Cold water therapy, cryotherapy, and other thermal agent modalities have become the sporting industry’s latest performance and fitness trends. Athletes are beginning to recognize the health benefits of cold therapy, which explains the reason behind the increasing demand for cryotherapy equipment and high-value ice bathing equipment such as the Ice Barrel.
Despite all of this, many people still have important questions like what is cold thermogenesis, how does it help athletes and is there any scientific evidence that ice baths help in weight management?
This article provides answers to these questions.
How Does Ice Bathing Help Athletes Stay Fit?
Looking at it basically, yes, there are many reasons why cold water therapy is beneficial to an athlete.
When the weather gets cold, we tend to eat more food, like a polar bear preparing for hibernation. Our body is metabolically more active when exposed to cold temperatures— this means that we burn more calories; therefore, we need to eat more. It’s no surprise that Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps ate over 12,000 calories a day and wasn’t overweight or unfit to perform exceptionally.
When our body is exposed to cold, it attempts to generate more heat. There are two primary ways our body generates heat on its own. First, our bodies begin to shiver. While shivering, our body creates tiny muscle contractions to create kinetic energy that is converted into heat energy.
Second, our body generates heat by increasing its metabolic demand and burning up stored calories. In this case, that is the brown adipose tissue (BAT). The sole purpose of BAT is to keep us warm. This is what we refer to as Cold Thermogenesis.
What is Cold Thermogenesis?
Cold thermogenesis is the process in which the body uses fat metabolism to keep warm when exposed to cold temperatures, like when you take a cold plunge in a barrel of 15° Celcius water. During this process, the body recruits more of your brown adipose tissue to dissipate energy as heat. It does this by activating uncoupled oxidative phosphorylation from ATP synthesis.
Whenever an organism (such as you, an athlete) requires extra heat, brown fat converts to white fat. We call this the browning of the white adipose tissue (WAT). Research has shown that with the help of a hormone called irisin, BAT can convert WAT to have similar characteristics, making it easy to burn up and produce heat.
When converted, WAT becomes what we call brite or beige fat cells. In this state, these cells can burn more calories than regular white fat. While these new cells belong to a cell lineage different from classical brown adipocytes, they contribute significantly to body fat reduction and thermogenesis.
There are two primary types of fat tissues or adipose in the body, namely:
White Fat Tissues: These tissues are responsible for storing energy, and it is what makes you fat. They can add inches to your waist and thigh, which you most likely want to dispose of.
Brown Fat Tissues: These fat tissues are primarily located around your neck and collar bone. They serve a unique purpose when subjected to cold temperatures.
Is There Scientific Proof That Supports Using Cold Water Therapy and Weight Loss?
Several scientific studies prove that cold water therapy can keep athletes fit and on peak performance.
Before we go into the science of it all, let’s consider some of the most commonly known benefits of cold thermogenesis:
- Increases hormone levels
- Increases lean body mass
- Increases athletic performance
- Hastens recovery
- Relieves pain
- Results in deeper sleep
With all these benefits, it is no surprise that many sports coaches are beginning to add cryotherapy to their toolboxes.
At the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney diseases, Kong Chen conducted an experiment to understand the effects of cold exposure on human metabolism. He and his team studied the “Thermal neutral zone.” This is a temperature range where the body requires very little energy to maintain its core temperature. Technically, this is a state where the body is biologically in equilibrium with its environment.
Chen’s Discovery on BAT in Adults
Chen wanted to understand the physiological effect this zone had on mammals and what would happen if the environment’s temperature dropped. He developed a chart noting the metabolic variables among lean and obese people.
Chen and his team exposed each candidate to temperatures within 60.8 – 87.8 degrees for up to five hours each day. Using the information he gathered, Chen mapped out different thermal neutral zones and learned why it was easier to burn more calories at lower temperatures.
One of the crucial variables Chen studied was the Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT). In the 1970s, several autopsies showed unusual amounts of samples suggesting that it was possible for adults to maintain a reserve of BAT.
In 2004, Jan Nedergaard and his wife, Mrs. Barbara Cabbon discovered unexpected evidence of active brown adipose tissue in adults. While conducting PET scans for some tumors at Stockholm University, radiologists noticed mysterious dark spots in cancer patients’ necks. Normally, these would be classified as areas of elevated glucose uptake, but they were irregularly shaped and could not be classified as a tumor. They then concluded that these dark spots were BAT in adult humans.
Ice Barrels for Cold Thermogenesis
Cold thermogenesis has many benefits, including weight management. While you may be taking a soak to get rid of that soreness or swollen muscle, your body is automatically burning off excess fat to keep you fit.
Since cold thermogenesis and brown fat play key roles in burning calories and staying trim, Ice Barrel offers a more affordable option when compared to purchasing a cryotherapy tank or regularly visiting cryotherapy clinics. Contact us to learn more about Ice Barrel.
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