The Science of Running
Cryosauna vs. Ice Bath; Protein for Runners; Training by Heart-rate Variability; Effort vs. Exertion
To hasten your recover y f rom a punishing ordeal like a marathon, is it better to soak in a tub of cold water at 8 C or shiver in a puff supercooled nitrogen vapour at -85 C? That’s what researchers at Middlesex University in Britain aimed to determine in a recent study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. They asked 31 volunteers to run a marathon, then randomized them to one of the recovery protocols or a placebo immediately after the race and monitored strength, soreness and blood markers of inf lammation and muscle damage for the next 48 hours.
The main conclusion of the study was that whole-body cryotherapy, a trendy and expensive recovery aid, was actually worse than an ice bath on most outcome measures. The runners who got the cryosauna treatment had worse muscle function, perceptions of soreness and blood test values than the ice bath group. Moreover, even the ice bath group was no better off than the placebo group, which received a drink that supposedly contained a recovery-boosting extract from tart cherry juice (although it was really just sugar water).
As the researchers note, it’s hard to draw def init ive, once-and-for-all conclusions from studies like this. The ice baths in this study, at 8 C, may have been a little too cold – most studies (and, in practice, most athletes) opt for a temperature between 10 and 15 C. Conversely, the cryosauna may not have been cold enough. Still, the results are underwhelming – and they suggest that, if you like a dose of cold after hard workouts or races, an inexpensive ice bath remains your best bet.