Done correctly, deliberate cold exposure can positively affect brain and body health. Below, I detail some of those benefits and how best to access them.
Never get into a dangerous body of water. Also, never do deliberate hyperventilation before or during cold water (or any water!) immersion. Start slow (warmer than colder)—as cold shock is possible; just as with lifting weights or other forms of exercise, you’ll need to find the right temperature for you, yet prioritize safety.
How cold? This is the most common question I hear, and it makes sense to ask that. However, it is truly impossible to answer, as some people tolerate cold better than others. The key is to aim for a temperature that evokes the thought, “This is really cold (!), and I want to get out, BUT I can safely stay in.” For some people, that temperature might be 60°F, whereas for others, 45°F.
Here is the key: the colder the stimulus (water immersion, shower, etc.), the shorter amount of time you need to expose yourself to the cold. One study showed significant and prolonged increases in dopamine when people were in cool (60°F) water for about an hour up to their neck, with their head above water. Other studies describe significant increases in epinephrine from just 20 seconds in very cold water (~40°F). The good news is that as you do deliberate cold exposure more often, you will be more comfortable in the cold at all times and can start to use colder temperatures with more confidence, just like exercise.
Ice bath, cold shower, or cryo?Most of the studies use ice baths or cold water immersion to the neck. Those are best, but cold showers can work too (and are more accessible to most). Cryo is very expensive and harder to access and not subject to much variation in protocols, so it is not considered here.
To Increase Energy and Focus
Deliberate cold exposure causes a significant release of epinephrine (aka adrenaline) and norepinephrine (aka noradrenaline) in the brain and body. These neurochemicals make us feel alert and can make us feel agitated and as if we need to move or vocalize during the cold exposure. Cold causes their levels to stay elevated for some time and their ongoing effect after the exposure is to increase your level of energy and focus, which can be applied to other mental and/or physical activities.
Building Resilience & Grit
By forcing yourself to embrace the stress of cold exposure as a meaningful self-directed challenge (i.e., stressor), you exert what is called ‘top-down control’ over deeper brain centers that regulate reflexive states. This top-down control process involves your prefrontal cortex – an area of your brain involved in planning and suppressing impulsivity. That ‘top-down’ control is the basis of what people refer to when they talk about “resilience and grit.” Importantly, it is a skill that carries over to situations outside of the deliberate cold environment, allowing you to cope better and maintain a calm, clear mind when confronted with real-world stressors.
In other words, deliberate cold exposure is great training for the mind.
Enhancing Your Mood
While not true of every stress, cold exposure causes the prolonged release of dopamine. Dopamine is a powerful molecule capable of elevating mood, enhancing focus, attention, goal-directed behavior, etc. Even short bouts of cold exposure can cause a lasting increase in dopamine and sustained elevation of mood, energy, and focus.
In the short-term, cold exposure increases metabolism as the body has to burn calories to increase core body temperature. The total calories burned from the cold exposure are not that significant. However, the conversion of white fat (energy storage) to beige or brown fat (which are highly metabolically active) can be beneficial for:
Of course, calories on (consumed) versus calories out (metabolized) or “CICO” governs whether you gain, lose, or maintain weight. There is no escaping the laws of thermodynamics.
A Solid Basic, Science-Supported Protocol
Consider doing deliberate cold exposure for 11 minutes per week TOTAL. NOT per session, but rather, 2-4 sessions lasting 1-5 mins each distributed across the week. Again, the water temperature should be uncomfortably cold yet safe to stay in for a few minutes. You can do more, but this should be the minimum to achieve the benefits of cold exposure. You can do very cold, very brief exposures for adrenaline release too, but the 11 minutes is based on a recent study that explored a range of effects and is a good solid, basic protocol for ongoing use.
The “Counting Walls” Approach
Undoubtedly, during (or before) cold exposure, you will find your mind pushing back against the challenge. Your mind will say, “I really don’t want to do this,” even before getting in, or “Get me out of here.” You can imagine those mental barriers as ‘walls.’ Those walls are, in fact, the effects of adrenaline pulses in your brain and body, which in this case is what triggers the eventual adaptive response. After all, if it were easy, then there is no stimulus for your body to change (adapt). By maintaining top-down control of your reflexive urge to exit the cold environment, you will have successfully traversed that wall. Challenge yourself by counting walls and setting a goal of “walls” to traverse (e.g., 3-5 walls) during the round of cold exposure. You can also go for time. Up to you. The advantage of the walls approach is that it carries over to other scenarios more seamlessly, as most of life’s stressors don’t lend themselves so well to merely timing the duration until it passes. It also enhances your sense of mind-body connection to do it this way.
