Do ice baths suppress muscle gains?

Sunday, September 1st, 2019

Do ice baths suppress muscle gains?

Fuchs and his colleagues had 12 volunteers do a strength-training session, then hop into an ice tub—or actually, half an ice tub. One leg was submerged in cold water at 46 degrees Fahrenheit (8 Celsius), while the other leg was submersed in tepid water at 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius), for 20 minutes. Then they chugged a recovery shake with 45 grams of carbohydrate and 20 grams of protein, the latter of which contained a tracer that allowed the researchers to determine how much of the protein was incorporated into new muscle. Over the following two weeks, the researchers took frequent blood samples and muscle biopsies to track their progress.

Sure enough, the rate of muscle protein synthesis was significantly lower in the cooled leg than in the leg that got the lukewarm bath, with a difference over the course of two weeks of about 13 percent. Now, lab measures like muscle protein synthesis are still not the same as measuring actual differences in strength over a longer period of time. It’s awfully suggestive, though, and bolsters the case that ice baths—and, presumably, other recovery enhancers—may come with a hidden cost to fitness gains.


  1. Ross says:

    How long before broscience commentators are crowing that they’re getting jacked by taking scalding showers?

    “Go ahead, soycake, be a man, see if you can tough out a hot shower right after your workout.”

  2. Kirk says:

    Personally, the reason for all this boils down to another iteration of the well-known Hawthorne Effect.

    I strongly suspect that if you dig down and examine the root basis for a lot of this stuff, you’re going to find that there’s a maddening amount of this sort of quantum kind of thing going on: The improvement isn’t coming because you did something, it’s coming because you observed it and paid attention to it.

    This is one reason I’m starting to wonder if this universe of ours isn’t a damn simulation or a variety of consensus reality. There’s a “reproduction problem” with a lot of modern science, and it seems that the more deeply we look at things, the more wildly “off” it gets, and the more influence the investigator has on the outcome. At a fine enough grain, it sure starts to look like reality ain’t what we think it is.

    Somebody wakes me up in a lab somewhere and tells me that I’ve been taking part in some kind of experiment, I’m not gonna be too surprised. It would explain so much of the weird sh*t I keep running into…

  3. Graham says:

    Don’t look too closely at the matrix.

    Look what happened to the Wachowskis.

  4. Felix says:

    So, does this tell us to exercise your legs and ice your arms? Exercise your arms, ice your legs?

  5. CVLR says:

    Felix, it tells you that 90% of your results are coming from 10% of your effort. The 10% being good food, a bit of exercise, and the occasional extreme sport, and the other 90% being everything else. Your fitness gets canalised, by the way; if you train to a high standard and keep it, it gets easier and easier to maintain.

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