with any long-time residents of your bag, like spare shoes) a couple times a week to begin building a protective layer of bacteria. This spray is also free of synthetic fragrances and chemical additives, so it’s a much better option to spray in areas like our mudrooms and laundry rooms, where gym funk can tend to congregate.
I love the feeling of working so hard at the gym that sweat is pouring off my body, but that doesn’t mean I want to smell like it all day! And, as so many of us seek to rid our homes and our lives of harsh chemicals in addition to grains, having natural solutions for a very common experience is pretty darned awesome!
Wilson JM et al “The effects of endurance, strength, and power training on muscle fiber type shifting.” J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jun;26(6):1724-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318234eb6f.
Zhou SS, et al. “The skin function: a factor of anti-metabolic syndrome.” Diabetol Metab Syndr. 2012 Apr 26;4(1):15. doi: 10.1186/1758-5996-4-15.
Liu XX, et al. “Decreased skin-mediated detoxification contributes to oxidative stress and insulin resistance” Exp Diabetes Res. 2012;2012:128694. doi: 10.1155/2012/128694. Epub 2012 Aug 1.