If you try to keep up with the latest science surrounding post-workout recovery practices, you may have heard of IV therapy for athletes. How does this treatment work, and how can it complement your post-workout cold plunges? Read on to find out about this emerging recovery option.
What Is IV Therapy?
IV therapy is short for intravenous therapy. It’s a way for healthcare providers to administer fluids, nutrients, and medications directly to the bloodstream via a vein.
In recent years, IV nutrient therapy has become a popular wellness trend. It’s on the rise among professional athletes in both the United States and Europe, who may receive pre-or post-game infusions of vitamin-rich fluids with the aim of improving performance or accelerating recovery. Non-athletes may seek out IV therapy for jet lag, hangovers, and dehydration.
For now, much of the evidence for IV therapy for athletes is anecdotal, but a small study reported potentially significant performance benefits from IV rehydration. Athletes and others who want to try this emerging treatment may wonder about its safety: The medical risks are low, but there are some potential complications to be aware of, such as infection of the IV site or inflammation of the vein.
What Is Inside an IV Bag?
The contents of an IV bag can vary depending on an athlete’s goals and health needs. It’s possible for doctors to infuse any vitamin or mineral through an IV. That said, a common formula is the Myers’ cocktail. It contains:
- Saline: A sterile solution of salt and water that’s used for fluid replacement.
- B vitamins: A group of vitamins that help your body release energy from food and transport oxygen to your cells.
- Vitamin C: A vitamin that supports the body’s immune response and helps wounds heal.
- Magnesium: A mineral that helps regulate many functions in the body, including muscle function and energy production.
- Calcium: A key nutrient for bone health that also helps regulate muscle and nerve function.
Before starting IV therapy for athletic recovery, tell your provider about any allergies you have, as well as any other medications and supplements you’re taking. This information helps them provide IV bag contents that meet your needs.
Why Athletes Use IV Therapy
Athletes at all levels, from amateur athletes and weekend warriors to collegiate and professional athletes, may be interested in using IV therapy as part of their recovery routine. There are three main reasons why athletes turn to IV therapy.
To Rehydrate Efficiently
Hydration plays an important role in athletic recovery. Not only does replenishing fluids help athletes replace the fluids lost through sweating, adequate hydration helps support muscle recovery.
Research shows that rehydrating with intravenous fluids is faster than oral rehydration. That’s why doctors may use IV fluids to treat athletes who are suffering from severe dehydration after a tough workout. But athletes who aren’t dehydrated may voluntarily turn to IV fluids to accelerate rehydration. This practice is permitted in some sports, but it’s important to note that IV infusions are prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Review the rules for your sport to avoid running afoul of anti-doping regulations.
To Reduce Risk of Cramps
Exercise-associated muscle cramps are painful muscle spasms that often strike during or after a workout. Whether they affect a single muscle or an entire muscle group, they can stop a workout or competition in its tracks. Athletes who want to reduce their risk of muscle cramps may turn to IV therapy.
Researchers theorize that muscle cramps are linked to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, so there’s a plausible mechanism for warding them off with IV therapy. Studies about the subject are limited, but surveys of collegiate and professional sports teams have revealed that pre-game hydration with intravenous fluids is widespread, and preventing muscle cramps is the most common reason for the practice.
To Minimize Pain and Inflammation
On the days after a challenging workout or competition, athletes may feel stiffness and pain in their muscles. Known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), this discomfort can be caused by tiny tears in the muscle fibers. It can also happen if cellular waste builds up in the muscles and triggers inflammation. To reduce DOMs, athletes may try hydrating with IV therapy.
There’s some evidence that dehydration during exercise can worsen the muscle microdamage that can cause DOMS. A small study looked at the effects of hydration on DOMs in men who had overheated through exercise. The men who were dehydrated reported significantly higher pain than a well-hydrated control group.
How Long Does IV Therapy Take?
Athletes who are interested in trying IV therapy may wonder how the process works and how long it takes. Generally, getting IV therapy takes about 20 to 60 minutes. It’sperformed by a nurse or other qualified healthcare provider who will:
- Disinfect the skin where the IV will be placed.
- Carefully insert a sterile needle into the vein.
- Attach the needle to an IV bag via a long tube.
- Turn on a machine that pumps the fluid.
- Monitor your fluid intake during treatment.
This treatment isn’t limited to doctor’s offices. Many IV therapy clinics offer mobile services for athletes who want to get treatment at home, in a hotel room, or in any other location that fits their schedule.
Take Your Post-Workout Recovery to the Next Level
With proven benefits like pain management and reduced inflammation, post-workout cold plunges are strongly supported by scientific research. Purpose-built cold therapy tools like Ice Barrel make it easier than ever for athletes to take a cold plunge. To level up your post-workout routine, consider complementing your cold plunges with IV therapy.
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