Cold Showers? Cryotheraphy? Pfft. This is Canada.

I hate to break it to my friends overseas, but London isn’t a cold city. When Andrew and I started experimenting with thermal loading, we had to take cold showers on a regular basis to try to induce a shivering reaction. (With hilarious results)

Enter, Thermal Loading: Canadian Edition!

In Canada, it’s much easier. Instead of trying to expose your body to lower temperatures with cold showers or ice baths, you play chicken with the thermostat.

-1C outside? No reason to turn on the heat. We’ll think about it when it starts to hit -30C.

In the meantime, you can either put on another sweater, or you can sit in a T-Shirt and shiver. Opt to shiver.

Why would anyone subjugate themselves to this?

The benefits of thermal loading don’t depend on the mechanism by which you lower your temperature, just that do without a subsequent increase in caloric intake.

If on the other hand, shivering in your house seems excessive, you can always turn on the heat and try cryotherapy instead.

Cryotherapy is starting to make the rounds in professional running and rugby as a new mechanism for sports recovery. It totes all the benefits of an ice bath or cold shower,and while the temperatures are drastically lower, the exposure time is shorter as well.

Liquid nitrogen is pumped into a cylinder in which the athlete stands wearing gloves, mittens and a cap, while the surrounding air temperature drops steadily to -160C. (fun!)

After 2:30-3 minutes of exposure, you’re done.

Each session costs about $70.00 (35.00GBP) a pop but athletes who have under gone the procedure have a much faster recovery rate which means they can increase their total training time and maintain a high level of intensity throughout.

I’m not going to lie, I really want to try it. :D

While constant low level cold exposure won’t give you the same effect as cryotherapy, if you’re looking for a low impact way to increase fat loss and you live in a place that has an actual winter (as opposed to England, which just gets a bit chilly), give it a shot.

The Skinny on Cold Showers.

Since the publication of “The 4-Hour Body” by Tim Ferriss, the work of NASA scientist Ray Cronise on thermal-loading has re-framed cold showers from “ungodly horror.” to “scientifically proven method to accelerate weight loss”, in addition to it’s more traditional roles of “building self-discipline” and “The method acting tips of Hugh Jackman”.(Seriously. Check the references)

Here’s a quick breakdown of some current theories.

Cold showers:

  1. help with weight loss.
  2. help build muscle.
  3. help fight low level depression.
  4. help muscle recovery
  5. help develop self-discipline.

But first, for your amusement: How to take a cold shower.

One way to do it. (Thank Andrew for being the guinea pig)

Another way to do it. (Theoretically)

and finally: Video Proof!


  1. Cold showers help with weight loss.

In this case, it’s not so much the cold shower so much as being cold. The concept is known as “thermal loading”  and works on the following principle.

- Your body is a giant and intelligent thermostat that uses fat as an energy source.

- It has a temperature that it likes and will fight to keep.

- Expose your body to lower temperatures, and it will use more energy than usual to try to keep itself warm.

- For weight loss, there cannot be a corresponding increase in energy intake.

It’s not really about the cold shower. It’s about continuous and general exposure to cooler temperatures causing an increase in energy output. The work of Ray Cronise goes further into detail and talks about how different kinds of adipose tissue (fat cells) are effected when exposed to cold and how to properly leverage it. I’ll avoid geeking out about it too much.

Theory: TRUE – Although it’s not quite the cold shower so much as cold. Only works if energy intake isn’t subsequently increased during exposure. Works very well when coupled with a decent strength training program.

How to do it: Add a cold shower or an ice bath to your daily routine, or easier still, put an ice pack on your upper back and neck for 30 minutes. This isn’t the quickest way to burn fat, but it does work.

2.   Cold showers help build muscle.

This goes back to thermal loading. It’s not so much the cold shower as the effect of cold exposure. The body’s shiver reflex has to kick in to cause the release of hormones that promote muscle growth.

Theory: TRUE - As long as you shiver. (Shivering does not mean giving yourself hypothermia in the comfort of your own home. Don’t be dumb)

How to do it: Stay in your daily cold shower/ice bath until you start to shiver a little. That’s it.

3.   Cold showers help fight low level depression.

A research study in 2007 presented the hypothesis that cold showers could deal with low level depression by activating the sympathetic nervous system, increasing the production of certain hormones (adrenaline and endorphins) and stimulating the brain because of the huge amount of cold receptors on the skin.

Theory: Untested.- Currently any results are purely anecdotal. I’m digging around to see if there isn’t some data hidden away somewhere.

How to do it: If you’re taking a cold shower, you’re already participating.

