Ammonia Smelling Sweat

After my Bikram Yoga workout, Bill asked me if I’d been smoking a joint. No. So what is that smell then? You mean me who smells like a cat pissed all over? This smell was getting annoying during class as I’d lean down in a Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose and want to gag on the strong smell. I have no idea why I smell like this. My first thought was that I was just releasing toxins stored in my body. I found this doesn’t happen when I run though, or perform any other exercise for that matter. Since my body has been doing this for the last three weeks, I wanted to know exactly what it was.

That is why I love the Internet. I performed a Google search, and the responses were as follows:

1. Get yourself to a doctor immediately! Your kidney/liver is about to fail. (If you taste this or have concerns, ask your doctor to perform a kidney function test (cratinine/BUN).
2. You are burning muscle due to a poor diet.
3. You are breaking down protein due to a diet high in protein.
4. Bacterial Something or Other (I couldn’t find enough information to be conclusive)

I’m not a doctor by any means, and am just looking for information. I found this article on bike which explains how the body does this (Pam is responding to a post where someone has asked the same question):

Pam Hinton replies James,Well, your sweat smells like ammonia
because it contains ammonia. Why the sudden change in odor? If your training and diet haven’t changed, I don’t have any idea. You may be wondering how ammonia gets into sweat. I can answer that question.

Ammonia is produced in skeletal muscle during prolonged exercise, enters the blood stream, and is secreted by the sweat glands.  Ammonia is generated in skeletal muscle as a byproduct of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) breakdown into adenosine monophosphate (AMP) and inorganic phosphate. During high-intensity exercise, the rate of ATP consumption exceeds ATP production and AMP begins to accumulate in the cell. Ammonia is released from the excess AMP by the enzyme, AMP deaminase. During prolonged, exhaustive exercise, skeletal muscle generates ammonia from oxidation of branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) to make ATP. In the process, the amino group is removed from the BCAA, producing ammonia.  Elevated ammonia within the skeletal muscle and blood negatively affect performance. Neuromuscular function is impaired by ammonia, leading to local muscle fatigue. Ammonia can cross the blood-brain barrier. So it accumulates in the brain when blood levels are high. The brain’s capacity to get rid of ammonia is adequate for short-term maximal exercise, but it is overwhelmed during prolonged, exhaustive exercise. Abnormally high levels of ammonia in the brain can disrupt normal neurotransmitter function.A  mmonia depletes the excitatory neurotransmitters, glutamate and its precursor, gamma-amino butyrate, leading to central fatigue. Training and diet affect the production of ammonia during exercise. Endurance training decreases the amount of ammonia produced in skeletal muscle, thereby lowering blood and sweat ammonia concentrations. Depletion of muscle glycogen following a low carbohydrate diet increases the blood ammonia response to exercise due to increased use of BCAAs for energy.

This article was a bit too “technical” for me, so I continued to search. The remaining articles basically explained that I was burning muscle instead of fat and that I had an insufficient diet. The other reason is if one eats too many protiens (the body looks for energy, and finding no immediate source of carbs, it will burn the protien, removing the nitrogen from the molecule to make glucose.)

I’ve always been nervous about adding carbohydrates into my diet, but have done so in the name of “You on a Diet” book by Dr. Oz. I’ve steadily increased my carbohydrates in the form of whole grains. After two weeks of this, I finally enjoyed a class where I had enough energy to last the entire class and I didn’t stink like a chemical factory. I’m still going to have my doctor check out my kidneys to make sure all is running properly, but otherwise, I am so happy to be on a STINKY PISS FREE path and smelling much better!

Interesting thoughts update: 

These are just my curious thoughts on the topic and of course they are not medically substantiated.

10/11/2011:  Even though I changed my diet, the ammonia smell came back.  When I had my baby girl, the ammonia stopped completely.  I didn’t stink at all.  I am wondering if it also has to do with hormones?  Our bodies are a complicated and it doesn’t always come down to just one thing.

05/15/2013:   I had a baby boy in February and started working out again with Hot Yoga in April. My sweat is back to the ammonia smelling sweat.  Trust me, there are lots of carbs in my diet because I am nursing.  I’m beginning to wonder if the amount of ammonia is impacted at all by hormones.  I’m also doing quite a bit of research in getting “dirty” food (chemical laden) out of my diet and wondering if maybe this has anything to do with it as well.  I’m going to have my hormone balance tested anyways just to see what the numbers are.        


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  1. Hey, I get this ammonia smell at times too. It started after I gave birth 8 years ago. I go through phases. It only happens when I start to lose weight (which is an entirely different problem). When I start to lose weight I smell like cat pee/ ammonia. I have to scrub my under arms and change shirts. I ruin shirts constantly when this happens. Then, when I start gaining weight the smell goes away completely. Did you get your hormones tested? I have had all mine tested (but that’s a different story).

    • Oh interesting … I’ve heard that sometimes losing weight can release toxins in body, because it’s stored in the fat … I haven’t had my hormones tested, but it is something I was looking into (not seriously, just heard a lot about it and wondered. It can’t hurt right to know more, right?). After I had baby Liam, the smell came back in yoga, but hasn’t appeared in regular workout sessions … The body is a strange place eh :)

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