*Disclaimer: The written article is based on a summary of existing scientific literature on the topic of infrared saunas. The article is for educational purposes and the information provided below cannot be taken as a promise to help with acute health problems or diseases.
The claims in the article are backed by 28 scientific references. All references are numbered. You can access the text of the reference by clicking on the number.
In this blog post, I'll consider the science on the topic of combining a ketogenic (keto) diet and an infrared sauna.
Hence "is a sauna good for keto" is answered, as well as making your sauna sessions as safe as possible on a keto diet. I also briefly consider whether everyone should follow a ketogenic diet, whether that diet impacts your sauna sessions, and how to optimise your sauna session benefits on a keto diet.
Let's begin with the basics though, as not everyone is aware of what a ketogenic diet even is:
Keto And Sauna: The Basics
Before digging into the concept of why saunas are a great tool for fat loss, let's consider the concept of the "keto" diet.
One caveat though:
The concepts of sauna and keto are tightly intertwined: just like increasing the amount of movement you get in a day and using heavy exercise or improved sleep quality can jumpstart your fat loss effort, the same is true for sauna use. I thus consider both "saunas" and "keto" a great potential health improvement tool.
But let's begin at the beginning:
What is "keto" or "ketosis"? The goal of a ketogenic of "keto" diet is to induce what is called "ketosis". Peter Attia, M.D. and ketosis expert, defines ketosis as follows (1; 2):
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which the liver produces small organic molecules called ketone bodies at “sufficient” levels
Ketones are an alternative fuel source to glucose for the human body. Glucose, in turn, is primarily sourced from carbohydrates you eat in your diet. Other sources of glucose are broken-down muscle tissue and protein sources from your diet.
The body only uses ketones when it's deprived of sufficient glucose (3; 4). As a result of glucose deprivation, ketones become an alternative fuel source to the body.
The higher level of bodyfat of humans compared to other primates acts as a store of energy for ketone production. Your bodyfat - in absence of glucose - is thus used to create ketones, as well as dietary fats.
To enter ketosis, you need to consume fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day - or exercise a lot to compensate for carbohydrate ingestion.
I will say that the validity of the ketogenic diet is heavily contested nowadays, from a scientific standpoint (5; 6; 7; 8). Here's why:
Proponents argue the ketogenic diet aids body fat loss, gives you more energy, and aids cognitive function. Detractors claim the ketogenic diet causes stress, argue that carbohydrates are the preferred and optimal fuel source for humans and that there's no difference in fat loss between ketogenic and non-ketogenic diets when not correcting for calorie intake (9; 10).
Test the diet for yourself and observe whether you've got good or bad results! I'll come back to that perspective later. Let's first dig into why saunas, especially infrared saunas, can hypercharge your fat loss on a keto diet:
Infrared Sauna And Keto Diet Tips
Let's start with the basics: many people follow a keto diet because of fat burning and metabolic health purposes. Fortunately, (infrared) saunas broadly have the same effect. In the next section, I'll go over the science of using saunas for fat loss:
Fat Burning Research: Saunas Increase Weight Loss & Speed Up Metabolism
Fortunately, quite some studies exist which have compared fat loss with and without a sauna.
In one study, for instance, participants used 3 sessions of 20 minutes in a traditional sauna (11). The participants rested 5 minutes between each of these sessions.
Not only does this study consider saunas a tool for weight loss, but it's a tool for "rapid weight loss".
Well, men lost almost 4 pounds of bodyweight and women 3 pounds after 3 sessions on the same day. Even after re-hydration, the bodyweight remained lower in these participants.
A second study explores the effects of sauna on fat loss from a slightly different angle (12). After two sessions of saunas per day, for 7 days, participants' pulse rate increased 31-36 beats per minute. Walking, for comparison, only increases heart rate by 13-26 beats per minute (13; 14).
In the same sauna study, the metabolic rate also increased by 25-33%.
That increase is huge and will certainly contribute to fat burning, especially on a ketogenic diet. If you have an empty stomach, or you haven't eaten much, your body has no other choice to break down body fat as a source for energy production. Hence, through that mechanism, the increase of the metabolic rate of up to 33% will increase fat burning.
And there's more:
Blood Circulation Research
How does a Finnish sauna or an infrared sauna enhance fat loss on keto? Well, one reason is that blood circulation improves. Increased blood circulation, in turn, allows you to burn more fat.
Body fat that's broken down can be moved towards your cells more easily with enhanced circulation. Some blood is diverted away from the organs and moves towards your muscles and skin. That mechanism allows your body to lose more heat, through a combination of lowering your blood pressure and pumping your heart faster (15).
Simply put, your blood vessels open up. As a result, body fat can more easily be moved into cells, where the fat can be burned off for energy generation purposes.
