After a hard workout on a hot day there is nothing like a cold shower and guzzling ice water. It’s a primal human urge to seek out nice, cold, delicious water when your insides are piping hot. There’s a good reason for this, too. Your body regulates its internal temperature tightly and it’s critical that your temperature doesn’t change much.
Many of your body’s chemical processes operate like a lock and key. When one molecule in your body fits together with some other molecule of just the right shape, like a puzzle piece, important things happen. Things like your nerves keeping an electric charge. Things that mean the difference between life and death. When your body temperature changes even a seemingly small amount the shapes of these molecules start to change. When they change the key no longer fits in the lock. At lower levels of hyper- or hypothermia (being too hot or too cold, respectively), the processes in your body won’t work as effectively. If your core temperature changes just a few degrees further, it will kill you.
For athletes this usually means performance suffers from overheating. When your muscles produce mechanical energy, they also produce a lot of heat from inefficiency. The heat is especially hard to keep under control in a hot external environment. There are two ways to keep hyperthermia under control. One is to remove heat into the surrounding environment, which is what happens when you sweat or get in an ice tub. The other is to introduce something cold internally.
Although there has been a fair amount of research on drinking cold fluids to reduce hyperthermia many of the methods have been inconsistent. One recent study, published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, reviewed the impact of drinking cold water on body temperature during cardio exercise, and then performance on subsequent resistance exercises like the bench press. The study found that drinking very cold water in intervals during cardio helped substantially to keep core body temperatures closer to normal than room temperature water. There was only a small improvement in subsequent resistance exercise performance, but this was likely due to the fact the body temperature extremes in this particular study weren’t as divergent from normal as in some other recent studies.
Although the resistance exercise wasn’t importantly impacted in this study, the more important factor was elucidated. Cold water ingestion is effective at helping athletes maintain an ideal body temperature for exercise. On a hot day or when exercising intensely, be sure to keep some cold water on hand to stay hydrated, and to prevent hyperthermia from bringing your performance down.
1. Danielle LaFata, et. al., “The effect of a cold beverage during an exercise session combining both strength and energy systems development training on core temperature and markers of performance,”Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9,44 (2012)
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