4.   Cold showers help muscle recovery

This has been around for decades. The idea being that either cold water immersion or alternating between cold water and hot water (contrast bath) are believed to help reduce recovery time post training because of their anti-inflammatory effect. The problem is, for every study that shows that there is a result, there is another study that contradicts it.

Theory: Plausible. The research goes both ways. If you do it and it works for you, then it works for you.

How to do it: Train hard. Then either take a cold shower or alternate cold water with warm to hot water. Timing intervals vary by study but the emphasis should be about 10 minutes of cold water.

5.   Cold showers help develop self-discipline.

This isn’t really a theory, although it’s fun enough that it should be.

If you ascribe to the notion of ego depletion (that will power and self control are a limited resource) then at first the act of forcing yourself to take a cold shower would drain you of your will power and make you less likely to be able to exert self control at task later on that day. ie, Don’t start the habit of taking cold showers the same time you try to quit smoking. You won’t make it a week.

However, forcing yourself to stand in a cold shower every day, for weeks and months on end? That’s going to have an effect on your ability to force yourself to do things that are even marginally less painful. Of course, it’s unproven and largely anecdotal.

Bottom line: While cold showers suck when you start, they have both empirical and anecdotal evidence supporting their benefits. Aim for once a day for 10 minutes.

References and Links:

The 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss

Ray Cronise

Build Self-Discipline

Fight low level depression

The Method Acting Tips of Hugh Jackman

Cold water immersion for exercise recovery:

No Result
Result

Fun with body recomposition: GOMAD vs. Leptin resetting

Before anyone starts to badmouth me about data tracking, I want to be clear: This wasn’t a rigorous and meticulous experiment and it wasn’t meant to be for one reason:

Simplicity.

Keeping things simple is paramount to the success of any program. You might have the best program ever, but if it’s hard to follow and maintain, it’ll fail miserably. I took some baseline measurements but I didn’t track every gram of food I ingested, or daily fluctuations in weight change. To be honest, none of you will either. Your measurements of change will be how you feel, visible change and how people react to you.

Small disclaimer: These programs worked for me. Doesn’t mean they’ll work for you. Although I hope they can help guide you. If you still eat a ton of carbs every day, don’t sleep enough and don’t train too hard, get the sorted first. Once you’ve gotten that done, then you can worry about the stuff here.

And now off to the main event:

I’ve never qualified as “big”. I’m a hard gainer. I can lift very heavy things and not really change in appearance. Calling me “skinny” qualifies as “fighting words.” and is liable to result in unpleasantness.

Basically: I have a really hard time putting on muscle mass and it irks me.

To see if I could do something about it, I decided to separately test two of the most commonly known protocols for putting on mass: GOMAD, or “Gallon Of Milk A Day.” and a Leptin reset mentioned in the book “The 4 hour Body.” by Tim Ferriss

To follow both programs to the letter would have required a complete shift in my normal training protocol, however I tend to be particularly fond of Crossfit’s definition of fitness and I’m not willing to sacrifice work capacity for strength. In my case, being bigger is a luxury, not a necessity.

Instead of switching to pure barbell work, the main focus of my training was 2x week heavy Met Cons and strength work, 1x week supplemental work, 1x week either rowing or a lighter Met Con. As per the Crossfit definition and my personal training preferences, lots of heavy Deadlifts, squats, presses and pull ups where part of my program. (If you want the exact workouts just email me.)

The first protocol was the Leptin reset (Leptin being a hormone in the body that deals with appetite and metabolism.) which ran for ten days.

When I started the program, I was 83 KG’s at 7.4% body fat which meant I was at 76.86 kg’s of lean body mass.

Ten days later, I was 86 KG’s at 6.8% body fat. I was at 80.1 KG’s of lean body mass. A 4 KG increase.

How it works:

It sounds simple enough: Eat protein till you feel sick.

But simple isn’t easy. You need to track that increased intake and make sure you stick to it. For the first three days, it’s not exactly fun. If you’re doing it right, you will literally feel like you’re on the edge of getting sick after every meal. However, once your body adapts to the new level of food you’re ingesting (and as long as you’re training.) it puts it to use. You also have to control the amount of carbs you eat, minimizing intake on non training days.

My base meal, which I ate twice a day was:

1x pack of steak chunks (400grs steak chunks = 88.4 gr protein)

3x eggs (+/- 18 grs protein)

2-3x cans of tuna (50-75gr Pro)

1x Spring onion

a shit ton of Olive oil ( at least 5 table spoons.)

spice to taste. (usually sea salt or ground red pepper.)

