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What Is Sweat Testing and Do My Athletes Need It?

You may be hearing a lot of buzz around sweat testing for athletes, especially as more companies bring out sweat testing patches that are easier to wear during practice and competition. But does sweat testing actually make a difference for the average athlete?

Here, TrueSport Expert Stephanie Miezin, MS, RD, CSSD and Director of Nutrition at Canyon Ranch, shares some of the nuances and information you need to know before recommending your athletes start measuring sweat rate.

What Does a Sweat Patch Do?

Sweat patches give an athlete an estimation of sodium concentration in their sweat as well as overall sweat volume. They’re not perfectly accurate—that would require in-lab testing—but they come close and can provide a starting point when it comes to knowing how much fluid and electrolytes to consume to maintain optimal hydration status. There are other simple ways to calculate an athlete’s sweat rate, but the patch also provides information on electrolytes in the sweat.

What Are the Limitations of a Sweat Patch?

“Sweat testing by using patches is still in its infancy in terms of how we as coaches can really use it to make change for our athletes,” says Miezin. “There has been some research and validation from the maker of the most widely available sweat patch, but it’s still only been around for a couple of years.”

Similarly, it is important to consider the source: If the sweat patch is coming from a sports hydration brand and the information is only available through their app, it’s worth taking the brand’s recommendations with a grain of salt. But more importantly, we need to remember that the young athletes we work with may simply not need this level of data this early in their athletic careers.

“If we are doing sweat testing on young kids, are we starting to push them too hard and focus too much on the performance, rather than the process?” asks Miezin. “As coaches, we have to find that line between having fun and improving performance. Sweat patches can be useful in some cases, but especially with a younger population, I have some hesitancy recommending them for all athletes.”

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Athlete Health Parent, Coach TrueSport