Any way you slice it, a steamy-hot shower always feels better after a long, vigorous training session. Many athletes prefer cold showers, arguing that it can relieve unpleasant muscle strain post-workout. So, should you take a cold shower after working out?
A cold shower after working out lowers your muscular pain and inflammation. It also promotes weight loss, uplifts your energy, and ensures your overall health by regulating blood flow and body temperature. However, avoid cold showers if you have hypertension or fever or want to build muscle mass.
Read on to discover the health benefits of a cold shower after a training session. You’ll also learn about the best way to take a cold shower and see when you should avoid it.
Cold Shower Benefits After Workout
Sometimes, you exercise so intensively that your heart can’t keep up, and your muscles don’t receive enough oxygen through your blood. So, they begin producing Lactic acid to convert glucose into energy to compensate for the lack of oxygen.
But this lactate buildup can cause muscle cramps, burning sensations, pain, and fatigue.
A cold shower helps release the lactic acid more rapidly and speeds up your muscle recovery. So, you’ll experience less discomfort after exercise and can go back to your routine. It also lets you exercise more often, maximizing your workout effectiveness.
This is especially helpful for those who engage in back-to-back sports competitions because they’re less likely to perform their best if they feel sore muscles. Cold showers help them recover faster.
A rigorous workout puts pressure on your body tissues and generates microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. Although a crucial part of your muscular buildup, these microtraumas make your muscles swell, encouraging pain in that area.
This delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) differs from the pain you feel immediately after exercise because it usually appears one or two days after a workout, extending your recovery period.
The cold water helps suppress that inflammation, mitigating the upcoming muscle injury.
Other than that, your muscle tissues tend to store waste and fluid during physical activity, contributing to an aching body.
But once the cold water hits your skin, it constricts your vessels and increases your blood flow. The improved bloodstream washes those fluids out of your body and removes the associated inflammation.
It’s good to know that it’s not only about pain or inflammation. Eliminating waste from your body cells helps with your lymphatic system, fostering your immune system.
Contributes to Weight Loss
If you’re training with weight reduction in mind, a cold shower is probably a good facilitator.
When you take a cold shower, your body starts burning your brown fat supplies to produce heat and prevent you from shivering. At the same time, these fat cells burn some of your calories, maximizing your weight loss process.
According to studies, those who take cold showers can burn about fifteen percent more calories than others. That means an average adult can lose about 300 calories daily or nine pounds yearly only because of brown fat break-down.
This method gets even more effective if you learn how to create more brown fat reserves in your body.
However, obviously, you shouldn’t overdo this hoping to lose lots of weight just by taking showers.
According to research by Medical Hypotheses Journal, cold showers after a workout can boost your energy, make you physically stronger, and improve your sense of awareness. But how?
When your skin comes into contact with cold water, it stimulates your sympathetic nervous system and promotes noradrenaline generation.
Norepinephrine is a mental hormone that soothes your nerves, lifting your overall mood. So, when you take a cold shower after a workout, you’ll be more likely to attend to your daily tasks instead of sleeping from exhaustion. It freshens you up as if you’ve had a cup of coffee or energizing drink.
Besides that, the adrenaline spike you get after submerging in cold water shocks your body. This, in turn, amplifies your resistance toward other tough physical situations, prepares you for more intensive activities, and improves your training outcomes.
Enhances Blood Circulation
Whether it’s endurance training, weight-lifting, or aerobic exercise, your muscles demand more energy when you’re doing vigorous activity. So, your blood vessels dilate to increase your blood circulation and pump more nutrients to your muscles.
When more blood flows to your moving muscles, there’s less for your major systems, such as your respiratory, gastrointestinal, and integumentary. That’s why you feel your heart rate rise and have a hard time breathing after an intense workout.
However, when you stop moving around, your bloodstream suddenly slows down, and the extra blood accumulates in your tired muscles rather than flowing to your heart and essential body parts.
Here’s where a cold shower comes into play.
Contact with cold water immediately reduces your heart rate, re-boosts your blood flow, and returns the static blood back to your major organs. This, in turn, improves your cardiovascular and overall health.
Controls Body Temperature
Drinking cold water during, before, and after a workout is beneficial. It keeps your body at the ideal temperature, prevents heat exhaustion, and forces you to work harder.
Cold showers have a similar function in that they cool your body down. A standard core body temperature means more blood circulation in your head, arms, and legs. So, it helps you get rid of any weakness or dizziness after a training session.
Drawbacks of Cold Shower After Workout
Interferes With Muscle Generation
Remember the small fiber tears and inflammation that we talked about earlier? As uncomfortable as they are, they’re the major cause of muscle buildup among athletes. And cold showers get in their way by preventing them.
These micro traumas alert the immune system that muscular damage has happened. So, it sends the repairing cells to the affected area to restore the tissue. It’s exactly during the restoration process that muscles become larger, thicker, and more powerful.
But when you take a cold shower, the low temperature suppresses the irritation and disrupts your muscle growth.
So, the technique is only applicable for those into bodyweight exercises rather than bodybuilding. Athletes who do cardio, aerobic, yoga, stretching, swimming, cycling, jogging, team sports, and skill training are great examples of those who can reap the benefits of cold showers.
A bodybuilder or strength trainer can also benefit from cold showers in specific situations.
For example, when attending a multi-day sports match or championship, bodybuilding isn’t the immediate goal. They want to win the contest, and getting rid of the post-competition cramps is their number one priority. That’s where cold showers come in handy.
Not Suitable for Sick People
Although beneficial for the immune system, a cold shower can take its toll on your disease-fighting cells if you take one while you’re sick.
For example, those with a cold or fever should avoid cold showers because they imbalance your body temperature, triggering chills and coldness.
People with hypertension are another high-risk group since being exposed to cold temperatures heightens blood pressure. The same is true about cardiovascular patients.
You should measure your blood pressure before and after the shower. If you observe any considerable or risky changes, you should forget about the cold shower with all its benefits!
How Cold Is Enough Cold for a Post-Workout Shower?
There’s no one-fits-all answer to this question. It all depends on your body temperature, your workout intensity, the season, and your resistance.
As a rule of thumb, stick to what your body tells you. Start with lukewarm water and gradually decrease its temperature. As long as your body manages to adapt, make it colder.
Once you reach the perfect coldness, expose your aching muscles to the burst of water. Stay there from one to ten minutes, depending on your physical resilience. You can gradually extend the period in each effort.
You can also adopt the contrast shower method to benefit from both hot and cold showers.
How to Engage in Contrast Protocol
A meta-analysis review of athletes indicates those who take a contrast shower after exercising recover from fatigue overnight. The method also reduces your post-workout soreness better than passively resting or cool-down techniques.
When you submerge your body in cold water, your veins get narrower, resulting in a pumpage effect. Then, as soon as you switch to a hot shower, they begin to dilate, which amplifies your blood circulation. This combination helps your body flush out the waste better.
The only trick here is to contrast from one temperature to another. You can start with hot water for two minutes, then switch to cold for one. A minute of a cold shower followed by another minute of a hot shower is another alternative.
Whatever durations you choose, make sure you repeat the cycle five to six times to see the benefits.
A cold shower after a workout is great for those who need a quick recovery. It gives immediate relief to your muscles, balances your blood circulation, and contributes to rinsing out the produced lactic acid.
However, since it can interfere with the muscle-building process, it’s not recommended to resistance trainers. Besides, it’s a no-no activity for those with a cold, fever, or high blood pressure.