The Truth behind Ice Baths for Footballers: Are They Worth the Hype?
Hope your day’s been going well so far and you’ve been smashing your goals (I mean, I’m sure you have since you’re a RicFit follower and you’re reading this article).
I get the question very often:
“Ric, do I have to take an ice bath to recover quickly,”
“Are ice baths worth it?,” etc.
Within this article, I will address all of your concerns and by the end, you will know if ice baths are worth it for you as a footballer.
It’s very easy to get into the social media hype train with everybody talking about cold plunges, ice tanks, ice barrels, etc.
The 4 Most Important Recovery Strategies:
I will address how they are helpful, why there are helpful and when to take them within the article but, like I talk about with all of my 1-on-1 clients, the 4 most important recovery strategies can be done without having to spend money on fancy equipment.
1. Proper Sleep (7-8 Hours of Quality Sleep)
2. Proper Nutrition (Whole, Nutrient Dense, Minimally Processed Foods)
3. Proper Hydration (3-4 Liters of High-Quality Water)
4. Workload Management (not too much and not too little training).
With all that being said, ice baths can be an excellent supplement to add to those 4 main pillars to help you recover quicker and more effectively.
Experimentation is the Key:
As always, you must test and try things to see if they work for you, because everyone is different psychologically and physiologically.
When you are proposed a new tool or method, you need to try it out and see how your body and mind react.
If it makes you feel better, keep it in your routine.
If it makes you feel worse, cut it out of your routine.
Professional Footballers Incorporate Ice Baths:
It’s no secret that professional footballers often use ice baths as part of their muscle recovery regime.
But do they really work? Is the icy dip worth the bother?
Let’s look at the science behind ice baths, their potential benefits, and explore whether they’re an effective recovery tool for footballers.
What are Ice Baths?
Ice baths, often referred to as a cold-water immersion therapy, are when ice is placed in a container of cold water and a person submerges their body into it.
The practice has been around for centuries and is very popular among athletes due to its potential recovery benefits such as reducing inflammation in muscles, increasing blood flow post dunk, or decreasing lactic acid build up after an intense workout.
Loads of pro athletes use them for workout recovery, especially in endurance sports such as football due to the extreme load football can put on your body.
Pros & Cons of Ice Baths:
Despite its popularity, ice baths do come with both some pros and cons.
Before we dive into those, if you’re unsure about going for this form of cold therapy, I would recommend discussing it with a trusted physio or doctor to see if it would suit your needs and your body.
Pros of an Ice Bath:
1. Improves Sports Performance:
-Athletes who dip into ice baths post game may have reduced muscle soreness, allowing them to perform better sooner.
-Ice baths can help you feel and sleep better because they positively affect your nervous system. Due to this , you may experience improved reaction time in your future games.
2. Decrease Muscle Damage from Workouts
-Ice baths help reduce your body temperature after grueling workouts.
3. Reduces Swelling and Inflammation
-In a 2013 Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise Study, it showed that ice bathing after an a workout can increase blood oxygen levels and reduce inflammation (this is obviously if you don’t want to gain muscle).
-Ice baths also flush lactic acid, which is a substance occurring during prolonged activity and exercise, resulting in an uncomfortable burning feeling in your muscles.
-Cold temperatures constrict your blood vessels and reduce inflammation, body aches, and swelling.
4. Boosts Your Mood:
A 2008 Medical hypotheses article discovered that cold therapy improves your “good mood” hormones and can also reduce your anxiety and boost your mood.
-Noradrenaline also gets released in the brain which can aid people with depression.
-The cold therapy “shocks the nervous system” to release feel-good hormones.
Cons of An Ice Bath:
Number one is you NEVER want to put your body under “potential danger.”
5. Can Cause Hypothermia:
Longer Term Exposure to extreme cold comes with a risk. According to a 2019 Scientific American article; if you submerge your body at 5° Celsius for more than 20 minutes, you can begin to lose strength and coordination, which are the first indications of hypothermia.
