All The “Cool” Kids Are Doing It: How Cold Water Impacts Weight Loss

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Some of you may remember a certain swimmer that won 8 Gold medals in 2008 at Beijing.  One of the announcers had mentioned that Michael Phelps ate on average 12,000 calories a day.  Yes that is not a typo…12,000 calories a day.

How does Michael Phelps look like this and eats enough for 5 people a day? I will tell you the cold hard facts.

Let me put this in perspective for you.  That is like sitting down at Golden Corral (or some other high-end buffet) and eating a days worth of food for five guys that weigh about 180 to 200 pounds.  That is a fat kids dream.

So the first thought may be…well look at him.  He is an olympic athlete.  He lives and breathes exercise.  And then you might drone on about, “Sure I could do the same thing if I had that lifestyle.”

But when you start doing the math it doesn’t add up.  That is a rediculous amount of food folks.  On the surface it doesn’t make any sense how a guy can look like this and eat as much as the starting five for the Eagan Wildcat High School Basketball team.  Let’s go to the calculator to show it.

Math Time For The Smart Kids

To understand the impact of exercise if you run a marathon you only burn around 2,600 calories.  That is like 3/4 of a pound of fat.  That is kind of depressing when you think about it.  So exertion through exercise alone is a very difficult way to burn fat.  A swimmer doing the butterfly burns on average 860 calories per hour.  That would mean Phelps would have to swim for about 11 hours a day to make up that difference of the 9,000 additional calories above what someone his body type would need.

I can tell you right now, you don’t need a calculator to know that no one, not even Michael Phelps himself, is doing that much exercise daily.

So there has to be something more.

The secret lies in the cold water.  Water is 24x more thermally conductive than air.  So while running a marathon can burn less than a pound or 2,600 calories, swimming for four hours can burn up to an additional 4,000 calories.  There is little doubt that cold water weight loss is a fast way toward rapid weight loss.

Most equations in the health industry for caloric intake vs. expenditure doesn’t take into account thermodynamics.  And let’s be honest, how many fitness experts know about the the laws of thermodynamics.  Probably not a lot. I don’t claim to know either of these areas very well, but this works!

This extends beyond just cold water.  The same thing happens when people climb highly elevated mountains like Mount Everest.  You can easily drop your 25 extra pounds in one trip up Mount Everest.  In order to make it, climbers have to eat excessive fat in the form of sticks of butter to keep the weight and energy necessary to make it to the top.

Other Factors?

Author Tim Ferriss of the Four Hour Body mentions that there is another fact involved called BAT or Brown Adipose Tissue.  BAT is known as a tissue that is fat burning other fat (white adipose tissue) and appears to be derived from the same stem cells as muscle tissue.  BAT helps dissipate excess calories as heat, which would otherwise be stored as fat.  The cold helps to trigger the BAT to burn fat and glucose as heat.  BAT was once thought to only be present in babies, but recent studies have shown that it is prominent in the neck and upper back/chest areas.

How To Be Too Cool For School: Several Steps To Use Cold To Help With Fat Loss

Remember cold exposure is not the major ingredient to fat loss, but a huge accelerator of it.  This doesn’t excuse healthy eating, consistent exercise, and taking care of your body in general.  Don’t try to go overboard with this.  I am not accountable if you get frostbite or freeze off a limb.  Safety first and health second.

Let’s be careful how aggressive we take this cold exposure thing. We don’t want to end up like Jack did in The Shining.

  1. Climb Mount Everest: (I need a sarcasm meter here)  Most people aren’t going to be doing this, so we have to come up with some more simple ways for us common folk.
  2. Challenge Michael Phelps to daily races:  I have repeatedly challenged Phelps to a swimming duel.  He doesn’t respond.  I don’t know why becuase of the huge traffic we get to the site.  So I don’t know what to do about this matter.  I might not be faster than him, but I know I can at least stop him.  I plan on wearing spikes strapped to the side of my legs pointing out at my opponent.  Think chariot race in Ben-Hur.  I digress.  Swim, swim, swim.  Get in a half hour every other day if you can.  If you have lifted or ran for any extended period of time, you will notice how your appetite will go through the roof after swimming.  Make sure to eat plenty of calories afterwards such as protein, fats, and lean carbs.
  3. A bottle of H2O in the morn’: As soon as you wake up, make sure to drink at least 500 ml of ice water right when you wake up.  Do this on an empty stomach.  This will increase your resting metabolic rate 24-30%, peaking at 40-60 minutes post-consumption.  Make sure to eat within 30-60 minutes of waking up as well.
  4. Ice Pack on the Back:  During the evening while reading, watching sports, or watching a movie (or whatever you do for fun) lay a towel down on your bed or couch and place an ice pack on the towel.  Lay with your upper back and neck against the ice pack for 20-30 minutes.  Why the evening?  The insulin sensitivity is at it’s lowest.
  5. Cold Shower:  This one seems to be the hardest for me.  This is like a smack in the face in the morning…with brass knuckles.  (Sounds really enticing huh?)  Take a 5-10 minute shower either right when you get up or right before bed.  Use hot water for the first 1-2 minutes over your whole body, then step out of the water range and turn it to cold.  You may want to slowly adjust this so you can avoid dropping vulgar words.  First, rinse your head and your face alone.  Then turn around and back into the cold water with the water hitting your neck and upper back for 1-3 minutes.

You may ask why all of this neck and upper back stuff.  Remember that BAT (fat that burns other fat) is highly located in the neck, upper back, and upper chest region.  We want to target these areas like a heat-seeking missile.

So there you have it Ice Freaks.  Remember this isn’t the end-all.  This is just a way to help to accelerate the process.  It will make your healthy eating and exercise that much more valuable.

Let me know how it goes.


Cade is the founder of Know My Body. doctor degree, fancy gym, multi-million dollar fitness program, or label as a self-proclaimed health guru of biblical proportions. He is a common guy just like you. Maybe that helps him get you a bit better.

He has worked the past several years trying to get a grasp of "health knowledgeries" from the perspective of a person working a 9 to 5 job and dealing with the normal and not-so-normal challenges that life gives. Visit our About Page to chew on some more knowledge about Cade and how we want to help you at Know My Body.

About Cade

Cade is the founder of Know My Body. doctor degree, fancy gym, multi-million dollar fitness program, or label as a self-proclaimed health guru of biblical proportions. He is a common guy just like you. Maybe that helps him get you a bit better. He has worked the past several years trying to get a grasp of "health knowledgeries" from the perspective of a person working a 9 to 5 job and dealing with the normal and not-so-normal challenges that life gives. Visit our About Page to chew on some more knowledge about Cade and how we want to help you at Know My Body.

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