Do Cold Showers Burn Fat? (The Science-Backed Truth)

Do cold showers burn fat? Or is it just ANOTHER new trend with no actual science to back it up? 

Look, just like you, I am tired of trying to keep up with trends and rumors. If you really want to know the facts behind the idea that cold showers can burn fat, you are in the right place!

I will break down the effect of intermittent cold exposure, debunk the concept of it helping you burn fat and lose weight, and present the science and studies for a straightforward and no-BS answer.

Let’s get to it!

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Can Taking a Cold Shower Help You Lose Weight?

Woman and shower with text that says "Do cold showers burn fat?"

It can! Cold showers may help burn fat. Cold water immersion, such as cold plunges or ice baths, is an even better option. Why? They are more intense on the body, and for another key reason, I won’t talk about just yet. 

So, what’s the secret behind cold showers, cold plunges, and ice baths that supposedly promote weight loss? 

Get ready because it’s not going to be what you expect. 

Shivering.

Yes, you read that right—good old shivering.

First, it’s essential to understand that our metabolism is composed of 4 different areas: 

  • RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate)
  • Activity Level.
  • NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis)
  • The Thermic Effect Of Food.

For simplicity, I won’t go into the details of each area. You need to know that shivering falls into the NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) category in your metabolism. Shivering actually triggers the release of epinephrine (adrenaline), a key player in activating, mobilizing, and burning fat. 

So, we know that cold water immersion and showers are a great way to stimulate a response to cold, potentially burn fat, and actually help you lose weight. But, how does this exactly work? And how exactly are you supposed to go about cold exposure to benefit from these thermogenic effects?

Yay! My favorite part. Let’s dive into the nerdy stuff.

What is White, Beige, and Brown Fat?

Before discussing the impact of cold exposure on fat, it is important to understand a few things, so don’t lose me here! I promise it will all make sense and tie together in the end.

There are different types of fat: white, brown, and beige. They aren’t created equal.

First, let me address the elephant in the room: fat isn’t bad. We all need a certain amount of fat to live, so let’s stop demonizing it. There is fat that is great for us and can help us burn fat. Excess white fat is what we consider to be bad. 

Enjoy my beautiful illustration of the different type of fats:

Three different type of fat cells illustration

White Fat:

White fat is the kind of fat that we typically think about. It’s an energy storage that isn’t very rich in mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell, sound familiar?).

Brown Fat:

As the opposite of white fat, brown fat is rich in mitochondria. Brown fat is ideal. It is like a muscle in the calorie-burning aspect. You can actually build and strengthen brown fat. How?

The best way to do this is through cold exposure.

Dr. Susanna Søberg describes it as a temperature-regulating organ. You can grow brown fat-like muscle.

What??? Yup- with cold exposure. She describes brown fat as a radiator and the brain like a thermostat. When you expose yourself to acute cold exposure, your brain sends signals throughout your body, basically saying, ‘ALERT, WE ARE TOO COLD.’ In response, your brain activates noradrenaline and, in turn, your brown fat. 

Another distinction of brown fat is that it can actually convert food and turn it into energy within the cell itself quickly and easily. Without the extra step of having to be used by the mitochondria or create ATP, brown fat is thermogenic, meaning it does it all itself.

Beige Fat:

As you might have guessed, beige fat is a mixture of both white and brown fat. It has a smaller amount of mitochondria than white but more than brown. If you are doing the right things, you can actually turn this specific type of fat into brown fat.

Hence, exposure to cold might help you burn more calories. Increased brown fat, Increased calorie burn.

What Does Science Say About Cold Exposure and Calorie Burning?

I recommend you listen to this episode by Dr.Huberman; he explains this whole process in depth.

So adrenaline is released by the adrenal glands (original name, I know) as well as the sympathetic nervous system.

This adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, plays a crucial role in fat burning as it originates from neurons that are directly connected to fat cells, stimulating fat oxidation.

Why does fat oxidation matter? This process is what causes the increased production of brown fat cells.

Yup! It uses beige fat to increase the amount of brown fat levels in your body. So basically, shivering, that quivering response to cold, becomes the catalyst for releasing epinephrine, activating brown fat, and subsequently mobilizing and burning white fat.

A research study published in 2017 shows the effects of NEAT on overall weight loss and calorie expenditure. 

