CBD’s therapeutic value is already pretty well established. The compound has been proven to be an effective painkiller, sleep aid, and general anti-inflammatory.
But CBD’s benefits transcend mere disease-related usage. The same qualities that lead to renewed health also make CBD an excellent choice for athletes!
Its ability to reduce stress may prevent burnout. As a sleep aid, CBD may improve recovery times. Even the mechanism behind cannabidiol’s ability to quiet anxiety. may lead to athletic benefits.
Are you ready to discover how CBD could benefit you and your sports performance?
If so, keep reading! 7 evidence-based benefits — and practical ways to activate them — await below…
Reason 1: CBD Reduces Stress
Perhaps the single biggest benefit of CBD for athletes is stress reduction.
That may sound great — and it is — but what does it really mean? To answer that, we should first take a closer look at what stress is.
We’ll spend more time addressing benefit #1 than the other benefits on this list because it’s from this quality that all others flow.
So what is stress?
“Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”
In 1936, a forward-thinking endocrinologist named Hanse Selye did one better. He described physiological stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”.
In animal experiments, Selye noted that stress could cause gut health breakdown, enlarged adrenal glands, and other effects. The results of chronic stress were even worse: animals developed arthritis, had strokes, and succumbed to heart attacks during his research.
The Relationship Between Sports & Stress
What does stress have to do with athletes?
A lot, actually!
That’s because athletic activities themselves are a form of stress — one that needs to be overcome and adapted to just like anything else.
As an athlete, you’ve probably already experienced this battle. The best training plan carefully balances work and rest, carefully balancing your nervous system on the fine line between freshness and overtraining.
Finding that sweet spot isn’t easy — but CBD could make it easier. Consistent daily supplementation with 10-20 milligrams of the compound might allow athletes to break through previous stress-induced limitations…pushing themselves to new limits in the process.
Reason 2: CBD as an Adaptogen
Traditional adaptogens include reishi mushrooms and echinacea, but now CBD has joined this list of stress-reducing, performance-boosting plants. That’s because it fits the definition perfectly.
So what are adaptogens?
As Dr. Brenda Powell of the Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine told Time Magazine, adaptogens are non-toxic plants and herbs “meant to bring us back to the middle.”
Adaptogens also protect the nervous system and the neuroendocrine system from overreaching themselves. And according to a 1969 study. adaptogens must be stimulatory in nature — without causing side effects.
Sound familiar? That’s exactly what CBD does! By activating our endocannabinoid system (ECS), a signaling network of internal cannabis-like substances, CBD helps promote balance. With ECS activation comes the type of health and vitality where homeostasis can be maintained.
Using Adaptogens to Promote Faster Recovery
For athletes, CBD and the rest of hemp’s most active ingredients may help them better adapt to their training. Think of the metabolic state that follows a tough workout: body temperature is high, and cortisol levels through the roof. Additionally, muscle proteins have broken down, and stored sugar in the form of glycogen is almost completely depleted.
It’s not exactly a picture of balance.
Sensing this stress, the body begins to produce greater amounts of endocannabinoids such as anandamide to deal with the recovery process. Add in additional plant cannabinoids like CBD, and such imbalances can be quickly corrected.
Interestingly enough, this renewal process was also described by Hans Selye, who called it the "resistance stage" of adaptation. Resistance against stressors that is, in order to recover fast and avoid burnout.
Thankfully, CBD helps! One study even went so far as to question whether cannabinoids were performance-enhancing drugs that should be prohibited in pro athletics. And things could get even better when one takes CBD alongside other adaptogens…
While research in this area is limited, we do know that most plant adaptogens work via activating enzymes like AMPK to regulate energy balance and upregulate fat burning. It could be that taking CBD and other adaptogens together lead to synergistic effects! In other words, the two types of substances could actually help each other work better.
Reason 3: CBD Protects The Central Nervous System
The central nervous system (CNS) is comprised of the brain and spinal cord, and it controls inner communication and perception by sending signals within its nerves and neurons.
