As an athlete, you may have heard that CBD can help you improve your performance and recovery.
And it can.
The benefits are real, and for some athletes, it should be a part of their supplement routine moving forward.
Read on to learn more about CBD and how it can benefit athletes.
The Endocannabinoid System: The Key to Proper Body Function
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS), in its most basic sense, is a system of receptors and neurotransmitters.
When you dig deeper, however, the ECS is involved in mediating a plethora of physiological processes that ultimately keep our body functioning properly.
For example, research shows that the Endocannabinoid System helps control:
- Stress response
- Cell growth and death
- Skin health
- Immune function
- Body temperature
- Energy levels
If you’re an athlete, how many of these things are important for you?
In fact, the Endocannabinoid System is involved in so many aspects of our body that researchers believe it plays a key role in “homeostasis.”
Homeostasis describes a state of balance that keeps the body functioning properly.
This balance can include things like body temperature, water levels, salt, sugar, protein, oxygen, and much more.
Some researchers and authors theorize that disrupting this internal balance is essentially what makes us sick.
One of the pioneers of the theories on homeostasis is Walter Cannon, who came up with the term in the 1930s.
You can read more about homeostasis in Cannon’s book The Wisdom of the Body, as well as in the following articles:
Exercise Activates The Endocannabinoid System
Recent research shows us that, the Endocannabinoid System also plays a role in sport and exercise.
For some of you, this might come as no surprise.
After all, recent research has shown us that endocannabinoids like anandamide might be responsible for producing that iconic “runner’s high” we feel after exercising.
In 2015, a group of German researchers published a study examining the effects of exercise on rats.
The researchers noted that exercise gave the animals a runner’s high characterized by less anxious behavior and a heightened tolerance for pain.
The researchers also noted that, after exercising, the rats had heightened levels of endorphins (long thought to be responsible for causing runner’s highs in the past) and endocannabinoids in their systems.
To see which group of chemicals was responsible for giving the rats their “high,” the researchers gave the animals special drugs.
One blocked the effects of the endorphins, while the other blocked the effects of the endocannabinoids.
When they blocked the effects of the endorphins, the rats’ runners high remained.
When they blocked the endocannabinoids, however, those symptoms of heightened pain tolerance and calm disappeared.
A 2004 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found a similar connection between the Endocannabinoid System and exercise.
This came after research from the School of Applied Physiology at the Georgia Institute of Technology showed that moderate intensity exercise activates the Endocannabinoid System.
What Does This Have to do With CBD?
CBD, like other plant-derived cannabinoids, can activate the Endocannabinoid System.
The way it does this, however, is different to chemicals like THC, for example.
THC, the compound in marijuana that makes us feel “high,” directly fits into CB1 receptors, making us feel euphoric, happy, relaxed, hungry, etc.
CBD doesn’t fit into any cannabinoid receptors.
Instead, it interacts with non-cannabinoid receptors and specific molecular pathways that indirectly end up stimulating endocannabinoid activity.
The results can include anti-inflammatory benefits, reduced pain, boosts in energy, reduced stress and anxiety, and much more.
And, as you’re probably beginning to see already, many of those benefits can either directly or indirectly benefit you as an athlete.
The Main Benefits of CBD for Athletes
CBD can help athletes fight game-day stress, relieve pain and inflammation from training or injury, and even improve their sleep.
Here’s a closer look at some of the ways CBD can help athletes like you:
1. CBD Can Help You Fight Pain and Inflammation
There are a lot of things we still don’t know about CBD, other cannabinoids, and the ECS.
However, one thing is clear:
CBD is great at fighting pain and inflammation.
And that’s great news for you because, as an athlete, I’m sure you’re no stranger to pain and inflammation.
When we work out, we push our bodies to their limits, which forces them to adapt and ultimately become faster, stronger, and more efficient.
This is, for example, the basic principle behind weight training:
By pushing your body to lift heavy weights, you’re essentially causing tiny tears in your muscle fibers.
Once you’re done pumping iron, your body gets to work repairing this damage, making your muscles bigger and stronger in the process.
Inflammation is a key part of this repair process and is what leaves us feeling stiff, sore, and tender the day after a workout.
Thanks to its strong analgesic and anti-inflammatory processes, CBD can help alleviate these symptoms.
I’m an amateur triathlete, for example, and I regularly use CBD to deal with pain after performing or training.
I love CBD creams and ointments, for example, because they are extremely effective at spot-treating my muscles and relieving the symptoms of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which I’m sure you’re familiar with.
Not only does CBD help alleviate the soreness and pain, but I also find these creams help my muscles recover more quickly, meaning I can get back to the gym sooner.
This is especially important in the weeks leading up to a triathlon, for example, where I find myself training extra hard.
2. CBD Can Help You Deal With Injuries
Training and performing aren’t the only reasons why athletes suffer from pain and inflammation.
Unfortunately, athletes sometimes also get injured.
Again, this just has to do with the nature of sport.
Pushing our bodies to their limits takes its toll, and there is only so much stress our bodies can take.
Luckily, CBD’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties can help you cope with injuries and get back on track sooner.
Best of all, CBD can do this without any side effects.
NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin, and paracetamol, can all produce serious long-term side effects, despite the fact that they’re readily available almost everywhere.
