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Why Being Cold Is Actually Good for You

Posted on January 28, 2020 by The Athletic Room Team

Imagine eating the following for breakfast: Three fried-egg sandwiches with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. Two cups of coffee. One five-egg omelet. One bowl of grain. Three slices of French toast topped with three chocolate-chip pancakes.

I don’t mean that’s brunch for a crowd, that is your breakfast for the day!  Your first thought is probably, I would be so overweight if I ate like that every day.  Well, that my friend was the diet of Michael Phelps in 2008 when he came home with 20+ medals.

It obviously begs the question; how could he eat that much and be so athletic?  We wanted to know the same thing, so we dug deeper into the human body’s ability to consume and burn 7000- 10,000 calories in one day.

Research takes us back to 1969 -1971 to the NASA astronauts.  When astronauts came back from their space missions, they had found not only huge amounts of weight loss, but they had huge performance gains in some of the research protocols that they were being tested on.

The results couldn’t be explained, and when they weren’t able to find this information in the regular exercise physiology literature, NASA had to scour planet earth for someone who could explain these significant changes.

Where did they end up? At the top of Mount Everest in the Himalayan Mountains with the Sherpas.  Most people who are exercise enthusiasts know that the Sherpas can do some amazing things that most other human beings can’t. The Sherpas can adapt to the mountain environment within two to three days before they go up to Mt. Everest.  However, the people that hire them as guides take up to three weeks to adapt at the base camp environment.

Pulling all this research together they realized that they could use cold adaptation as a huge advantage in many different aspects of medicine, not only for obesity and diabetes, but for performance and longevity.

The reason why exercise has always been shown to increase lean muscle mass and eventually performance is because you’re getting a hormetic effect from glycogen depletion. Now we know that the cold-adaptation phase or cold exposure alone also depletes glycogen.

Let’s look back at Michael Phelps. There of course is the athletic factor of swimming, it’s a whole-body workout, making use of all four limbs moving at the same time, through dense liquid.  However, it’s still not enough without swimming for upwards of 12 hours at a time for the body to burn that many calories on swimming alone.

So how did it happen? His body would lose heat to the surrounding cold pool water and he would have to expend a greater amount of energy on temperature regulation and breathing, cold-adaptation.

Did you know, you burn your glycogen off from your muscles just by shivering? It’s actually metabolically way more efficient to burn calories this way than it is to exercise. So, submerge Phelps into a cold swimming pool for hours a day and its no wonder he can not only burn calories at such a high level, his performance is also off the charts.

When the cold is sustained for a long period of time, it has huge effects on the brain. It makes the brain work much more efficiently.   Most athletes think it’s all about the body but the quickest way to change your game is to change your brain.  Once you understand that, you will be unstoppable!  Curious how cold adaption works and how it can help you?  Visit us at The Athletic Room to learn more.