The process of fat loss is a hotly discussed subject, and there is much misinformation surrounding it. One area that I've seen a lot pf passionate opinions and few facts is cold plunge therapy and how it bolsters the bodies ability to shed fat.
Cold plunge therapy is a new-ish fad in the fitness and athlete community, employed for a variety of reasons such as improving recovery after training, accelerating fat loss, and improving sleep at night.And while there is evidence to support those claims, many athletes try it out without a real understanding of how cold temperatures affect the bodies natural cycles.
The truth is the results of cold plunge therapy can differ depending on which of goal you are aiming for.
How Our Body Regulates Temperature
For example, in the case of sleep, one key variable that affects how well you sleep at night is body temperature. Your body temperature does not remain a constant 98.6 degrees Fehrenheit as you might have learned in school, but actually fluctuates within a range to inform your body when to release certain hormones. Naturally, this fluctuation releases cortisol in the morning to wake you up, and releases melatonin at night to help push the body into a sleep state.
Though it is not a microscopic process like most in the body, triggered changes in body temperatures are subtle.
Before falling asleep, our body temperature lowers without conscious action in order to stimulate the release of melatonin into your blood stream. Conversely, in the morning, just before you wake up, your body temperature starts to rise to stimulate the release of cortisol.
Both of these processes are healthy and happen within every human being, so why don't we try to draw more advantages from changing body temperatures?
Of course, it's tempting then to think, if I take a cold shower to lower my body temperature before bed then I will fall asleep quicker and get rest sooner. But, our bodies are smarter than that.
In an effort to keep you warm, the human body will actually work in the opposite direction and raise your body temperature after the cold shower causing the opposite of what you wanted. It is in fact better to take a hot shower before bed which not only relaxes you, but also triggers your body to accelerate the lowering of your body temperature to keep you cool.
With that in mind, what are the important details that actually help you promote fat loss with cold plunge therapy?
It helps to know roughly how the fat loss process works. First things things first, the metabolic research is well-supported, and you can not lose meaningful amounts of fat unless you are in a caloric deficit.
However, many will also know that limiting caloric intake leads to losing some muscle mass as well fat. The whole game then becomes: 'How do I lose as much fat as possible and preserve as much muscle as possible throughout the process?'
This is where cold therapy comes into play as it can help in determining what your body will use for energy.
Your body has three main stores of energy and three major processes to access them. Your body will use whatever is most accessible to it at the time for energy. In most cases, that means glucose or sugar stored in your liver, muscles or floating in your blood stream. Fat loss is hard because there is so much energy stored here to start with - as much as 800g of sugar or 3200 Calories in some cases.
In order to lose fat we need to turn it into a fuel source and make it easier to metabolize than the sugar floating around in your body.
This happens in two steps. The first is converting fat molecules into a form of energy the body can use, and the second is oxidizing that energy or burning it in the form of activity.
Cold plunges can help with the first step and fidgeting can help with the second.
When you take a cold plunge your body will soon begin to shiver, and what has been found in research is the shivering process activates a special chemical in your body that triggers the enzymes responsible for breaking down the fat molecules in the areas you don't want it. These enzymes convert your fat into a molecule that can be more easily oxidized by the body and thus burned off in activity.
Is it really that simple to lose unwanted fat? I just need to jump in a cold shower before I go work out and I'll start seeing the results?
Well, sort of.
What's important within this process is that it is specifically the shivering process that activates these enzymes that help you burn fat. If you become cold adapted and no longer shiver in the cold, cold plunge therapy will not trigger the same effects.
The real way to optimize your body's ability to shed fat after a cold plunge is understanding the amount of time you spend shivering. An easy way to do this is to rapidly change your water temperature from a hot temperature to a cold temperature.
This rapid temperature change will stimulate the shivering process the most, similar to how taking a hot shower before bed will speed up the release of melatonin.
How To Do A Cold Plunge That Gets Results
A simple set of steps you could follow is to start with hot water in your shower for a few minutes, then quickly turn it to cold water and endure the shivering. After a minute of cold water, turn the water to hot again.
Cycle a few times for a minute or so each, and you should have helped convert some fat in your body into molecules ready to be burned for energy. After the shower, it's time to fidget.
How Fidgeting Can Help To Burn Fat
Fidgeting or quick nervous movements have been found to increase the energy burn of your body by a range of 800 to 2400 Calories when compared to people who don't fidget.
Additionally, fidgeting was also found to stimulate the same enzymes as shivering and help to break down fat.
Wrapping up, you want to get yourself to shiver before periods of high caloric burn to maximize fat loss because your body will use whatever energy is most readily available to it. By default, this is the sugar or glucose in your blood stream, muscles and liver.
If you don't do something to help the fat stored in your body convert into energy, your body won't use it. After converting the fat in your body to molecules that are easily metabolized, fidgeting can help burn it off because it can help you get into a caloric deficit.
Jarod Smith is a developer for GMTM helping to build the essential social media platform for athletes. He started weightlifting while stuck at home during the pandemic and has been researching the science of it for almost a year.