Smell natural, use natural

I am seeing more and more cases of asthma, food allergies and damaged liver enzymes due to rampant chemicals in athletes’ systems.

Body odour also occurs when the sweat dries and remains on the body for a long period of time or the athlete reuses sports gear/wear or underwear (representational image).   -  AP

All athletes train really hard to win. The human body is a wonderful machine. When this machine is pushed to its limits, every metabolic component in the body is pushed to its limits. During this time, the body will produce excess amount of heat. In the human body, the skin is one of the best organs and provides a protective role to the internal organs, and is the temperature controller of the human body. I like to call the skin the air-conditioner of the body.

When an athlete sweats, he or she loses water and salts. This is why sweat is salty. When sweat leaves the skin in the form of evaporation of water, localised cooling happens on the surface of the skin. The micro blood vessels (capillaries) pick up the remaining cool blood from the surface of the skin and carry it to the internal regions of the body that are heated up due to rigorous physical activity.

For most athletes, there is a tremendous loss of sweat, which ranges from 400ml to 4L in a given practice session. It is prudent that athletes hydrate well and not rely only on plain water but also utilise isotonic sports solutions, which contain a balanced mix of sugars such as dextrose, maltodextrin, glucose, fructose and sucrose as well as electrolytes, which include mineral salts such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and chlorides, among others.

A lot of sweat is generated when the athlete trains for long durations of time, and therefore every athlete has a unique body odour signature. This is due to bacteria present on the surface of the skin whose function is to protect it from infections. These can be considered your personal armed force on the surface of your skin, and these microorganisms help in the skin functioning healthily. Sometimes when the amount of bacteria is imbalanced due to a lack of hygiene, use of the same sportswear or equipment, contamination from another person, disease or improper diet and fluid intake, it results in bad body odour. Body odour also occurs when the sweat dries and remains on the body for a long period of time or the athlete reuses sports gear/wear or underwear. The athlete may get a bacterial or fungal infection on the skin, particularly in the areas of the underarms, the webbing of the toes and fingers and the groin if they are not careful about cleanliness and hygiene.

As a sports nutritionist, I have noticed when an athlete client walks into my clinic, he or she invariably never has bad odour. The reason behind this is the abundant application of deodorants, perfumes, shampoos and creams, which results in very sweet-smelling players walking into my clinic. Everyone smells so good.

I see two issues for an athlete:

1. Bad body odour, and

2. The athlete using excessive amounts of chemicals on the skin (soaps, deodorants, creams, etc.)

Most body odour cases can easily be treated with an Ayurvedic soap (which has tulsi and neem) and in severe cases a good dermatologist will recommend a proper pH-balanced soap along with medication that needs to be prescribed in a structured use. I would highly recommend that athletes use plain water to clean themselves after training sessions to wash away the deposition of sweat and salts on the human body. Most players train two or thrice a day. Having a plain shower without soap in most multiple-shower bath sessions is a good way to not damage the skin pH or the good bacteria layer. An athlete’s best friend is pH-balanced soap. Most soaps have harsh chemicals that affect the pH balance of the skin rendering it more vulnerable to attack from bacteria and fungi that cause bad body odour.

Your body’s overall pH level is about 7, so scientists consider the body to be basic. However, your skin’s pH is slightly lower at a level of about 5.5, which means your skin is slightly acidic. Most soaps and cosmetics are closer to an 8-10 pH, which is alkaline.

Another dilemma I faced on the other end of the spectrum is athletes using too many chemicals on their skin today. If one were to pick up the deodorants or perfumes from the local market, you will be able to find quite a few number of chemicals in these sprays. With deeper research, I was astonished and scared into changing the soaps and deodorants I personally use. In fact, many of these chemicals in the fine printed can be carcinogenic. Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical used in deodorants to kill odour-causing germs on the skin. This is an endocrine disruptor as it can imitate hormones or interfere with hormonal signalling, and in some cases causing breast cancer. The US Food and Drug Administration has banned its use in hand soaps. However, the chemical is still permitted for use in other products, such as deodorants. In India, it’s in a lot of products and we apply them to our body.

When an athletic has to recover, we do not want any of the metabolic systems and the organs in the human body to be fighting any illnesses or foreign invaders. The chemicals from deodorants, creams, soaps and shampoos really begin to cross into the blood stream over repetitive use. This in turn activates the body to these chemical foreign invaders that alert the body to danger levels, and an all-out fight breaks out in the blood. The soldiers — the antibodies — start fighting these foreign invader chemicals — the antigens.

With heightened immune responses being triggered, I find more and more athletes having higher erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein levels in blood tests, which indicate inflammation. This results in slower recovery as now the body fights both inflammation and damage from exercise as well as this fashion-statement damage from the good-smelling chemicals applied to the body.

I am seeing more and more cases of asthma, food allergies and damaged liver enzymes due to rampant chemicals in athletes’ systems. Yes, I have been advocating organic food and now I say, ‘Smell natural, use natural!’ I fondly remember my grandmother using lemons, oranges, besan and sugar in a body scrub. And she always used flower oils such as lemon and jasmine to smell good. My grandfather had ginger and cinnamon added to his lemon oil and almond oil. Maybe it’s time we pampered our bodies like they did in the last century!

Ryan Fernando is the author of Eating Secrets of Champions and can be contacted at

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