Athletes take ice baths to speed up their body’s recovery after tough workouts. Many people believe it is the easiest, quickest way to reduce post-workout pains but a new study found that it can be bad to muscles.
The study, published in the Journal of Physiology, shows that ice bath after exercise offers no benefits for repairing muscle. Researchers also warned that taking a dip into ice cold water may reduce the production of protein in muscles, negatively affecting its development.
Athletes believe ice baths, also known as cold-water immersion, could help the body adapt to training over weeks and months. The strategy is a popular form of cryotherapy.
It involves sitting in ice cold water for 10 to 15 minutes at temperatures between 50 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit. It works by reducing body temperature, which lowers blood flow, swelling and inflammation in tissues of the muscles.
Aside from faster muscle recovery, ice baths have been associated with lower inflammation in the body after training. It has been proven that this strategy can help reduce muscle soreness.
However, researchers at Maastricht University found that ice baths are ineffective in repairing and building muscle. It is because of the bath’s negative effect on the formation of new proteins in the body.
The body releases more protein after exercise or consumption of foods high in the nutrient. The researchers looked into the effects of ice baths on muscles using stable isotope tracers and muscle biopsies.
They gathered physically active participants to do resistance exercise of both legs for two weeks. After every exercise session, the participants immersed one leg in cold water at an average temperature of 46 degrees Fahrenheit.
By the end of the study, the leg they used on the ice baths had lower protein generation compared to the other leg not exposed to ice cold temperatures after exercise.
“Everyone exercising, whether they be weekend warriors or elite athletes, wants to get the most out of their workouts,” study author Cas Fuchs said in a statement. “Our research doesn’t discount cold-water immersion altogether but does suggest that if the athlete aims to repair and/or build their muscle, perhaps they should reconsider using ice baths.”