Merely one 15-minute session is sufficient to get this benefit (16). Of course, many people will spend a longer time than 15 minutes in the sauna to optimise their results - even a beginner who can only last 15 minutes will get this blood circulation benefit though!
What's even better is that the smallest vessels in your body - "capillaries" - increase in presence with sauna use over time (17; 18; 19). These small blood vessels also play a role in the fat-burning process. The fewer capillaries you have, and the lower their quality, the harder fat burning becomes. Hence, this increase in capillary density is a very welcome effect.
The bottom line of this section? Scientific evidence exists that infrared sauna sessions enhance 1) weight loss; 2) metabolic rate; 3) blood circulation; 4) the density of the smallest of your blood vessels, called "capillaries". All of these benefits are a benefit on a ketogenic diet.
Moving on to the next section:
How To Combine Sauna And Keto For Optimal Results
So, let's say you're following a keto diet? How could you optimise your sessions in a sauna for the best results?
To answer that question, let's return to the concept of "keto". Simply put, not every diet is the same. On a keto diet, you're ingesting a different nutrient and micronutrient profile than on a Standard American Diet or a carnivore diet. Even though that seems very counterintuitive, each diet that you follow necessitates a slightly different approach.
So let's consider a few things to keep in mind when following a keto diet. To be blunt, on a keto diet you must be much more aware that you increase mineral consumption when using a sauna! Here's why mineral consumption matters regarding a keto diet and sauna use:
- On a ketogenic diet, you'll have a higher risk of getting a sodium and potassium deficiency (20; 21; 23). Sodium is found in trace amounts in food, but mainly comes from salt. Potassium is greater quantities per calorie in plant foods - because the keto diet removes many plant foods people's intake potassium intake is generally lower on this diet. And yet, with heavy sweating, potassium and sodium losses are induced. For a keto diet it's thus much more important that you check your mineral intake to ensure that your sauna sessions are 100% safe. Salt is a great source for sodium. For potassium on a ketogenic diet, consider increasing the quantities of low-carb plants you consume.
- Magnesium and calcium intake are also generally lower on a ketogenic diet (24; 25; 26; 27; 28). And yet, while you're sweating, you do lose some magnesium as well as calcium. For increasing magnesium intake, dark leafy vegetables, avocados, pumpkin seeds (limited amounts due to carbohydrates) consumption. Bone meal supplements are a great and affordable calcium source for a keto diet. Supplementing magnesium is best done with affordable sources like "magnesium glycinate" or "magnesium malate" powder.
- Other food deficiencies can exist on a keto diet as well. These deficiencies include vitamin C (due to lower plant food consumption, specifically fruits), vitamin E (again, by cutting out many plants), and some B-vitamins like vitamin B1 (thiamine). I won't fully discuss these now but please be aware that the possibility exists.
Why talk about these potential nutritional deficiencies? Well, if you're sweating heavily on a keto diet, you'll lose more of these minerals. For that reason, there's a higher risk by combining saunas and a ketogenic diet.
Don't worry though, as the problem is easily solvable - I've already given you suggestions above.
Next up, the question as to whether everyone should follow a keto diet:
Caveat: Should Everyone Follow Keto?
So here's the deal:
Once you start following some health gurus online, you'll get the impression that the "Whole 30" is the best diet on the planet," or that "everyone should follow Paleo", or, follow a high-carb diet instead.
Who, exactly, is right?
This is my view:
As often, the science is complicated here. Not everyone will do great on the same diet. While I'm not willing to go too much specifics here, a simple empirical observation teaches you that some people do great on one single diet, while another person becomes fatter and feels terrible. So, I wouldn't universally recommend keto for all.
Test keto for yourself.
If you do great, then great! If you don't do well after a few weeks of consistently testing the diet then change things up! No need to stick to diets that don't work for you. So let's change perspective and consider another lesson:
Why Saunas Still Matter On Keto Or Any Other Diet
I can tell you one thing though: whatever diet you follow, light exposure is a consistent variable in promoting human health. Nobody does better by not including some infrared light exposure in their lives. In other words, all people improve their health - either to a small degree or a huge one - by adding infrared light exposure to their lives.
Conclusion of this section? Experiment with keto, but most of all, experiment with a high-quality infrared sauna! The latter is much more likely to improve your health than the former!
My overall conclusion?
Here it is - let's consider the 30,000-foot overview:
Conclusion: Supercharge Your Fat Loss Efforts And Overall Health With An Infrared Sauna And Keto
In the Spanish speaking world, there's the saying: "dieta keto i sauna", the keto diet and the sauna. Fortunately, many people living nearer to the equator already get plenty of heat exposure throughout their lives. And yet, the saying emphasises how, often, the sum can be more than the parts.
Combining an infrared sauna and keto can truly hypercharge your health. And, saunas are great for keto, provided that you use them correctly!