So, let’s stay on the safe side. Please limit your exposure to ice baths for at most 15 minutes.
-The ideal temperature to be in should be within 10° to 15° Celsius.
6. Risky for People with Heart Trouble:
If you have a heart condition, I would stay away from them altogether (unless your Doctor says it’s okay), because they shock your body and affect your blood flow.
-The icy water compresses your blood vessels and reduces blood flow to your legs and arms. Due to this, your heart has to work harder to pump blood through these vessels, and your heart rate and blood pressure will increase.
If you have had a heart attack or other cardiac conditions, stay away!
7. Can Hinder Muscle Growth:
If you are trying to get fitter or build muscle, post-workout ice baths may prevent muscle repair and growth.
In a 2019 study in the Journal of Physiology, the researchers found out that people who took ice baths after their workouts had higher muscle breakdown-related protein and reduced muscle growth-related protein.
8. Could Be a Placebo Effect
A Medicine and Science Sports and Exercise study clearly noted that the ice bath benefits might be imaginary because its positive effects may be partially traceable to the placebo effect.
Additionally, keep in mind, there are alternative recovery methods to aid sore muscles in the body and recharge for upcoming games or training sessions – other than taking cold baths.
How do Ice Baths Work ?
An ice bath – aka cold-water immersion – is a treatment for athletes used to speed recovery after high-intensity exercise.
It is based on the science that ice reduces inflammation, limits muscle swelling, and slows down the central nervous system to help the body relax into a parasympathetic state.
Recommended duration + temperature
Generally, ice baths involve sitting in ice cold water (50-59° F or 10-15° C) for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your experience with cold exposure.
According to Ice Barrel, the optimal soaking time in an ice bath is anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes, with a cap at 15 minutes.
Within this range, you may expect the potential ice bath benefits to occur – notably the physiological effects where blood vessels constrict, which reduces swelling.
The Ultimate Question You Came Here For: Are Ice Baths Effective for Footballers?
As I mentioned, ice baths are a popular recovery method used by footballers to aid with their recovery with the main goal of improving their performance.
The reality is; some players love them, some players don’t.
I have about 100 friends who play professionally throughout top leagues in the world and I would say, 50% love them, 50% hate them.
Though, I do believe that a lot of the potential benefit has to do with a placebo effect.
So, as always, your goal is to see what works for you, and adjust based on that.
Ice baths work by forcing blood away from the skin and muscles, which causes an anti-inflammatory response in the body, reducing muscle delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
There is No “One Best Method”:
In my opinion, you should never rely solely on a single recovery method.
The goal is to find a plethora of different recovery tools that contribute to holistically improving you to aid in performance enhancement.
When Should Footballers take an Ice Bath?
Timing is key. Just like with a lot of things 🙂
If you’re going to go for an ice bath, you should carefully consider when taking one.
Too early, and there won’t be enough time to rebuild muscle tissue; too late, and the muscle damage could take longer to recover from.
Not too early after a session:
Keep in mind – although this may sound counterintuitive – your muscle tissue getting damaged during a workout is a good thing (especially if you want to gain muscle).
I’m not talking about purposely injuring yourself.
When the muscle fibers undergo stress due to physical activity, they break down and require time to rebuild themselves to gain strength and endurance. This process of breaking down and repairing is known as adaptation and for some, muscle hypertrophy (depending on the training you do).
If You Want to Gain Muscle, Stay Away Post Workout:
If you want to gain muscle, hopping into an ice bath within 5 minutes of finishing a workout is the worst idea.
You should leave at least 3 hours in between a hypertrophy session and an ice bath.
Like we talked about before, the ice reduces the natural inflammation response that your body is meant to experience to grow stronger & more resilient muscles.
The Best Time to Take An Ice Bath as a Footballer:
This is one of the only times that I will take an ice bath.
When I have a condensed schedule, whether it’s a couple gams within a week or a lot of intense training (preseason), I will hop into an ice bath a couple times per week.
If you’re looking for the quickest and most efficient way to recover in between matches, (besides the 4 we mentioned in the beginning), ice baths may be your best bet!
