Cold Therapy Benefits for Performance and Recovery
September 23, 2022
Recovery and performance from training adaptations is not linear as many variables go into both these parts of training. This is usually controlled to a point from your nutrition, sleep, training (volume, intensity, frequency). Other areas such as work life, stress, social health, mental/emotional health, and spiritual well-being are also other factors that may promote or decrease the probabilities of recovering and performing well from training too. I touched on some of the benefits and science behind heat therapy on the last blog but today I want to discuss cold therapy benefits for performance and recovery. This may be the missing link in your weekly training schedule that may get you those extra 1% gains and recovery you need to keep crushing it in the gym.
The striatum plays an important role in reinforcing learning due to receiving input from the midbrain’s dopamine neurons, which then produces positive adaptive behaviors. The Fight or flight “Sympathetic nervous system” is initiated straight away from the shock to the body and the mind, which overtime the body self regulates itself by being used to the uncomfortable environment and then switches over to a more relaxing, calm (parasympathetic nervous system) “rest and digest state”. In one study deliberate cold exposure converts one fat cell called white fat (low metabolic fat cell) pretty much a storage site for fat to a different type of fat called brown fat cells. Brown fat cells are very metabolically active from the increase in metabolism and core body temperature, while also being very dark under the microscope due to containing mitochondria (powerhouse of the cell). The white fat is found around your stomach, glutes, hips, and legs whereas BAT (Brown Adipose tissue) is primarily found around areas of the neck, collar bone (upper back) and sternum.
These benefits for fat loss are still depended upon if you’re in a calorie deficit or surplus. Caloric deficit essentially is you expending more energy than you are consuming, and a surplus is consuming more then you are expending. Cold exposure should be used as a tool with proper nutrition, sleep, and training to support the benefits to a greater degree. The other benefits of using cold thermogenesis are the lowering of body fat from blood glucose being burned more rapidly as fuel to assist in heating the body, enhancing immune function, increase in hormone levels, reduce inflammation and recovery, improve sleep quality.
Cold thermogenesis on mindset focuses on the intrinsic motivation and growth aspect. The learning of being comfortable with the uncomfortable is something the ice bath offers, which will provide you with a feeling of accomplishment knowing you are more capable than you think. This can ultimately translate to life as when you are faced with adversity and put into difficult situations are you going to give up or are going to embrace the experience for what it is trying to teach you. The carry over to training may support you in pushing your limits and becoming more focused on the task or objective at hand.
11 minutes of cold submersion (ice bath) per week seems to be the recommended guideline for metabolism, dopamine, and training/recovery benefits. Other beneficial methods may be to space it out 3 times per week – 4min rounds each time. If you go more than 11 minutes, it may become more of a mindset benefit then anything.
References: Huberman Lab Podcast – Andrew Huberman (USING DELIBERATE COLD EXPOSURE FOR HEALTH AND PERFORMANCE)