Do ice baths help in muscle recovery and weight loss?
If you are a fitness enthusiast, you have probably heard of ice baths. Also called cold-water immersion (CWI) or cryotherapy, the technique is thought to speed up muscle recovery, reduce inflammation and help in weight loss.
Those who swear by CWI immerse themselves in ice-cold water for 10-15 minutes, even in this cold weather.
So should you rush to turn off your geysers and fill the bathtub with ice-cold water, too? Consider this research before you decide whether to opt for an ice bath or not:
Claim 1: Ice baths can relieve pain after a workout.
A few years ago, a team of sports scientists led by Dr Jonathan M. Peake asked a simple research question: do ice baths speed up muscle recovery after an intense workout?
To answer this question, the team studied nine test subjects who tried both ice baths and active recovery sessions after leg-focussed workouts over two separate days.
Their conclusion: “CWI had no impact on inflammatory measures and cellular stress in comparison to the active recovery trial.”
In other words, they found that ice baths are not better than active recovery sessions like practising Yoga, Tai chi or light resistance training for reducing pain.
The team published their findings in The Journal of Physiology in 2017.
Claim 2: Ice baths are great for weight loss.
Adipose or fat tissue is of two types: brown and white. White adipose tissue stores energy - this is also the type of fat that can add inches to your waist and thighs. Brown adipose fat, which is primarily located around the neck and collar bones, is metabolically active and can burn or oxidise white adipose tissue, thereby helping you lose weight.
Ice baths and cold showers can activate the brown adipose fat and muscles. Once activated, they release two hormones: irisin and FGF21. These hormones then burn white fat tissue and help you lose weight.
That this is even possible was shown by endocrinologist Dr Paul Lee of Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney. In 2014, Dr Lee undertook the study of brown adipose tissue at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US. Here's what he found: During cold exposure and exercise, the levels of irisin (produced by shivering muscle) and FGF21 (produced by brown fat) rise.
Specifically, 10-15 minutes of shivering increases irisin to such a level that it has the same effect as an hour of moderate exercise.
Additionally, Dr Lee found that around 50 grams of white fat stores more than 300 kilocalories of energy, and the same amount of brown fat could burn up to 300 kilocalories a day.
Dr Lee’s findings were also supported by the previous research on irisin by scientists at Harvard University.
Word to the wise: While the benefits of ice baths for fat loss are undisputed, you must be very careful about how to go about it—many experts even suggest that it should not be done without proper medical supervision because it can lead to hypothermia, which can turn fatal very quickly.
Claim 3: Ice baths reduce the harmful effects of obesity. Example, glucose intolerance.
Studies have shown that what activating irisin does is that it converts white fat into healthier brown fat - this improves the glucose tolerance of the body. The latter effect can help prevent diabetes.
People living with diabetes and high cholesterol are often advised to lose weight for better health management. By helping in weight loss, ice baths also help to deal with obesity-related disorders. But the same precautions apply here, too: Do not try ice baths without medical supervision and do not overdo them. If you have a medical condition, ask your doctor before starting any new therapy.
Claim 4: Ice baths can help build new muscles.
Earlier this year, Cas J. Fuchs and his associates at the University of Maastricht focused on another claim that proponents of ice baths sometimes make: ice baths help in muscle recovery and building new muscles.
Here’s what they did: they got 12 healthy men aged 21 years, give or take two years, to perform a single resistance‐type leg exercise for two weeks. Each session was followed by immersing the legs in water for 20 minutes - they dipped one leg in ice-cold water and the other one in a “thermoneutral” or room temperature water. Next, they took protein samples from these test subjects and analysed them for “myofibrillar protein synthesis rates”.
Their findings: ice baths “during recovery from resistance‐type exercise reduces (emphasis added) myofibrillar protein synthesis rates and, as such, likely impairs muscle conditioning.”
So, contrary to popular belief, the researchers said, ice baths impair the growth of new muscles, thereby blocking the recovery!
For more information on this topic, please read our article on Muscle Pain.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.
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Updated Date: Dec 06, 2019 16:35:12 IST
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