Shivering and The Søeberg PrincipleThe Søeberg Principle based on deliberate cold researcher Dr. Susanna Søeberg is: To enhance the metabolic effects of cold, force your body to reheat on its own. Or “End With Cold.”
Also, allowing your body to shiver may enhance metabolic increases from cold. Shivering causes the release of succinate from muscles and further activates brown fat thermogenesis.
Try this protocol to increase shivering, either during or immediately after cold exposure:
Don’t huddle or cross your arms while in the cold or after getting out. Also, don’t towel off. Let your body reheat and dry off naturally. Admittedly, this is tough. Unless doing deliberate cold exposure on a hot sunny day, admittedly, I prefer to take a hot shower and towel dry after cold exposure, but I am no doubt limiting the metabolic effect by doing that.
Physical Recovery A meta-analysis of cold-water immersion effects on recovery found that cold exposure can be a highly effective recovery tool after high-intensity exercise or endurance training. Short interval (< 5 mins), cold water immersion demonstrated positive outcomes for muscle power, perceived recovery, and decreased muscle soreness (in part due to a reduction in circulating creatine kinases).
The problem is that cold water immersion (but not cold showers) can limit some of the gains in hypertrophy, strength or endurance if done in the 4 hours or so after training. It’s better to wait 6 to 8 or more hours until after training, or do it before training UNLESS your goal is simply to recover without adaptation (for instance, when in a competition mode and not trying to get better, stronger, etc.)
Day or night?
After cold exposure, your body heats up. Yes, HEATS up. Body temperature increases tend to wake us up, whereas body temperature decreases tend to shift us toward sleepy states. Thus, I suggest using deliberate cold early in the day and not too close to bedtime. Sometimes it’s better to do it late than never, but not if it perturbs your sleep. If deliberate cold affects your sleep, try doing it earlier in the day, or not at all.
Increasing the Resilience-Enhancing Effects of Deliberate Cold Exposure
Staying completely still while in cold water allows a thermal layer to surround your body, ‘insulating’ you from the cold. To be most effective as a resilience training tool, move your limbs while keeping your hands and feet in the water. That will break up the thermal layer and you will experience the water as (much) colder than if you stayed still. This is also a good way to increase the potency of a cold stimulus without having to make the water colder. This is akin to slowing down the movement of a weight lift to reduce momentum and provide more tension on the working muscles.
Thank you for your interest!
I will answer all questions! Please feel free to drop them in the comments or email me directly @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: KM Fitness is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this podcast or materials linked from this podcast is at the user’s own risk. The content of this podcast, blog and website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard or delay in obtaining medical advice for any medical condition they may have and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.
Case Study: Gut Health Journey #10
Blog Post by Coach Julie
NCI Certified Nutrition Coach L1 & Certified Mindset Coach
I began Phase 4, the reintroduction phase, on July 7th. With this phase I started 2 new supplements Flora Protect and a supplement called PepZin GI. These two supplements are to repopulate the gut with good bacteria and to protect the gut barrier and gut immunity. I will maintain the S. Boulardii with these two supplements and I have continued the peppermint oil. I am reintroducing foods on a 3 day cycle. The first day, I will consume half a serving of a certain food. If I don’t have symptoms, I will continue to day two where I will consume a half serving twice per day. Assuming there are still no symptoms, I will eat a normal serving on day 3. Day 4 is a rest day, to make sure that I don’t experience any delayed symptoms. Sometimes delayed symptoms can occur if you’re experiencing constipation so we’ve built in a rest day to allow any symptoms to subside before we start a new 3 day cycle with a different food. After the end of the cycle, if there were no symptoms, I have been waiting a week or so and then reincorporating those foods back into my normal diet.
Since the last update, I have reintroduced: salsa, amino energy (inulin) and alfredo. All have been a successful introduction. There were no noticeable symptoms with any of those items.
Upon the completion of the 3 day cycle for these remaining foods, I had successfully completed a 21 week reintroduction phase. I did not have any foods that stood out as terrible triggers for my gut. I had some questionable issues with garlic, however I believe those to be dose dependent. This Phase ended on November 29th.
I have discontinued all the supplements, including S. Boulardii, with the exception of the PepZin GI and Peppermint Oil. I will be continuing those through Phase 5, the Nexium cessation phase.