Have you ever wondered why some lean individuals seem to eat like a horse but are still extremely slim?

One of the factors contributing to this phenomenon could be their NEAT expenditure. They usually have nervous movements or behaviors, from bouncing a leg to pacing back and forth and even tapping a finger. 

When you begin to shiver or fidget, your body releases succinate, a compound that plays a significant role in producing energy within the mitochondria. Succinate interacts with brown fat, boosting its thermogenic activity, and also contributes to the process of converting beige fat into brown fat.

In one study, 49 men underwent cold exposure for eight weeks and observed a remarkable 1.3% reduction in waist circumference and a significant 5.5% drop in abdominal fat. It’s important to note that this study involved a specific and restricted group of individuals (males in the military.)

Another study involving ten randomized controlled groups reported a percentage increase in metabolic expenditure, highlighting the evidence that cold water exposure can help you lose weight.

Here’s the kicker: If you’re already consuming maintenance calories or operating in a calorie deficit, this NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) activity—comprising shivering, fidgeting, and subconscious movement—can lead to burning an additional 800 to 1200 calories! Crazy!

Now, this doesn’t mean skipping the gym and just bouncing your leg all day. All this sounds great, but achieving these fat-burning results requires a specific ritual and procedure of cold exposure. Let’s get into it.

How long and how often should I take cold showers to burn fat?

Dr. Huberman recommends a specific protocol to increase the amount of time you spend in cold exposure and activate the fat that is activated by shivering. Aim for 1 to 5 cold showers per week. The key is to find a temperature that induces shivering. Depending on the individual, this temperature may range anywhere from 30-60 degrees Fahrenheit. It should be uncomfortably  cold.

Here’s the drill:

  • Step into the cold (for 1-2 minutes)
  • Step out (for 1-3 minutes), avoid drying out too completely to trigger shivering 
  • Repeat this for three sets.

Surprisingly, you might find that when you expose your body to cold water, it starts to feel better over time. However, there are some important considerations to keep in mind. Cold temperatures can cause hyperthermia or shock to your body that could lead to a heart attack if too cold.

Equally crucial is not adapting too quickly to the cold, as that could inhibit shivering and, consequently, the benefits of cold therapy in helping with weight and burning fat. The gradual adaptation process ensures that you continue to experience the shivering response, which is key for fat loss. So, take it slow, find that sweet spot, and let cold showers as a form of cold therapy work their magic for you.

Long Story Short:

The long story short, folks, is that cold showers help you burn fat. If you follow the correct ritual, cold showers are a great addition to a healthy lifestyle, exercise, and calorie deficit if you are trying to lose weight.

Exposure to cold temperatures also offers a ton of other benefits. Cold temperatures can increase brown fat and metabolism, improve immunity, help relieve muscle soreness, and even improve your mood! 

Do Cold Showers Burn Fat: FAQ

What is brown fat?

Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue, is a specialized type of fat responsible for generating heat in the body.

Unlike white fat, which stores energy, the main function of brown fat is to heat generation (which burns calories) and help maintain or regulate body temperature to protect your vital organs.

Are there any other benefits of cold showers?

Yes, there are several benefits of cold showers. Besides potentially aiding in fat loss, cold showers can help improve circulation, boost mood, increase alertness, strengthen the immune system, and even enhance recovery after exercise. They can also help improve the health of your skin and hair.

Can cold showers replace exercise for weight loss?

While cold showers can help boost calorie burning and create a larger caloric deficit, they cannot replace the benefits of exercise for weight loss.

Regular exercise is still the most effective way to burn calories, build muscle, and improve overall well-being. However, research shows that cold showers can be a supplementary tool to support your weight loss efforts.

Can I take a hot shower after a cold shower?

Yes, you can. Alternating between hot and cold showers, known as contrast showers, can have additional benefits. The cold shower can help stimulate blood flow and activate brown fat, while the hot shower can promote muscle relaxation and improve circulation. Just be sure to end with a short burst of cold water to maximize the benefits.

About the Author, Sophia Victoria
About the Author, Sophia Victoria

Sophi is a health, wellness, and lifestyle blogger who uses, research, and tests products and theories to help others improve their mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. With her own eating disorder journey, regulating her hormones, and working with 10+ nutritionists, she deeply understands the health and wellness. Sophi is also well-knowledged in self-development and committed to sharing her knowledge, experience, and expertise with her readers.

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