It’s simple: when there’s more stimulus within the body the CNS is more active, and when less is going on the CNS is less active. Sports that involve movements against resistance (think weight training) are especially taxing to the CNS. Tax it for long enough, and eventually the system’s initial ‘spark’ of excitatory input begins to ‘dim’. With this loss of firing power comes less effective muscle contraction and reduced strength.
Athletes with CNS burnout will feel slower and lift less at the same rate of exertion. If the recovery process continues to be ignored, these athlete’s muscles may become literally unresponsive to normal neuronal firing. Not good!
But now for some better news: CBD is neurotransmission’s best friend. CBD may help synchronize neural signaling and help balance pre- and postsynaptic neurotransmitters. The compound may also help nerves retain their myelin sheaths.
Actually, it’s the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that directly promotes neuronal health. But it all happens downstream of CBD intake, which has been shown again and again to strengthen and vitalize the ECS.
Taken pre-workout, might CBD protect against overtaxing the CNS? While that’s not proven yet, many strength & power athletes have credited CBD with helping them avoid the ‘shakiness’ that sometimes comes with max-effort lifts.
CBD may even aid a tired nervous system in recovery and growing more flexible. Why? Because CBD aids endocannabinoids in their role as "key modulator of synatic plasticity within the nervous system.
Reason 4: CBD Improves Sleep
One of the first and most obvious effects new users notice is that CBD helps their sleep. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a single first dose of the compound to result in more restful sleep that very same night!
A cross-sectional study of CBD users backs these anecdotal reports up. The study concluded that “consumers are using CBD as a specific therapy for multiple diverse medical conditions— [including] sleep disorders.”
According to the same study, it’s working: “almost 36% of respondents reported that CBD treats their medical condition(s) ‘very well by itself’”.
Considering that intense athletic routines aren’t always good for sleep, this particular benefit holds tremendous promise for athletes.
CBD may also lower stress hormones like cortisol that could otherwise interfere with normal sleep cycles.
There’s a reason many elite athletes sleep a lot. More sleep = more time for tired muscles to recover! Roger Federer has famously said, “if I don’t sleep 11 to 12 hours per day, it’s not right.”
If you’re not sleeping enough, don’t worry — CBD may help get you there. Unlike conventional sleep aids, though, it doesn’t activate any one receptor system enough to induce drowsiness when you’re out and about during the day.
For example, 10 mg of CBD at night will likely make you much sleepier than that same 10 mg dose taken earlier would. We’ll look at why that is next…
CBD = Better Circadian Rhythm?
Another amazing fact: the endocannabinoid system is photoentrained. What does that mean? It means that the system’s functions vary with the rising and falling of the sun. Endocannabinoid production is generally higher during the morning hours, and lower later in the day.
In recent years the importance of having a healthy circadian rhythm has come to light. Disregard the cues of nature through things like night-shift work or excess blue-light exposure, and bad things happen.
But that’s probably beyond the scope of this article. More relevant is the fact that many athletes experience disturbances to their sleep-wake cycles. These athletes may feel lethargic when they should be energized (and vice versa) and turn to excessive use of coffee or other stimulants. Depending on such substances may lead to further adrenal stress or nervous system breakdown.
We’re thankful to say that there’s a more holistic option. Taking CBD regularly may promote a type of energy balance that works with one’s environment — not against it. Athletes can consider taking an additional 10-20 milligrams of CBD an hour or two prior to bed if sleep is a problem.
Reason 5: CBD Promotes Muscle Relaxation
Athletes know that post-workout feeling, after a grueling session is in the books. Muscles teeming with lactate succumb to cramps and soreness; even normal activities like walking down the stairs becomes difficult.
In these moments comes the truly hard part: recovery.
Thankfully CBD is a potent muscle relaxant. That’s because the compound seems to help GABA (the nervous system’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter) work better by influencing GABA-A receptors. In other words, CBD may promote muscle relaxation by influencing a system that stills, quiets, and calms the body down.
Conversely, low levels of GABA have been linked to muscle spasms, cramps, and even substance use disorders. All things to be avoided by the diligent athlete!