We have now moved onto Phase 5, effective December 2nd. During this phase, I will move through a minimum 4 week phase where I titrate off of Nexium to discontinue its use. Long term use of a PPI (proton pump inhibitor) can be very detrimental to your health. You should be using these PPIs (Nexium, Prilosec, etc) for 3 weeks at the most to treat a temporary flare up. Long term use of PPIs can lead to increased risk of cancer, risk of fractures, pneumonia, Clostridium difficile diarrhea, hypomagnesemia, vitamin B12 deficiency, chronic kidney disease, and dementia. If you have been using these medications long term, you should not stop abruptly. You should use a step down method to gradually decrease your dose. I have been taking Nexium for over 15 years so the process will take at least 4 weeks, but could potentially last longer.
During this phase, I will continue to take Zinc Carnosine at 75mg every morning on an empty stomach. I will also continue to take peppermint oil capsules before my morning and evening meals. Zinc carnosine reduces gut inflammation and helps protect the gut lining, which will be integral while my gut acid levels increase to their normal levels after being repressed for so long. Peppermint oil soothes the gut and helps prevent cramping and discomfort. I will also be adding in DGL chewables and Betaine HCL. The DGL chewables will be taken after my morning and evening meals. 3 tablets after each meal. The DGL chewable is Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Root. I have used this supplement in a capsule form earlier in my journey. DGL is often used to soothe the stomach and support healthy digestion by encouraging mucin production. The Betaine HCL will be added in as needed. Betaine HCL helps protect the gut wall and strengthens it throughout the process. I will be using it as needed should I begin having acid reflux symptoms.
After week one of this process, the withdrawal symptoms started. Week one consisted of reducing my Nexium to every other day rather than daily. After about day 4, I began noticing some mild diarrhea and headaches. I also noticed some weakness and dizziness. I am also having some reflux which is a most common and expected side effect. The reflux has been causing some nausea for me. Based on this, rather than moving to week 2, we decided to repeat week 1 again to see if my body would adjust. I continued to have symptoms so we will repeat week 1 for a third week to see if my body adjusts to the titration before moving to the next step of the process which will be reducing Nexium to once every two days.
Withdrawal symptoms from a PPI are common, especially after long term use. Symptoms frequently include acid reflux and indigestion. There are, however, less common side effects that include: anxiety, depression, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, constipation, headaches, dizziness and more.
As always, I will provide a case study update in 4 weeks, when I should have completed this final phase if my body responds well. My body has responded exceptionally well the last few months so I am hopeful this trend continues.
The Nutrition Hierarchy
The stuff on the bottom of the pyramid is the most important stuff. As you make your way up the pyramid, you get less and less meaningful impact per time invested.
1. Sustainability And Adherence
The most important thing about your diet? It has to be something you can stick to.
Even with fast weight loss, you'll still be dieting for quite some time. If your diet isn't something you can stick to for at least a few months, you won't be able to get results.
When I first started coaching, I gave all my clients macros - based on my own success with tracking.
What happened? Hardly anyone could stick to their diets.
This is exactly why we spend so much time initially talking about your lifestyle, and what diet structure will work best for you currently. That's how we create a diet easy for you to adhere to.
Now, our goal is NOT to keep you dieting for the rest of your life - so you don't have to be able to see yourself doing this for years... but it has to be maintainable for the course of the diet (typically 3-6 months).
So really, after the diet is over is when sustainability comes into play. The habits you've learned - eat protein at every meal, prepping ahead, focusing on high-volume foods, balancing calorie intake with movement - these are what allow you to sustain your new bangin' body composition once you get there.
Basically, you'll never just be able to eat crappy food constantly and be fit. So while you don't have to constantly be dieting - you do need to implement the healthy behaviors you've learned to sustain your results.
2. Energy Balance
-When you eat FEWER calories than you burn in a day, you lose weight.
-When you eat More calories than you burn in a day, you gain weight.
^This is how ALL diets work. They're simply different ways of getting you to eat less.
For everything else you could possibly want to know about energy balance, check out last week's email.
All your foods are made up of some combination (or at least one) of these “macros”.
Your macro intake can have a pretty big impact on your body composition, but it does NOT overrule energy balance. Calories in - calories out is still the most important factor.
