People have described the sensation as hot and, oddly, also cold. A kind of fullness you feel in every part of your body. A low-grade heaviness that’s difficult to pin down. It’s the stuff of a vegan’s nightmare, and, for Tyson Ho, a “desired outcome.”
The proprietor of Carolina whole-hog temple Arrogant Swine in Bushwick, Ho considers the meat sweats an essential part of a good meal. For the uninitiated (and God bless your arteries), the phenomenon is said to occur after a feast that is heavy on flesh, triggering perspiration not likened to an all-out flood, but rather a dewy dampness. “There's only two situations where primal sweating is desired,” Ho said. “1. Eating meat, and 2. Having sex. If you have approached a prime rib, and you're eating this prime rib, and you've walked away bone dry, someone has screwed up.”
Ho takes an admirable stance—one shared by nearly every carnivore on vacation or during holidays—but according to Debbie Downer doctors and scientists, the meat sweats may be fictitious, a catch-all name for a feeling we can’t quite wrap our heads around. Though they’ve been widely publicized in pop culture and reported by competitive eaters, they’re not a scientifically proven phenomenon, and researchers, in their haste to tackle bigger issues in the medical field, seem in no hurry to prioritize studies that could dispel rumors once and for all.
Even so, the discomfort we feel after over-indulging is real, which is why the question pops up in murky corners of the web like Quora, Yahoo Answers, and wherever else people who are presumably covered in meat-induced cold sweat go for answers. Authoritative sources on the biology of meat eating are in scarce supply, but one Internet bright spot is the blog of Dr. Stuart Farrimond, a medical doctor turned writer, who published a 2011 post on the subject.
In an email, he wrote that the sweats are essentially your metabolism at work: “There is no real scientific research about ‘meat sweats’ per se, but we do know that eating food increases the body’s temperature. This is called the thermic effect of food, and it stands to reason that eating enough food could raise the body temperature enough to cause sweating.”
High-protein foods, he says, take longer to digest than carbs—about three to four hours—after which your body temp rises. “The body’s thermostat turns down at night time…which probably explains why large meals late in the day cause sweats in the middle of the night: The surge in body temperature happens at about the same time our body should be its coldest.”
“On a barbecue road trip, the whiny one in the group is the one who starts the day by over-ordering, then scarfs it all down.”
Farrimond’s advice for preventing the sweats? Pacing yourself to reduce the sudden onset of heat. For rookies who overdo it at the Korean barbecue restaurant and adopt a vegetable diet for the rest of the week, portion control and pace are our downfall. But truly committed carnivores (besides competitive eaters—there’s just no winning at a hot-dog-eating contest) have devised a regimen that allows for sustained feasting.
Barbecue bard Daniel Vaughn has a word of advice for unprepared dabblers. “On a barbecue road trip, the whiny one in the group is the one who starts the day by over-ordering, then scarfs it all down. You have to pace yourself, and going in hungry means it'll be more difficult to temper your intake at the start. You might be sweating before the second stop.”
To prevent hunger, Vaughn eats a banana before setting out. He also claims the key to success is hydration. “If I'm on a multi-stop, meat-filled road trip, I make a point to drink a full cup or bottle of water between every stop,” he said in an email. You’re also supposed to drink a glass of water between every alcoholic drink, and most of us, well, don’t. For the layman, simple rules are hard to follow.
But those unsexy beasts—restraint and discipline—seem to be the only solution to the semi-mythical sweats. Hoping for a magic-bullet remedy, I spoke to Meathead Goldwyn, the “barbecue whisperer” and “hedonism evangelist” at AmazingRibs.com. Despite his name, Meathead is a fairly moderate guy, one who grows produce in his garden, makes sure to eat balanced meals, and once went vegetarian for a month. He says the only time he experiences the sweats is when eating spicy food. But maybe the difference between Meathead and those of us who have gotten a little moist from time to time comes down to basic manners.
“I don’t eat until I'm about to explode,” he said. “My mom didn’t raise me that way.”