Feel the burn! Then play fireman in the urinal.
January 24, 2007 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Does "holding it in" burn extra calories? How much?

I've found that when I have to urinate, but it is not convenient or feasible to do without delay, that my body temperature seems to go up and sometimes I even break a sweat. I'm not talking about holding it in so long that there's pain involved, just noting the urge and delaying for 15 minutes to an hour or so 'cause I'm in the middle of a meeting or whatever. As I've been tracking my calories in and calories out lately, I've become curious...

Is there an increase in caloric consumption due to this? If so, how many extra calories would a 200-pound 34-year-old male of average height be expending per hour of holding back the floodwaters?
posted by xiojason to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know, but if you're seeing actual physiological changes, you're talking about potential kidney damage over time.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:52 PM on January 24, 2007

Not to mention the unbridled joy of a urinary tract infection...ever pee needles? Want to find out what that's like?
posted by SassHat at 7:59 PM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

The only muscle that's involved and contracting is the sphincter that keeps the bladder from emptying into your urinary tract. The amount of calories consumed by this is negligible.

I suppose if you do a little "potty-dance" you might burn some calories there, but again, I don't think it's a good weight-loss program.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:02 PM on January 24, 2007

I'd say there's a net gain of calories.

Sure, maybe you burn a few from the stress of holding in. But then, there's the lifetime of cranberry juice that you have to drink constantly to reassure yourself there's something you can do about the damage you did to some or all of your urinary tract when you were younger because maybe one more glass can stave off yet another trip to the doctor for another course of those godawful medications.
posted by Gucky at 8:41 PM on January 24, 2007

I've been led to believe, in the context of winter camping, that keeping a bladder full of urine at body temperature burns some nonzero quantity of calories. In regular indoor temperatures, though, I suspect it would be a very negligible amount.
posted by box at 8:43 PM on January 24, 2007

Don't do it. You can get a bladder infection. I did from a bad wait on the tarmac with dumb attendants on a plane home from Alaska. Maybe you're less vulnerable because of being a dude, but I wouldn't put it my continence or. heaven forbid prostate, up for auction for a few kCal.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:25 PM on January 24, 2007

Dude, don't. Seriously. You'd burn more calories by walking to the bathroom.
posted by clockzero at 11:14 PM on January 24, 2007

I don't think he's trying to do this or seriously promoting it as part of his weight loss regimen. He's just curious since he has noticed that it makes him feel warmer.
posted by litlnemo at 11:44 PM on January 24, 2007

Walking a mile burns about 100 calories, so that should give you an idea of how much holding in your pee would burn; I would guess 1 or 2 calories would be a generous estimate.
posted by TedW at 6:26 AM on January 25, 2007

Response by poster: litlnemo's got it. I'm curious what's going on there in the infrequent instances where this does happen, particularly when I sometimes seem to break a sweat from waiting even fifteen minutes. Feels like I've been jogging.

Most of these respondents seems to be saying they NEVER hold it in, and that the instant the urge hits, you should excuse yourself immediately and hit the restroom, a sentiment I find rather unrealistic. Along with the "instant kidney damage!" admonishments. Be sure to pass along that advice to any 4 year old you're sitting next to on a bus, too.
posted by xiojason at 8:09 AM on January 25, 2007

Doutbful. I think you'd only do damage to your kidneys or urinary tract system if you hold it for too long.

There's no benefit...you're flushing out the waste. Keeping it in would do you no good.
posted by PetiePal at 8:23 AM on January 25, 2007

For all the reasons which have been mentioned above, I think it's a bad idea to "hold it in."

However, I do think you're burning extra calories by doing so, albeit indirectly. One of the reasons you urinate is to maintain electrolyte balance by getting rid of excess water. If you deliberately block that method by refusing to pee, your body looks for another way of doing it, and in your case it seems to have hit upon the strategy of raising your metabolic rate until you heat up, which causes you to lose water in at least two ways: by sweating, which also causes salt loss that might make matters worse, although I don't think that's entirely clear, and, much more importantly in my opinion, by causing you to lose more water from your lungs and breathing passages by direct evaporation, which carries away no salt.
posted by jamjam at 8:51 AM on January 25, 2007

I don't know about the calorie burning benefits, but you are exercising your kegel muscle. Well.. actually it sounds like you are just doing one intense rep but if you do more, there are definite benefits.
posted by spec80 at 10:30 AM on January 25, 2007

Best answer: "I'm curious what's going on there in the infrequent instances where this does happen"

Normally the desire to void happens before there is any urgency, and you're correct: there is a comfortable margin for holding it in, ask any toilet trained 4 year old.

By holding off voiding you move towards overwhelming urgency where skin hot and sweaty to the touch precedes loss of continence. This is a neural, perfectly normal involuntary reflex (initiated by stretch receptors in the bladder). Passive. Doubt calories enter the equasion. You may be stretching things too far.
posted by de at 12:01 PM on January 25, 2007

oops... equation ;-)
posted by de at 4:15 PM on January 25, 2007

Best answer: The increase in body temperature is probably linked to a generalised inflammatory response, due to the extra stress (possibly just a passive pyrogenic response, but probably still using the inflammatory biochemical pathways). While inflammation does burn a (very) small amount of energy it also causes damage. As a more extreme example gum disease is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, probably due to the increase in overall inflammation within the body. Generalised inflammatory states are also linked with negative changes in fat and sugar metabolism.

So even if you do burn a small amount of energy (which I'm not convinced of) you're way canceling out any benefits you get from that due to the pyrogenic response.

Whatever is really happening, the effects are so small that it's unlikely to make any real difference anyway. You're not doing it until it hurts or becomes really uncomfortable and by the sounds of things it's not something you do every time, so it's probably fine. And totally pointless.
posted by shelleycat at 7:08 PM on January 25, 2007

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