The calories per gram varies a bit by macro:
*Protein: 1 gram of protein contains ~4 calories
*Carbohydrates: 1 gram of carbohydrate contains ~4 calories
*Fat: 1 gram of fat contains ~9 calories
*Ethanol (alcohol): 1 gram of pure ethanol contains ~7 calories
Keeping protein high is crucial to building a great body, BECAUSE:
2. Carbs: 5-10% of calories consumed are burned via TEF
3. Fat: 0-3% of calories consumed are burned via TEF
When you eat more protein, you're actually increasing the Calories outside of the energy balance equation, since you're burning more calories via TEF.
Well - no. You can absolutely drink and still hit your fat loss goals. Seriously, don't feel like you need to give up your social life entirely to get in great shape.
Now, your body views alcohol as a toxin. So priority one for your body after drinking is getting the alcohol out of your system A.S.A.P. To be more efficient at this, the body shuts down other processes to clear the system faster. Processes like: Oxidation of fat, hormone production, muscle tissue repair, etc.
Basically, when you drink, your results (losing body fat, building muscle) stop until your body clears the alcohol.
All that being said, fat loss still comes down to creating a calorie deficit. So no need to be afraid of alcohol.
To work alcohol into your daily intake:
*If you're tracking: swap preferably fat, and then carb calories for macros.
-For fat: divide the total calories in your drink by 9. The resulting number is the grams of fat to subtract from your daily intake.
-For carbs: divide the total calories in your drink by 4. The resulting number is the grams of carbs to subtract from your daily intake.
Basically, always keep your protein higher. Carbs and fats are going to have to take a hit. Try to keep carbs as high as possible, as long as possible. Don't let fat drop below 15% of your total calorie intake.
Ok - so this could get really boring. I'm not going to hit you with an exhaustive list of vitamins and minerals. We'll just cover the essentials quickly.
You've probably heard the term nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods are simply foods that are packed with vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are key to overall health, gym performance, and even your mental state.
Typically whole or minimally processed foods are nutrient-dense foods. Think - anything that comes from the earth OR lives on the earth. Meats, veggies, fruit, etc.
On the other hand, highly processed foods typically contain very few nutrients. Think - Food that's produced in a factory. Typically a very long ingredient list.
Now, the five most common micronutrient deficiencies are:
As far as fruits and veggies - a good rule of thumbs is to eat one serving of fruits and veggies for every 500 calories you consume.
So how important is food quality?
Here's the thing - you could eat only Twinkies and lose weight, as long as you maintained a calorie deficit.
For real. The professor in THIS STUDY ate strictly Twinkies and the like for 10 weeks.
Dude lost 27 LBs, while eating strictly highly-processed, sugar-laden foods. All he did was maintain a calorie deficit.
Now, do I recommend this approach? Absolutely not.
Your health will be awful. You need adequate intake of the nutrients whole foods provide to feel good, perform in the gym, and function properly.
Plus, while dieting, you have to deal with being hungry often. Highly-processed foods are literally engineered to make you want to eat more. They're "hyper-palatable". Not ideal when the goal is to eat less.
Eating mostly unprocessed, whole foods will keep you full longer. Whole foods typically have more volume per calorie (you get more "bang for your buck" as far as satiety per calorie goes). They also generally contain more fiber, which also increases satiety.
So does your diet have to be strictly chicken breasts and tilapia? No way.
But - making 80-90%of your diet whole foods will make the process much easier, and you'll feel better throughout.
From there, you're free to enjoy the other 10-20% of your calorie intake from whatever your heart desires (as long as you work it into your food intake goals) without any negative effects on your results OR your health.
5. Meal/Nutrient Timing
How many times have you heard: "You HAVE TO eat six meals a day to lose weight."
^This is super not true.
The thinking behind this myth was - due to TEF, you burn more calories (via digestion) when you're eating. So eating more often means you're burning more calories.
Thing is - on average, TEF is about 10% of the calories you intake. 10% of a larger meal, or a smaller meal. Whether you eat 2,000 calories in 4 different 500 calorie meals, or in 2 different 1,000 calories makes no difference. TEF at the end of the day will still be 10% of 2,000 calories.
So does meal timing/number of meals matter at all?
Well, yes. It CAN make a difference. Just be sure to prioritize. All the stuff we've talked about previous to this makes MUCH more difference for your body composition. Treat it as such.
A few things to consider:
The most important thing - finding the meal frequency that is easiest for you to adhere to. (Anecdotally, clients usually do best with 3-4 per day.)
“Get ripped in two weeks with the SuperShred-69 fat burner!... And don’t forget to use my promo code.”