CBD may also help active users avoid problems with their muscle and joint health. As Runner's World reports: “‘CBD coupled with stretching, icing, and foam rolling is a common treatment plan for tendonitis injuries about the knee, such as iliotibial band syndrome’ says Charles Bush-Joseph, M.D.”
To take advantage of these benefits, try supplementing with moderate amounts (10-20mg) of ingested CBD each day. A CBD-infused topical applied directly to problem areas should also help by reducing localized inflammation.
Just keep in mind that the strength of CBD topicals varies wildly — we’d recommend something that contains 100 mg of CBD per ounce or more.
Reason 6: CBD Alleviates Anxiety
CBD’s impacts on anxiety are among its best known. It appears to be good for chronic anxiety, acute anxiety, and everything in between even those who need relief from the fear of public speaking may stand to benefit from CBD!
Athletes could benefit too. Anxiety from the pressure to perform in training and competition can present a huge challenge to competitive athletes. The same study that recommended outlawing THC as a performance-enhancing drug praised CBD for its “decreased anxiety and fear memories extinction after oral CBD”, which could “enhance sports performance” without any mental downsides.
Just make sure that your CBD product is of the full-spectrum variety, which is often more effective than CBD isolate for anxiety. That’s because full-spectrum hemp extracts contain valuable compounds like terpenes and flavonoids, which work together to enrich CBD’s already-impressive effects.
Not much CBD is needed to experience relief from anxiety, either. Many athletes have experienced great results from taking small but consistent microdoses of the plant compound.
When placed into a highly convenient form (like a vaporizer), CBD can even be used prior to intense workouts and competitions. Dosing in the 3-10 milligram range is usually enough to instill a sense of calm and peace.
Reason 7: CBD Reduces Inflammation and Oxidation
Inflammation: it’s a potential barrier to optimal health for us all. While a little bit of inflammation is actually a good thing, chronic inflammation can lead to pain, sickness, and weight gain.
None of those things are good for athletes… and for them, inflammation is one of the biggest barriers to fast recovery, too. Some turn to conventional NSAID’s to reduce pain and inflammation, but that’s not really viable, either.
Something more holistic is needed, and that something is CBD. According to a 2010 study cannabinoids “are potent anti-inflammatory agents and they exert their effects through induction of apoptosis, inhibition of cell proliferation, suppression of cytokine production and induction of T-regulatory cells (Tregs).”
In simpler terms, CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties are complex enough to ensure that one experiences only the small, adaptogenic amount of inflammation needed. Consistent use of even small amounts of the compound may be enough to make a difference.
There’s one more type of stress athletes may benefit from avoiding: oxidative stress. Everyone knows that sufficient antioxidant intake is important, but did you know that a better route is to avoid oxidative buildup in the first place?
For this, an internal antioxidant called glutathione is needed. Rodent studies indicate that CBD may boost levels of this amazing substance, in turn reducing oxidative stress even more effectively than vitamin C or E. Interestingly enough, other adaptogens (like milk thistle and ashwagandha) can promote glutathione production, too.
With less oxidation comes less muscle soreness, better immune function, regulation of cellular recycling, and more. Glutathione may also promote insulin sensitivity which in turn could allow athletes to improve their body composition and more efficiently utilize carbs. All good things for sports enthusiasts!
The more challenging your workout routine, the more inflammation you may have…and the more CBD you may need. In general 10-20 mg of the compound is an ideal dose, but more might be needed to help get you through your most intense training.
It’s a good idea to slowly increase your CBD dose and avoid making any drastic changes, though. That’s because CBD’s pharmacological effect is biphasic — it begins to slightly diminish after a certain dose is reached.
Increasing your dosing amount and frequency slowly will help ensure you don’t overshoot the dosing range which is optimal for you. You can also consider diversifying your CBD intake. If 20 mg/day of CBD oil isn’t quite enough to reduce inflammation, try adding in a CBD topical, nighttime pain patch, and/or CBD vape pen.