These side effects include:
- Increased risk of heart attacks or strokes.
- Heart problems.
- Stomach and bowel problems, like bleeding and ulcers.
- Liver damage.
Prescription drugs like opioids or steroids also have serious side effects that can include gastrointestinal problems, psychiatric changes (like mood changes, depression, or anxiety), muscle weakness, difficulty sleeping, and more.
More importantly, prescription opioids can cause tolerance and addiction.
Hence, it’s not hard to see why more and more athletes are turning to CBD to treat their injuries.
Former professional cycler Floyd Landis, for example, uses CBD to deal with both chronic pain and depression, the results of a crash and disqualification from the 2006 Tour De France for doping.
Landis, a resident of Colorado, says CBD allowed him to tailor his pain treatment without the dangers of habit-forming pills and get his life back on track after losing the Tour De France title.
Today, Landis has started his own CBD company dedicated to offering the same relief to other athletes.
And Landis isn’t alone:
Professional cyclist and triathlete Andrew Talansky, Former NFL defensive end Leonard Marshall, UFC fighter Nate Diaz, and many other professional athletes have spoken out about the benefits of using CBD to treat pain, inflammation, and more.
I’ve even witnessed the healing powers of CBD myself.
While I’ve been lucky enough to be injury-free for some time now, my father suffers from arthritis in his knee.
Dad was always an active guy and played a lot of sport when he was younger.
That, combined with his life-long career as a laborer put his body under some serious stress.
A few years ago, Dad started noticing swelling and pain in his knee, which made it difficult for him to walk and go about his day.
After being diagnosed with arthritis, Dad and I were obviously keen to find healthy, preferably natural ways to reduce his symptoms and improve his quality of life.
And we did, thanks to CBD.
Dad uses CBD in multiple forms, but creams and other topicals seem to offer him the best relief.
In fact, some CBD creams can reduce Dad’s knee pain and swelling almost immediately.
Best of all, they produce no nasty side-effects.
3. CBD Can Help You Sleep Better
When do you think our body recovers the most?
When we’re sleeping.
But as an athlete, you probably knew that already.
Unfortunately, you probably also know that many people don’t get the right amount of sleep every night.
But what if I told you CBD can help you get to sleep faster, stay asleep for longer, and wake up feeling more refreshed?
Well, it can.
The Endocannabinoid System has been shown to play an important role in helping us get to sleep and rest up during the night.
Studies have shown, for example, that CBD can affect the sleep-wake cycle.
Research on rats shows that at specific doses, CBD can increase the time the animals sleep.
The same study also showed that CBD increased the time it took for the animals to enter REM sleep.
Instead, they spent more time in the first 3 stages of sleep, during which the body does most of its recovery.
A 2016 study by the US National Institute of Health and Northeastern University had similar findings:
The study showed that stimulating endocannabinoid receptors can help improve sleep stability, especially during the non-REM stages of sleep.
Again, I can attest to the sleep-improving effects of CBD myself:
Both my wife and I use CBD regularly to get better quality sleep.
My wife, Sara, works a really high-pressure job, the demands of which often leave her tossing and turning throughout the night.
And she’s not alone:
Some nights, no matter how much I’ve trained and how tired I feel, I just can’t seem to close my eyes and unwind.
CBD supplements like gummies and oils, however, have really changed that for both me and my wife.
Today, we find ourselves getting solid, undisturbed sleep and waking up refreshed and ready to go almost every night.
4. CBD Can Reduce Anxiety and Stress
One final way CBD can help athletes is by reducing stress and anxiety.
Again, there are a lot of things we don’t know about CBD, cannabinoids, and the Endocannabinoid System.
However, there is a really solid body of research that shows CBD can help calm our response to stress, as well as ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
There are 2 ways CBD can do this:
First of all, CBD can stimulate the same serotonin receptors as some prescription anxiolytic drugs, in turn promoting a heightened mood, reduced stress, and more.
Secondly, CBD can increase serotonin and anandamide levels in the brain by temporarily inhibiting their uptake via specific receptors.
Both serotonin and anandamide are known for heightening our mood and reducing anxiety, fear, and stress.
This, again, is similar to how some prescription anxiety medications work.
Science has also shown that CBD can stimulate brain cell growth in certain parts of the brain involved in mood management, stress response, memory, and more.
I’ve definitely experienced the anxiolytic effects of CBD myself.
Like I mentioned earlier, my wife Sara suffers from anxiety, stress, and worry all the time due to her job.
CBD has really changed her life and helped her face the challenges of her job in a more calm and effective way.
And while I don’t suffer from anxiety the same way Sara does, I (like many other athletes) can also get pretty anxious in the weeks or days leading up to a competition.
But, like my wife, I do believe CBD to be effective at calming my nerves before competing, keeping me focused and helping me manage stress in a healthy, more productive way.
Find the Best CBD Products for Athletes
If you’re an athlete, I really recommend trying CBD to help speed up your recovery, improve the quality of your sleep, and deal with anxiety or stress.
On my website, I review a wide variety of CBD products designed for athletes, including creams, supplement powders, oils, and more.
Make sure to check out my rankings on my homepage and find the right products to suit you and your training routine.
Finally, for more information on CBD and its benefits for athletes, check out my blog.