Andrew Hubarman is one of the preeminent voices in science today. His following has exploded in recent months and much of the media and mainstream attention around ice baths and cold therapy can be attributed to his coverage of the topic area. To save you time listening to his 3 hour episode on the wonders of cold therapy (although we highly recommend it if you have the time), below is a summary of his cold therapy protocol and the benefits that you can gain from using an ice bath:
How cold should my ice bath be?
Huberman’s rule of thumb is to aim for a temperature that makes you feel uncomfortable (want to get out), but still safe. For some people, that temperature might be 60°F (15 celsius), whereas for others, 45°F (7 celsius).
An important note: the colder the temperature, the shorter amount of time you need to be in the ice bath.
Huberman highlights: “One study showed significant and prolonged increases in dopamine when people were in cool (60°F) water for about an hour up to their neck, with their head above water. Other studies describe significant increases in epinephrine from just 20 seconds in very cold water (~40°F). The good news is that as you do deliberate cold exposure more often, you will be more comfortable in the cold at all times and can start to use colder temperatures with more confidence, just like exercise.”
Should I use an Ice bath?
Below are the benefits that Dr Huberman points to from existing research and meta-analysis:
To Increase Energy and Focus
Deliberate cold exposure is known to cause an increased flow of epinephrine (aka adrenaline) and norepinephrine (aka noradrenaline), making us feel more alert.
“[ice bath] causes [adrenaline] levels to stay elevated for some time and their ongoing effect after the exposure is to increase your level of energy and focus, which can be applied to other mental and/or physical activities.”
Building Resilience & Grit
By facing uncomfort, Dr Huberman suggests that ice bath practitioners exert what is known as ‘top-down control’ over deeper brain centers that build what we know as resilience and grit.
“In other words, deliberate cold exposure is great training for the mind”
Enhancing Your Mood
Studies have shown that using an ice bath drastically increases the release of the “happy hormone” dopamine.
Listen to Dr Huberman’s Episode to learn more about dopamine’s role in the body.
Interestingly, another benefit of using an ice bath is that it increases metabolism since the participant is required burn calories to increase core body temperature. The total calories burned from the cold exposure are not that significant. However, Dr Huberman notes,
“the conversion of white fat (energy storage) to beige or brown fat (which are highly metabolically active) can be beneficial for:
- Allowing people to feel more comfortable in the cold (i.e., cold adaptation)
- Triggering further and more sustained increases in metabolism”
Dr Huberman’s recommended protocol:
- 11 minutes per week TOTAL, spit between 2-4 sessions lasting 1-5 mins each.
- If you are doing a cold-hot cycle with a hot pool or sauna, be sure to end with cold
- Don’t towel off, try to dry naturally and shiver (it enhances the metabolic effect)
- Ideally use your ice bath first thing in the morning. If you do it too close to bed at night it will likely keep you up due to the adrenaline