Now that we understand a little more about the role inflammation plays in recovery and training adaptations, ice bath use needs to be reassessed.
Like NSAIDs, the goal of an ice bath is to reduce inflammation following a workout. But, we now understand that inflammation may actually help promote recovery and training adaptations. Moreover, reducing inflammation may inhibit fitness gains.
So, where do ice baths fit in now?
The Nike Oregon Project (thanks to Steve Magness and Dr. Jeff Messer for outlining how the Oregon Project uses ice baths) actually changes their use of ice baths depending on the group's current phase of training.
In the adaptive phase, when the athletes are trying to derive as much benefit from workouts as possible, they do not take ice baths. For the average runner, this is the phase when you're hitting your hardest workouts after a gradual build-up, and before the taper (or the last two weeks of training before a goal race).
In the restorative phase, when athletes are preparing their bodies for competition, they do use ice baths. This is because in the last two weeks of training, you're not looking to enhance fitness from a workout (since you can't benefit from a workout in that short amount of time), but rather to feel as fresh and strong as possible.
The takeaway: Don't take ice baths after your hardest workouts, or on a daily basis. Use ice baths in the final weeks of your training to help your body feel rested and strong for race day.
You Take Antioxidants to Reduce Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress, a term used to describe the release of hormones and other chemicals in response to physiological stress, is believed to inhibit recovery, and suppress the immune system. As such, many runners take antioxidants, like vitamin C, to help reduce oxidative stress and therefore recover faster.
But, like inflammation, our previous understanding of how antioxidants work is being challenged. It's now understood that trying to block or reduce all oxidative stress can be detrimental to training adaptations.