-J. Swollzz, Instagram Fitness Model
Most everyone has tried some type of fat burner, detox, etc. expecting dramatic results...and…..nothing.
The problem is, the supplement industry is crazy good at selling on the idea that “the thing” is out there somewhere.
You know, "the thing" that’s finally gonna get you the body you want, without having to put in years of hard work and consistency.
"The thing" doesn't exist.
Truth is, most legal supplements do little to nothing. That's why they're way up here, at the top of the pyramid.
Are any supplements worth the money?
*A Note On Proprietary Blends:
Supplement labels often include “proprietary blends”. This allows for the total amount of ingredients in the blend to be listed, while leaving the exact amount of each individual ingredient unspecified.
Taking supplements containing proprietary blends is much more likely to be a health hazard.
Finally, do your own research. The following is purely informative, not a recommendation. It’s up to you to determine if a supplement is safe to take.
That being said, a few supplements do have merit.
Creatine is an extremely well researched supplement, with the most effective form being creatine monohydrate.
Our bodies use creatine phosphate as a fuel source for the first few seconds of intense or explosive movement/exercise. Think of supplementing with creatine as “topping off the tank”. It allows you to maintain high-intensity exercise for slightly longer.
This means an increase in strength, and overall workload you’re able to handle in the gym, equating to building more muscle.
That being said, the effects of creatine are far from “steroid-like”, but it is a proven supplement to aid building muscle and strength.
3-5 grams/day will do the trick.
We’re all well-versed in/potentially addicted to this one.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. Although considered a psychoactive drug, its use is extremely common and mostly unregulated.
Of all the supplements on this list, caffeine has by far the most noticeable effects. Not only does caffeine boost mood, alertness and mental clarity, it also has some real benefits to your workouts.
Research shows that caffeine decreases perceived effort, increases power output, and improves endurance.
Not that you needed an excuse for more caffeine, but it’s a real performance booster. Just keep your intake reasonable. Ideally less than 400mg per day.
If you’re able to hit your daily protein requirements entirely from whole foods, there’s no need to use a protein powder. Protein powders are lacking many of the micronutrients that quality, whole food protein sources will have.
But, if you’re struggling to meet your daily protein requirements, supplementing with a protein powder can be helpful.
Whey protein and casein proteins have the best amino acid profiles of available protein powders. They're the easiest for your body to absorb and use. It’s debatable which is superior. The body digests whey protein quicker than casein protein.
Whey and casein protein are derivatives of milk. So if animal products are a no-go for you: pea or rice proteins have the best amino acid profiles.
Getting all of your micronutrients from whole foods is ideal.
Ideal, but not always realistic. Taking a multivitamin is a good way to ensure your daily micronutrient needs are met.
We obtain vitamin D naturally through food and sunlight.
The issue? Most of us don’t get enough time in the sun, and the amount of vitamin D is negligible in most foods outside of fatty fish. As a result, vitamin D deficiency is extremely common
Taking a vitamin D or Cod liver oil supplement can be extremely helpful in preventing this deficiency.
The typical recommended dose is 1,000-2,000 IU per day
EPA And DHA (Fish Oil)
EPA and DHA are essential fatty acids. Now, if you eat fatty fish 2+ times per week, you're good on these. If not, a fish oil supplement can help.
Typically, 1-2g EPA + DHA per day is advised.
Again, supplements are the LEAST important factor. You'll rarely see any noticeable difference from taking a supplement. So don’t get caught up in the minutiae of things like supplements, and forget to focus on the things that really make a difference when it comes to changing your body.
Ok, got all that?
A quick summary:
Week Three: The Nutrition Hierarchy
1. Finding a diet you can adhere to and learn sustainable behaviors from is by far the most important factor.
2. You must have a negative energy balance for weight loss. You need a positive energy balance for weight gain.
3. Adequate protein is super important. Carbs and fat intake can be geared towards what is easiest for you to adhere to.
4. 80-90% of your food intake should come from whole foods.
5. Meal timing doesn't matter all that much if you don't have 1-4 dialed in. Eating 3-5 meals per day is slightly more ideal. The most important factor is finding a meal frequency that fits your lifestyle.
6. Supplements typically make little to no difference. A few will help you hit your nutrient needs, and/or slightly improve gym performance.
Hit comment with any questions!
- Coach Kayli
Kayli is a certified personal trainer and online coach that specializes in fitness, wellness, nutrition, mindset, mobility and everything in between.