CBD for Athletes: What Does Science Say?


As an athlete, you know the importance of taking care of your body. You eat healthily, exercise regularly, and take time for recovery. But have you considered using CBD to help enhance your performance?

While it’s still largely uncharted territory in terms of sports science and medicine, more athletes are discovering how CBD might help them improve their recovery time after intense training and provide relief for injury-related pain.

If this is something that interests you, read on to find out how CBD may be able to give athletes like yourself that extra edge! 

What is CBD?

CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring compound found in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC (the main psychoactive component of marijuana), CBD does not produce any kind of a ‘high’ or altered state of consciousness.

Instead, research shows its potential to provide anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anxiolytic effects that can help reduce the physical and mental health stress of athletes.[1] [2]  

How Can You Consume CBD?

CBD can be consumed in several different forms, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The most popular methods of consumption are edibles, tinctures, topicals, and inhalation (vaping).

Edibles

These are convenient to take on the go and offer a delicious way of taking CBD, but they may take longer to take effect than other methods of consumption.

edible CBD

Tinctures

Tinctures are CBD-infused liquid drops that can be quickly absorbed under the tongue and provide a more direct route to the bloodstream.

Topicals

These are CBD-infused creams and salves that can be applied directly to skin or muscle tissue for fast-acting relief from soreness, inflammation, and pain.

Inhalation (Vaping)

This is the quickest method of CBD consumption because the vapor enters directly into the bloodstream for rapid effects. However, this has its own set of health risks associated with it that must be taken into consideration before trying.

Benefits of CBD for Athletes

The potential benefits of CBD for athletes are vast. CBD has been shown to help with inflammation, pain relief, and even anxiety and depression. This means that CBD could potentially help athletes with a number of issues they face both during and after competition.

Reduces Inflammation

From training to the big day on the field, track, or pool, inflammation is one of the main problems that athletes face.

To some degree, inflammation is necessary. For example, your muscle fibers are broken down during a tough workout. This causes expected and normal levels of inflammation, which is remedied by the body via repair hormones like IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1).

When inflammation is excessive and chronic, this can cause issues for athletes that impact both recovery and performance.

CBD has been shown to be an effective anti-inflammatory agent, which could help athletes recover more quickly from injuries.[1][2]  

How Does CBD Reduce Inflammation?

The exact mechanisms of how CBD reduces inflammation are still being researched. However, what is known is that CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating inflammation levels in the body.

CBD can also reduce oxidative stress and help minimize damage caused by excessive exercise or injury. This can further improve recovery times and reduce the risk of tissue damage.[1][2]  

Pain

Despite nutrition, stretching, and recovery, pain can still be a problem for athletes, especially knee pain.

Depending on the intensity of the training and the efficacy of recovery, athletes can experience acute and/or chronic pain. The pain tends to be a result of excessive physical stress, strains, injuries, overtraining, and under-recovery. The mental stress of competition can exacerbate this pain.

CBD has been suggested to be an effective pain reliever, helping athletes to feel more comfortable and less stressed before and during competition.[3][4]

Continuing with the example above, those athletes with medial knee pain may benefit significantly, noticing a reduction in pain, especially when it’s associated with delayed-onset muscle soreness. 

How Does CBD Reduce Pain in the Body?

Again, the mechanisms are not fully understood, but what we do know is that CBD has been found to interact with the endocannabinoid system. This is the same system that is known to be involved in pain processing.

CBD interacts with the receptors in the Pain Control Center of the brain, and it is thought to minimize inflammation and provide some pain relief. With that said, more studies are needed to confirm and better understand this benefit of CBD supplements.[3][4]

Sleep

Every athlete knows how important sleep is for recovery. This is when your body releases muscle-repairing hormones and compounds such as testosterone and growth hormone. If you skip on sleep, you’ll miss out on results. You’ll also negatively impact your mental health. Sleep is when your brain “cleans” itself, and without it, you’ll find it harder to focus and perform.

CBD has been shown to help people get better quality sleep, which is vital for athletes who need to be at their best. No matter what your chronotype is, CBD might be able to help you get to sleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

In a study on CBD for sleep, over 66% of participants reported improved overall sleep quality after taking CBD for one month. It was also found that CBD reduced anxiety levels in the subjects. As we’ll discuss more below, this could be beneficial for athletes dealing with pre-competition nerves.[5]

How Does CBD Help You Sleep?

CBD has been linked to increased levels of natural endocannabinoids that are responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. It is thought to improve the quality and length of sleep, helping athletes get the rest they need.

It’s also believed that CBD helps regulate REM sleep, which can help reduce fatigue and improve alertness during the day. CBD’s ability to reduce anxiety and stress could also help athletes get a better night’s sleep.[5]

Anxiety and Depression

Competition can be stressful, and this can have a major impact on an athlete’s performance. If an athlete is too stressed or anxious, they won’t be able to focus and perform at their optimal levels.

CBD has been found to help reduce performance anxiety and stress levels, which could be beneficial for athletes, directly impacting both the physical and mental faculties needed for performance.

How Does CBD Reduce Anxiety?

The exact mechanism is not fully understood, but it is thought that CBD’s interaction with the endocannabinoid system helps to reduce anxiety levels at a neurochemical level. It has also been found to increase serotonin levels, which can help improve mood and regulate stress.

CBD is also believed to help reduce cortisol levels, which is the hormone associated with stress. This can help athletes stay relaxed and composed during competitions, reducing their anxiety and improving their performance.[5][6]

Potential Side Effects and Risks of Using CBD

Like any supplement, there is a chance of side effects and risks. With that said, CBD is generally well-tolerated with minimal and non-serious side effects.

Here are the most commonly reported side effects of CBD use:

  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Nausea
  • Low blood pressure

Risks of Using CBD as a Performance-Enhancing Supplement

Going beyond the basic side effects, athletes have to be more concerned with whether they can use CBD and not get in trouble within their respective council that oversees athletic drug testing.

First, CBD is NOT on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). In 2018, CBD was taken off the list of forbidden substances in and out of competition.

With that said, THC – the psychoactive component of marijuana – along with synthetic cannabinoids are still illegal in competition.

In other words, if you want to use CBD as a part of your supplement routine, make sure you purchase the type that does not contain THC.

Should Athletes Use CBD for Recovery and Performance?

There are mixed opinions on whether CBD should be used by athletes to improve their performance. While studies suggest that CBD can help to reduce inflammation, anxiety, and pain while improving sleep, some sports experts believe that there is not enough evidence to support these claims and that more research is needed.

Given the current research, CBD could be helpful for reducing inflammation and helping to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. However, it’s important to note that everyone’s body is different, so it’s possible that CBD could have different effects for different people.

As always, it’s recommended to talk with your coach, nutritionist, and doctor before using CBD as a part of your nutrition and supplement program.

Bottom Line

CBD oil is a promising supplement for athletes. While the foundation of any athletic training regimen should be a well-constructed workout plan, a consistent meal plan based on nutritious whole foods, and adequate sleep, supplements like CBD might help to give you an extra edge for recovery and performance.

CBD could help to reduce inflammation, pain, and performance anxiety while improving sleep quality and duration. However, further research is needed to determine the mechanisms and efficacy of larger study samples.





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