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Do Ice Baths Burn Fat Or Not, See What Science Says

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The recent surge in the popularity of cold plunges has sparked discussion about the benefits of ice baths for weight loss. However, information readily available online seems to be inconclusive at best. So, do ice baths burn fat, or is it a myth? Let’s find out what science says. We promise a clear and concise quick answer in a moment, with an explanation in greater detail coming right after.

Do Ice Baths Burn Fat? Evidence shows ice baths boost your metabolism, raising energy consumption, and thus calorie burning. However, the total daily calorie expenditure depends on the individual. With proper diet & exercise, you can use an ice bath for weight loss stimulation but don’t expect magic.

do ice bath burn fat or not

Does Ice Bathing Burn Fat?

If you’ve spent any time researching the health benefits of ice bathing online, you’ve probably seen weight loss come up over and over. However, this has led to a false belief that just the ice bath itself is an effective weight management tool. So, do ice baths burn calories?

If by that you mean can you sit inside an ice bath and just lose weight, then no. To be honest, you probably burned more calories setting up the bath than you did actually sitting in the cold water. But do ice baths help you lose weight? A bit, yes, and here’s how.

First of all, it’s important to learn the distinction between the three types of adipose tissue (the scientific term for fat): white, brown, and beige. White fat is the most abundant type and serves as the body’s “energy reserve”.

athlete taking ice bath

When you consume calories through food and drink, excess calories from that food are stored as triglycerides in white fat cells. You consume a small portion of that energy reserve throughout the day. If you don’t burn more calories than you consume, you gain weight.

Next, we have Brown adipose tissue (BAT) or simply brown fat. Despite their similarities, brown fat has a different core function compared to white fat. While both store calories for future use, brown fat is consumed to maintain heat through a natural process that is a part of Thermogenesis (temperature regulation).

Thermogenesis is a survival mechanism that aims to maintain optimal core body temperature (roughly 37°C/98.6°F) in all conditions. Naturally, this means that in cases of feeling cold, Thermogenesis kicks into higher gear and depletes our energy reserves to maintain optimal temperature.

Finally, there’s the beige fat, a transitional type that switches roles between white and brown depending on the body’s needs. In cases of extreme cold, beige fat activates to burn calories, contributing to an increased energy expenditure (calorie burn).

So, what does this mean for cold water immersion (CWI) and fat loss? One of the core studies on the benefits of CWI was done by Dr. Susanna Søberg. In her work, she compared the well-being of young and healthy winter swimmers to the general population.

She discovered that people who swam in cold water (roughly 14°C/57°F) 2-3 times a week had an increased BAT activity and an overall higher BAT percentage. In other words, in response to cold, they burned through calories faster and more efficiently than the average Joe.

ice bath cleaning before use

Okay, so how does that help you lose weight? In theory, you could use cold water immersion to boost your metabolic activity and, in combination with basic weight loss principles like diet and exercise, lose weight faster. However, you still have to put in the work.

With that said, how many calories does an ice bath burn? There is no definitive, scientifically-backed number as of yet, but it won’t be sufficient for weight loss on its own. Don’t confuse fat burning with fat loss. Fat burning is a process while fat loss is the final result that can only be achieved through calorie deficit.

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Other 4 Benefits Of Ice Bathing 

So, do ice baths increase metabolism? All the evidence points towards it. That said, the benefits of ice bathing far exceed potential weight management. Here are some scientifically proven benefits that may sway you to try cold water immersion as soon as possible:

✅ Muscle Recovery

Recently, CWI has grown in popularity as a post-exercise recovery method. Studies have shown that 15-minute sessions of CWI at 10°C (57°F) can reduce inflammation and muscle damage after an intense workout. Further studies also found that CWI speeds up recovery for athletes compared to passive waiting, suggesting it can be used to speed up the recovery process. Just keep in mind that it can also have detrimental effects on your adaptation process after a workout if you do it too soon.

✅ Cardiovascular Improvement

Dr. Søberg’s research proved that winter swimmers have an increased metabolic rate. However, water immersion therapy has been known to improve cardiovascular health for decades already. Studies have suggested that immersion in water of roughly 14°C (57°F), affected heart rate, blood flow, and fluid regulation (and kidney health)

diving into ice bath

An improved cardiovascular system carries all sorts of health and well-being benefits, from protection against common heart and blood-related diseases (think Arrhythmia, Diabetes), to basic everyday functions like cold resistance and increased libido.

✅ Stronger Immunity

Although still highly debated, some researchers have begun suggesting using cold exposure therapy as a means of naturally triggering the immune system without getting sick. The idea is that, over time, people would develop a stronger immune system. Some studies have found it plausible, with noticeable effects after just six weeks. 

Common sense suggests that if you are not resistant to cold temperatures, experiencing them can lower your immune system strength and potentially put you at risk of catching an infection. I like to say – if you don’t expose yourself to cold, cold will eventually come to you, and then you might not be properly prepared.

