MAASTRICHT, Netherlands — It’s been a familiar sight in training centers and locker rooms for decades; an athlete, winding down from an intense workout, submerged in ice cold water. Ice baths have long been a staple of work out recovery regiments, and are intended to cut down on inflammation and promote muscle growth. However, a new study is, well, throwing cold water on the practice.
Researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands say that ice baths likely aren’t helpful at all in repairing or building muscle over time, as they actually decrease the production of muscle proteins.
Often referred to as cold water immersion, ice baths are generally believed to aid in fast muscle recovery, and help athletes get their bodies more accustomed to intense training regiments over long periods of time. While previous research has in fact confirmed that an ice bath can help reduce swelling, inflammation, and muscle soreness by reducing body temperature, which in turn reduces blood flow, researchers say it is largely ineffective at promoting muscle adaption and growth.
To come to their conclusions, the study’s authors studied the effect of ice baths on new proteins in muscles. Our bodies produce more muscle proteins after exercise, as well as after consuming foods high in protein.
A group of participants were gathered, and each person performed a series of seven leg resistance exercise sessions over the course of two weeks. After each session, the participants placed one leg in cold water (46 degrees Fahrenheit), while leaving the other leg dry. Across all the participants, researchers noted that the leg placed in the cold water produced lower levels of protein.
“Everyone exercising, whether they be weekend warriors or elite athletes, wants to get the most out of their workouts. 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,” comments study co-author Cas Fuchs in a release.
The study is published in the Journal of Physiology.