If you have a quick turnaround in between games or an exceptionally jam-packed training week, ice baths can be an excellent option.
After a Game or Football Training:
The ideal scenario is to have a proper warm down after you complete a session or a game.
Then, wait at least 30 minutes to an hour before jumping into the ice bath.
At that stage, you’ll be closer to a parasympathetic state and thus limit the cold shock response as well as optimize the muscle recovery benefits.
Mental Health & Discipline:
If you’re looking to do ice baths as a general way to energize your body, or improve your mental health, ice baths can help you with that.
Andrew Huberman has talked about ice baths having the ability to raise your dopamine to very high levels for at least 5 hours after going into a 3-minute cold plunge!
Famously, Wim Hof swears by taking an ice bath first thing in the morning is beneficial to kickstart your day, limit depression and develop discipline.
Think about it, if you can jump into a freezing tub for a couple minutes to start your day, imagine how easy the rest of the day will be..
You took care of the hardest thing you must do all day. Everything else will be so much easier.
Tom Bilyeu (of Impact Theory) refers to it as the “just do it” mentality!
Are there any alternatives to Ice Baths?
You might be saying, “Ric my guy, I am not the biggest fan of the cold or being cold, you recommend any alternatives?”
Come on now, you know your boy has your back!
There are other alternative recovery methods out there if you don’t want to submerge your body into freezing cold.
While Ice baths help in relieving muscle pain, improving your mindset, and developing mental discipline, alternative methods may be worth considering.
-Massage therapy (my favorite)
-Saunas (my favorite)
-Hot Baths (my favorite)
These methods can alleviate muscle fatigue and improve circulation so you can get back to training and competing faster.
While these methods may not provide an immediate relief like an Ice bath does, your goal should be to weigh the pros and cons of each and create your own recovery routine.
Mix, match, experiment and see what works for you.
A couple alternatives I personally like to use and things that I recommend to my 1-on-1 clients and other professional friends of mine are:
-Contrast therapy – alternating hot and cold water in the shower over short periods of time.
-Active recovery through long walks in nature.
-A consistent Stretching Routine
-Epsom Salt baths
-Breath Work & Meditation
-Spending time with loved ones
-All in all, you are your own person.
You need to experiment and make your own decision whether it’s worth it for you or not.
I’m just trying to provide sound, scientific, anecdotal information for you to make the best decision for yourself.
To conclude, ice baths can be a great tool for athletes to use to speed up the recovery process.
They are easy to do at home, and safe, as long as you follow recommended guidelines in terms of plunge time and water temperature and you don’t overdo it.
As I said before, I don’t think you should make it your only form of recovery.
You should try all of the methods and see what makes you feel best.
If you or your family has a history of heart issues – such as cardiovascular disease – please make sure you consult with a doctor or certified athletic trainer before adding them into your routine.
If you want my take on it, I think ice baths can be effective in super hectic moments during your season.
This could be during a promotion/relegation battle, or a playoff run with quick-fire games every 3 days, or a crazy preseason with double-days.
As I always preach, if you want to implement ice baths in your routine, take it step by step.
Don’t jump into a cold bath for 30 minutes with no prior cold water immersion experience. Please do your body and my mind a favor and build up to it.
Start with 2 minutes… If your body reacts well, maybe bump it up. If it doesn’t seem to react well, stop immediately.
Listen to your body and be smart.
AND my last point: 80% of recovery is proper sleep (8 quality hours), nutrition, proper work load management and hydration.
Before considering all these flashy recovery techniques we see nowadays, make sure you’re dialed in with the fundamentals!
Have you ever tried an ice bath? What was your experience like?
Come join the RicFit Academy community of like-minded ambitious footballers where we are on a mission to make each other better and let us know your ice bath experience!
Anyways, I hope this article helped you guys. You know your boy Ricky is always here to help!
Stay safe and healthy and make sure to take care of yourself so you can feel, look and perform your best and you can take care of your loves ones!
Love & Health,