We have all seen professional athletes sitting in big tubs of ice, or seen people everywhere using ice(cold exposure) for “recovery”. Why are they doing this? Well believe it or not there is an actual reason you see people using ice baths(cold exposure) for recovery from training and for the many health benefits it delivers to the body.
After workouts your body needs to repair itself to prepare for the next training session. It does so with the help of blood vessels that bring oxygen to your muscles tissue while removing waste products of exercise-lactic acid. Too much lactic acid build up can cause your muscles to function poorly and will lead to fatigue. Ice baths will immediately reduce swelling while flushing lactic acid out of your body. The cold causes your blood vessels to tighten. This helps drain the lactic acid out of your tires muscles. When you get out of the ice bath your muscle tissue warms back up, causing a return of oxygenated blood to help your muscles recover.
Exposure to cold releases Norepinephrine into the brain where it is involved in vigilance, focus, attention and mood. Even cold showers can be used to treat depression. It also has a role in pain, metabolism and inflammation.This response is mediated by the sympathetic nervous system(fight or flight). Norepinephrine can rise 200-300% with cold immersion near 0 Celsius for 20 min 3 times a week. Norepinephrine reduces inflammation cytokines including TNF-alpha a molecule in involved in almost every human disease from type 2 diabetes to cancer. Cytokines also play a role in anxiety and depression hence the effect of cold exposure on mood.
Cold also actives cold thermogenesis a way for the body to produce heat. Cold thermogenesis benefits are due to the activation of brown adipose tissue(BAT). The activation of brown adipose tissue a form of fat that burns regular fat for heat generation through fat oxidation. Cold exposure increases the number of mitochondria( mitochondrial biogenesis) The more BAT the better your body becomes in burning fat for energy.
So as you can see ice baths(cold exposure) has several benefits both physically and mentally. There is a reason you see the pros using ice for recovery, and it doesn’t just work for the pros we all could benefit from cold exposure after training.