Infrared Sauna Use for Sports Recovery

 
infrared sauna wellness benefits biofit

Saunas have been part of human culture for thousands of years, most famously in Finland - a population with more saunas than cars… talk about a green, nature-inspired lifestyle!  

With technological advancements, infrared (IR) sauna is now a red hot trend among athletes and biohackers too.  Here we’ll look at the reasons for its popularity and help you decide whether it’s worth adding a sauna session into your recovery routine each week.

Traditional sauna vs FIRS

Traditional saunas use wood or electric heaters to bring dry air up to 70–100°C. Users typically stay inside for five to 20 minutes, followed by a shower or pool dip to cool off. They repeat this hot/cool cycle several times before reacclimating to room temperature.

Far-infrared saunas (FIRS) use an infrared element that radiates heat in the far-IR wavelength (10 µm).  Temperatures in FIRS range between 40 and 60°C. 

IR heat penetrates more deeply than in a traditional sauna, facilitating an intense sweat with reduced discomfort and cardiovascular strain.[1]

how do FIrs work?

The basis of FIRS is a phenomenon called hyperthermic conditioning, i.e. training your body to adapt to heat.

“...hyperthermic conditioning through sauna use doesn’t just make you better at dealing with heat; it makes you better, period.” - Dr. Rhonda Patrick, an expert in the science of biohacking.

Deliberately increasing your core temperature for short periods of time allows your body to adapt by:

  • Increasing blood flow to the muscles - meaning nutrients delivered faster and metabolites removed [2]

  • Lowering heart rate for a given workload [3]

  • Improving sweat efficiency [3]

  • Increasing red blood cell count [4]

These factors facilitate recovery and reduce negative effects from raised core temperature during subsequent workouts. 

the evidence

A 2015 study with ten active male volunteers looked at the effects of FIRS on recovery vs traditional Finnish sauna. Participants underwent 60 minutes of hypertrophic strength training or 34 - 40 minutes of maximal endurance training, followed by 30 minutes of sauna. At the end of the experiment, the men sat for 30 minutes at room temperature.  

FIRS outperformed the control (no sauna) in subsequent maximal countermovement jump tests (0.34 ± 0.09 m).  Heart rate was also significantly higher after FIRS (71 ± 7 beats/min) compared to traditional sauna (92 ± 13 beats/min), which is consistent with its lower cardiovascular load [1].

FIRS for a healthy mind

As well as promoting physical recovery, FIRS can be a holistic tool encompassing mental wellness. Traditional sauna is a recreational practice, something people do to unwind. The warm environment alone can be enough to relax a person’s body and mind.  

Furthermore, scientists have found that heat exposure increases levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) [5]. 

BDNF has roles in neuroprotection, neural growth, and  memory. Results from animal studies suggest it may also improve anxiety and depression [6].

references

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4493260/ 

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24444197

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16877041

[5] https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/180d/ceda5cfe1641bad581345bec029e13cd066e.pdf

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20594764

 
TrainingMatt Morley