Intermittent Fasting, Ice Baths, and Saunas for Recovery
Intermittent Fasting on Training Days
Intermittent fasting or IF is widely known as a weight loss tool. There’s also evidence to suggest that fasting can be helpful for longevity and brain health, but does all of this translate to being able to fast on training days for better recovery? In reality, there have not been many studies done on this and those that have been done are unreliable because they were done on Muslims fasting during Ramadan.
This brings inherent problems in trying to study the benefits of fasting on performance and recovery because Muslims also abstain from drinking water during their fasts and they eat only after sundown and before dawn for that month. That means that dehydration and a disturbed sleep cycle would also be present. In the studies that have been conducted outside of Ramadan there have been some potential benefits noted:
Fasting Combined with Exercise Enhanced fat loss benefits due to increased insulin sensitivity A 2010 study found that the fat loss benefits of fasting were enhanced when combined with resistance exercise. Fasted training enhances muscle adaptations that improve total body glucose tolerance.
Fasting Improved Recovery
A 2009 study on cyclists who trained in a fasted state for three weeks showed improved post workout recovery without loss of muscle mass or performance. Another 2009 study showed increased recovery response to the post workout meal for those who trained with weights in a fasted state.
Fasting Improved VO2 Max
A 2010 study showed a greater training induced increase in VO2 Max in those who’d trained fasted.
Things to Consider When Fasting
In all, while the research in this area is still very minimal, training in a fasted state does look to have many benefits for recovery and performance. There are some things you should consider if you intend to train in a fasted state:
- Stay hydrated. Fasting will deplete water in your system. Aim for at least half your bodyweight in fluid oz of water per day plus an additional 10 oz.
- Increase your mineral intake. In addition to losing water you will lose minerals. Add a pinch of himalayan salt to each liter of water that you drink.
- If you are a woman, be very careful with fasting as it can lead to hypothyroidism. You may want to consider supplementing with selenium or adding brazil nuts to your diet.
- Fasting does not mean starvation. Make sure that you are still eating adequate calories and getting the micronutrients your body needs!
What’s Better for Recovery: Ice Baths or Saunas
The answer: both are great tools, but to be used at different times. They work through similar processes: the release of heat shock or cold shock proteins.
Cold exposure helps to change your core body temperature. This causes the release of cold shock proteins to protect your internal organs and your brain. It also activates something called Brown Adipose Tissue or BAT. BAT is present in mammals and it is a defense mechanism to help the body warm up. Essentially it activates white adipose tissue to be burned as energy through shivering. Here are some of the benefits:
- Decrease of inflammation
- Brain protection. Studies have shown that cold exposure can slow the onset of neurological disorders
- Potential for enhanced fat loss
The best time for cold exposure would be at least 3 hours outside of any workout. You should avoid doing it immediately post workout as it could shut down inflammation, and inflammation is important immediately post workout to kickstart recovery.
Heat shock proteins are known to help the direction of amino acids to repair tissue. This means that they do have the potential to enhance muscle building and recovery.