Ice baths are all the rage these days, yet nothing new. Like bad fashion, such as bell bottom jeans, they come back around every decade or so. I’m not anti ice baths per se, just not jumping on the bandwagon at this time either as I’m not convinced dunking myself into a miserable cold experience is worth the benefits that are being claimed. I don’t like being cold, thank you very much. When I lived in the frozen northeast (New Hampshire), we had a wood fired sauna and would do it the more traditional Nordic way, which was to get really hot in the sauna, then roll around in the snow to cool off, then repeat the process a few more times; there may have been copious amounts alcohol involved, but I digress…
I’m not here to talk people out of the ice baths if they enjoy them, but I want to bring to their attention one important aspect, which is they may hinder gainz in the gym by blunting post workout protein synthesis and repair pathways.
Before we get into that, it’s important to note there’s an acute post workout inflammatory phase that’s required for protein synthesis and repair mechanisms, and anything that blunts that, is a potential negative. Some are under the impression all inflammation is a negative, and that’s simply untrue. It’s been found that NSIDs and Anti-oxidants for example may have a negative impact on your hard work in the gym, and I cover that in detail HERE with recs. BTW, amplifying the acute post workout inflammatory response may be one mechanism by how arachidonic acid (ARA) supplements work, and people can read up on ARA HERE.
Back to ice baths, which appear to have a similar impact on blunting the acute post exercise inflammatory response, which makes perfect sense. Below via a recent study “Postexercise cooling impairs muscle protein synthesis rates in recreational athletes” are the findings of study that examined ice baths post exercise:
- Protein ingestion and cooling are strategies employed by athletes to improve postexercise recovery and, as such, to facilitate muscle conditioning. However, whether cooling affects postprandial protein handling and subsequent muscle protein synthesis rates during recovery from exercise has not been assessed.
- We investigated the effect of postexercise cooling on the incorporation of dietary protein-derived amino acids into muscle protein and acute postprandial (hourly) as well as prolonged (daily) myofibrillar protein synthesis rates during recovery from resistance-type exercise over 2 weeks.
- Cold-water immersion during recovery from resistance-type exercise lowers the capacity of the muscle to take up and/or direct dietary protein-derived amino acids towards de novo myofibrillar protein accretion. In addition, cold-water immersion during recovery from resistance-type exercise lowers myofibrillar protein synthesis rates during prolonged resistance-type exercise training.
- Individuals aiming to improve skeletal muscle conditioning should reconsider applying cooling as a part of their postexercise recovery strategy.
There’s far more data needed to conclude ice-baths – especially right after a workout – are a net negative on gaining muscle mass, improving performance, etc, but for those who enjoy their ice baths and want to maximize their efforts in the gym, I’d advise doing the ice baths 4-6 hours before or after workouts until there’s more data to make more targeted recs as to any negative impact on gainz from efforts in the gym or elsewhere. I’ll take a nice hot sauna any day personally, and I find the data for sauna more compelling than sitting in some freezing ass ice bath at this time.
Will Brink is the owner of the Brinkzone Blog. Will has over 30 years experience as a respected author, columnist and consultant, to the supplement, fitness, bodybuilding, and weight loss industry and has been extensively published. Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the natural sciences, and is a consultant to major supplement, dairy, and pharmaceutical companies.
His often ground breaking articles can be found in publications such as Lets Live, Muscle Media 2000, MuscleMag International, The Life Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Inside Karate, Exercise For Men Only, Body International, Power, Oxygen, Penthouse, Women’s World and The Townsend Letter For Doctors.
He’s also been published in peer reviewed journals.
You can also buy Will’s other books on Amazon, Apple iBook, and Barnes and Noble.