✅ Mental Well-being

A study looking at the effects of swimming in cold water found that even a single 20-minute swimming session in roughly 13.6°C water temperature showed lower tension, anger, depression, fatigue, and confusion among the subjects.

More importantly, the subjects self-reported this mental state improvement as well, meaning that the impact was evident on a person-to-person basis, highly suggesting CWI as an immediate intervention for momentary mental health decline. But that’s not all. More recently, cold showers have started being recommended more and more as a natural treatment for depression.

How To Do Ice Bathing To Lose Fat?

So far, we’ve learned that ice bathing can’t significantly burn fat on its own and that fat burning is not the same as fat loss, but is a welcome addition to any weight loss program. With that in mind, here are some important principles to adopt if you plan on using an ice bath for weight loss:

1. Shivering Is  Important

Just lying in an ice bath is only a small part of the equation of using cold therapy for weight loss. The real kicker to the dopamine and metabolic boost following CWI is letting your body naturally recover heat and activate BAT, potentially turning WAT into BAT as well.

athlete after taking ice bath

Furthermore, shivering plays a pivotal role in human thermogenesis (temperature regulation). During an ice bath, remaining relatively still, shivering becomes a way of heat production due to the constrained environment of cold water immersion (CWI).

2. Incorporate Exercise

We’ve already established that ice bathing can be an added component to fat burn, but won’t work on its own for any significant weight loss. If you want to use a cold plunge to lose weight faster, the best thing you can do is incorporate cardio exercise and/or resistance training into your weekly routine.

For example, you can do short-term, low-temperature ice baths (1-3 minutes at 1-9 0°C/34°F) in the morning followed by a workout in the afternoon or evening. Alternatively, if you ice bathe 2-3 times per week for longer (ex. 30-60 minutes at ~15°C/59°F), consider working out the next day. According to Harvard Medical School publishing, among popular cardio activities, the top calorie burners include running and cycling at a moderate to high pace.

2. Mind What You Eat

Ultimately, weight loss depends on the principle known as staying in a Calorie Deficit. What it means is, in short, the only way to lose weight is if you spend more calories during a day than you consume through food and drink. In theory, you can eat a Big Mac, fries, and a large soda every day and you’ll still be able to lose weight, assuming you somehow managed to spend the over 1000 calories you just took in (if we ignore other kcal intakes, the other potential downsides of processed, high in refined sugar content food for the sake of example).

So, you won’t lose weight by sitting in an ice bath, you’ll have to combine it with a proper diet and exercise to maximize the metabolic uptick.

Who Should Avoid Cold Plunge?

First things first, ice bathing should not be taken up before a regular physical exam and a doctor’s approval. The practice can be strenuous on the body, particularly if you’re inexperienced in this sort of thing. While offering numerous health-boosting benefits, it’s also not safe for everyone. For example, if you have a history of heart, bloodstream, or respiratory issues it may be dangerous to your health and even life.

People with hereditary or acquired autoimmune or cardiovascular disorders, as well as a weakened central nervous system, should particularly exercise caution when selecting the time and temperature, as they may not be as sensitive to cold stimuli.

Ice Barrel We Recommend For Ice Bathing & Weight Loss

Ice Barrel 300

ice barrell 300
  • Dimensions: 35.5”W x  30.5”H
  • Weight: 61 lbs
  • Material: Recycled plastic
  • Shape: Cylinder
  • Installation type: Place anywhere
  • Capacity: 77 gallons
  • Package: Tub, lid, chiller plug, user manual, warranty
  • Warranty: Lifetime
  • Extra features: Built-in seat, chiller port, drainage port

Are you interested in cold plunges but don’t feel like wasting hundreds of dollars on a wellness and spa subscription? Does the hassle of making your ice bath by hand sound tedious? If the answers to these questions are “Yes”, then investing in a proper cold plunge tub is the best choice for you. The personal ice tub of choice for our staff is the Ice Barrel 300.

This fully insulated, UV-resistant tub can keep the water cold for days on end. Changing water is easy thanks to the built-in drainage port, and the chiller port (attachment included) can help you quickly cool and maintain the ideal water temperature for you. It’s compact enough for home use but still big enough to hose a person up to 6’2” and 250 lbs.

ice barell 300 instagram
Photo by @dmausjr

It’s also easy to carry around thanks to the side handles, allowing you to store it wherever when it’s not used. The Ice Barrel 300 is manufactured in the U.S.A. and is backed by a lifetime warranty, on top of having a comparatively fair price.

FAQ

Is Ice Water Good For Fat Burning?

Lying in ice water can lead to an increase in metabolic rate, which is good conditioning if you plan on weight loss. Interestingly, a study showed that drinking ice water increased Brown adipose tissue (BAT) activity to some degree as well, for roughly 40-60 minutes after consumption.

Does Ice Speed Up Metabolism?