25 grams of carbs = either 1 bag of pre-chopped bell peppers, a few hundred grams of spinach or a bag of whole bell peppers.

That’s around 180 grs of protein and a little over 25 grams of carbs per meal with about 7 grams of fat from olive oil (not counting the fat content of the steak and eggs.)

Training days, I would have 1 post training meal which involved stew beef, a half a plate full of low glycemic veggies, (cabbage and peas) and half a plate of starch (Potatoes.) and one baseline meal a few hours later when I got home.

Pros:

It was fun and delicious. Eating that much protein everyday was awesome.

I was able to put on weight for the first time in months.

I actually dropped body fat while putting on muscle.

Every day I felt great, part of me wanted to increase my training volume, just for kicks.

It’s easy. Eat until sickness. Check.

Cons:

It’s expensive. My food budget increased by 50% per week.

You have to eat at your new baseline or you’ll regress pretty quickly.

Your training program needs to be well structured and you have to lift heavy.

Thoughts:

I loved it. This was an easy protocol to follow and has been the easiest way I’ve been able to put on muscle in a long time. However, I would only recommend this protocol to someone who’s been training for a few years and who’s plateaued. Beginners tend to have other things to worry about and the reduced carb intake as drastically as I did isn’t something that should be tried unless you’re already able to function for extended periods of time without them.

Performance: I hit both max effort PR’s and Met Con PR’s. Very awesome.

GOMAD:

GOMAD is also a simple protocol. You drink 1 gallon, (about 8 pints) of whole milk a day, in addition to your normal eating habits. The idea being that since milk is such a great source of protein, fats and carbs, it’s a great way to supplement diet to help you gain weight.

To put it in perspective: 1 gallon of whole milk is 8 pints of milk. A day. Everyday.

that works out to:

2908 calories, 145.5 grs of Protein, 213.4 gr of carbs, and 163.6 gr of fat.

On top of whatever you’re already eating.

I started at 84 KG and 7.2% body fat.

I stopped after a week at 86 KG. I didn’t bother testing my body fat. I looked and was being referred to as “soft.” Compared to how I’ve tested before, I was probably around 8-9%.

Reason: I felt like crap, my Met Con times were getting compromised and my body was very unhappy with me. (I’ll spare you details.)

Pro:

It’s cheap. Milk doesn’t cost much.

It’s easy. You eat what you normally do, you just down 8 pints of milk a day on top of it.

Con:

You’ll feel bloated and sickly a lot of the time.

Your Met Cons times will go up because that amount of milk affects your blood PH.

Your body might not react well to the milk, (upset stomach, diarrhea, acne, increased mucus production.)

The insulin spike you get after drinking milk will lay you out. Forget being productive.

You’ll put on weight, but not necessarily in muscle.

Thoughts:

Really not a big fan of GOMAD. I’m not huge on dairy because of various reasons anyway, but I figured a quick ten day protocol wouldn’t kill me. The first few days it wasn’t bad at all. After the first 3 days, the side effects kicked in and every day afterwards was unpleasant. The sheer quantity of milk I had to drink was annoying. The side effects from it didn’t make me want to keep going, I felt physically sick most of the time (and I’m not even lactose intolerant.) and was walking around with a perpetual head cold.

After a few days I noticed that my ability to maintain a high power output during my Met Cons had decreased, which meant that my training volume and intensity was compromised. Even trying to off set the decrease with supplements didn’t help. My strength levels were fine, but at the cost of my work capacity. Not something I’m willing to trade on.

Would I recommend this?

If I had a beginner lifter who was less concerned with work capacity and whose main goal was putting on weight very quickly, regardless of how they got it, I might recommend it.

Big might.

For a serious Crossfitter? Not a chance. The compromise between strength, work capacity and subjective well being isn’t worth the simplicity of the protocol. I’d rather just eat more steak.

Summary:

Leptin reset: The Leptin reset was enjoyable, if expensive. I would recommend it in the short term for an intermediate Crossfitter who had plateaued or who wanted to put on a little more mass. All around my performance went up and I felt great all the time. I would do it more regularly if it wasn’t so expensive. Plus, steak for breakfast? Hell yes.

GOMAD: GOMAD has it’s place, but that place is not in Crossfit. The compromise to work capacity and side effects aren’t worth the fact that it’s cheap.

If you want to put on some extra mass, affect a quick body recomposition, or try bust through some plateaus, give the leptin reset a try.

Of course, that assumes that you’re already eating relatively clean, take care of yourself and train often and hard. If not, get everything else under control first.

Enjoy.