Not so much the ice itself, but being exposed to cold. Though the topic is complex, it’s generally true that cold exposure can increase metabolic rate, and people more adapted to colder climates may have faster metabolism.

Conclusion

To summarize, do ice baths burn fat: Not in the literal sense, but they can be used to boost your metabolism, which can make your body process calories faster. But is cold water good for weight loss? Evidently so, to some extent. Now you know how you can use cold water immersion to boost your metabolism. With the right approach in diet and exercise, you can use this effect to speed up your weight loss and improve your health status.

We’d love to hear from you as well. Have you tried ice bathing before? If so, what was the experience like? Leave a comment letting us know and remember to give us a follow on social media if you’re interested in similar health and fitness content.

Also read:

References:

  1. Aryane Flauzino Machado, Paulo Henrique Ferreira, Jéssica Kirsch Micheletti, Aline Castilho de Almeida, Ítalo Ribeiro Lemes, Franciele Marques Vanderlei, Jayme Netto Junior, Carlos Marcelo Pastre, “Can Water Temperature and Immersion Time Influence the Effect of Cold Water Immersion on Muscle Soreness? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” – Sports Medicine vol. 46 (2016), 503-514
  2. B. Strasser, A. Spreitzer, P. Haber, “Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independently of the method for weight loss” – Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism vol. 51, no. 5 (2007), 428-432
  3. Alexander Pfeifer 1, Linda S Hoffmann, “Brown, beige, and white: the new color code of fat and its pharmacological implications” – Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology vol. 55 (2015), 207-227
  4. “Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights” – Harvard Medical School https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-for-people-of-three-different-weights (Accessed Jan. 22, 2023)
  5. Eva V. Osilla, Jennifer L. Marsidi, Karlie R. Shumway, Sandeep Sharma, “Physiology, Temperature Regulation” (StatPearls [Internet], Treasure Island, Florida, 2023)
  6. François Haman, Denis P. Blondin, “Shivering thermogenesis in humans: Origin, contribution and metabolic requirement” – Temperature (Austin) vol. 4, no 3. (2017), 217-226
  7. Herve Pournot, Francois Bieuzen, Rob Duffield, Pierre-Marie Lepretre, Christophe Cozzolino, Christophe Hausswirth, “Short term Effects of Various Water Immersions on Recovery from Exhaustive Intermittent Exercise” – European Journal of Applied Physiology vol. 111, no. 7 (2011), 1287-1295
  8. José Joaquín Muros, Bethany Green, Albert Domenech, David Edward Morris, Helen Budge, 
  9. Michael E Symonds, James Law, “Activation of Brown Adipose Tissue through Drinking Ice-Water as Determined by Infrared Thermography
  10. L. Janský, D. Pospísilová, S. Honzová, B. Ulicný, P. Srámek, V. Zeman, J. Kamínková, “Immune system of cold-exposed and cold-adapted humans” – European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology vol. 72, no. 5-6 (1996), 445-450
  11. Nikolai A. Shevchuk, “Adapted Cold Shower as a Potential Treatment for Depression” – Medical Hypotheses vol. 70, no. 5 (2008), 995-1001
  12. P. Srámek , M. Simecková, L. Janský, J. Savlíková, S. Vybíral, “Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures” – European Journal of Applied Physiology vol. 81, no. 5 (2000), 434-442
  13. Susanna Søberg, Johan Löfgren, Frederik E. Philipsen, Michal Jensen, Adam E. Hansen, Esben Ahrens, Kristin B. Nystrup, Rune D. Nielsen, Christine Sølling, Anne-Sophie Wedell-Neergaard, Marianne Berntsen, Annika Loft, Andreas Kjær, Zachary Gerhart-Hines, Helle H. Johannesen, Bente K. Pedersen, Kristian Karstoft, Camilla Scheele, “Altered brown fat thermoregulation and enhanced cold-induced thermogenesis in young, healthy, winter-swimming men” – Cells Report Medicine vol. 2, no. 2 (2021), e100408

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By trusting the recommendations of our certified experts in coaching, nutrition, dietology, and sports training programming, as well as scientific consultants, and physiotherapists, we provide you with thorough, well-considered, and scientifically proven content. All the information given in the articles concerning workout programming, separate exercises, and athletic performance, in general, is based on verified data. We ensure that you can rely on our professionals’ pieces of advice and recommendations that can be treated as personalized ones which will benefit you and fully meet your needs.

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Jacek Szymanowski

Author: Jacek Szymanowski

Certified Nutritionist,
M.Sc.Eng. Biotechnology
Performance Architect,
Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Experience: 20 years

With over 30 years of fighting experience, specialization in nutrition coaching for athletes, and expertise in metabolic health and dietary strategies, Jacek offers a comprehensive approach to optimizing your performance and well-being. Backed by a Master of Science degree in Biotechnology, Jacek remains at the forefront of scientific advancements, ensuring that his coaching is always evidence-based and up-to-date.

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