Can CBD improve your results in the gym?

February 02, 2022

The new year health regimes are in full swing. If you find yourself losing momentum or struggling for motivation on your fitness journey, it might be time to switch things up. Why not try some CBD to revolutionise your workout routine?

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, often shortened to CBD, is a non-psychoactive compound in the Cannabis sativa plant. It is one of over 100 plant-derived cannabinoids, but unlike its psychoactive counterpart, THC, CBD cannot get you high.

In recent years, CBD has captured the attention of scientists due to its powerful therapeutic properties. It is an effective treatment for rare forms of epilepsy and shows promise in the treatment of countless other medical conditions. Outside of the clinic, CBD is proving to be a hugely popular supplement, used by many to support their mental and physical wellbeing.

How does CBD work? This cannabinoid interacts with an intricate cell-signalling network in our body, called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is often termed our ‘universal regulator’; it helps to keep us balanced. It does this by regulating countless biological processes that subsequently influence our mood, immune system, sleep, appetite, pain perception, energy, and much more. 

CBD may not be the obvious choice of fitness supplement, but its interactions with the ECS could actually help to improve your results in the gym.

CBD: a post-workout essential

Perhaps the number one reason why CBD should be part of your gym routine is its anti-inflammatory properties. When we go to the gym or play a high-intensity sport, we make tiny microtears in our muscle fibres. Microtears cause inflammation, which our body perceives as an achy pain. This is why we wake up with delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) the day after a heavy workout. 

With sufficient food and rest, the muscle repairs itself and grows stronger. But CBD can assist this recovery process through its anti-inflammatory action. In many experimental settings, CBD has been shown to relieve inflammatory pain. These findings suggest that CBD could reduce muscle soreness after exercise and enhance muscle recovery.

There hasn’t been a huge amount of research into CBD on muscle recovery. Most of what we know about CBD being anti-inflammatory is from research into inflammatory diseases. However, one study has found that a dose of CBD reduced DOMS significantly more than MCT oil, another popular supplement for muscle growth. There is also some animal model evidence to suggest that CBD’s anti-inflammatory action does not impair muscle growth. 

Far more research is needed, but CBD appears to speed up the recovery process after exercise. The faster you recover, the sooner you can get back in the gym. And the more you work out, the better results you see. Simple.

How CBD could optimise your workouts

Not only can CBD be a godsend when it comes to relieving muscle soreness, but it can also help you to make the most of your workouts.

The key to a great workout is energy and fuel. If you’re struggling to get your 8-hours of sleep in before an early morning gym session, it might be worth giving CBD a go. Several studies have found CBD to be an effective, natural sleep aid. Nearly 43% of CBD users report doing so to improve their sleep. So, by helping your body to sleep longer and better, CBD can help you to feel well-rested, focussed, and ready to achieve your fitness goals. And since most tissue growth and repair happens whilst we sleep, CBD can further contribute to muscle recovery this way.

There’s even evidence to suggest that cannabinoids are responsible for that euphoric post-workout feeling, or ‘runner’s high’. This is all the more reason to supplement your ECS with CBD so that your workouts can benefit your mind as well as your body.

Why the sporting world loves CBD

CBD has become a huge trend amongst athletes. Not only do CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties help to aid muscle recovery and manage pain, but the cannabinoid has also been championed for its positive effects on mental health.  

Through its interaction with serotonin receptors, CBD can have a significant influence on our mood. It has been shown to alleviate anxiety, and even shows promise in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders. In sport, CBD can help to reduce performance anxiety or pre-match nerves. For this reason, many professional athletes use CBD to cope with the pressure of the sporting industry. 

CBD appears to be popular amongst rugby union and rugby league teams, with some of the sport’s biggest names now promoting CBD products. Of a survey of professional rugby players, 68% of CBD users reported a perceived benefit to their recovery and sleep. CBD is also growing in popularity within other sports – American football, surfing, and golfing, among them – as a safe, effective, and non-psychoactive fitness supplement.

Is CBD banned in sport?

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has listed cannabis as a prohibited substance. CBD, however, was removed from this prohibited list in 2018; it is not considered to be performance-enhancing, so athletes who take CBD would not fail a drug test.   

In June 2021, the American track and field sprinter, Sha’Carri Richardson, was banned from the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for marijuana. Richardson’s suspension sparked backlash, which has prompted the WADA to review the prohibited status of cannabis. A scientific review is said to be conducted this year; the results will then influence the anti-doping rules for cannabis.

Some sporting leagues and anti-doping agencies have already changed their rules regarding cannabis use. The UK anti-doping agency (UKAD) has shortened the length of suspension for using cannabis. In the US, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and National Football League (NFL) have ended the suspension of players for cannabis use. Things are changing, but until researchers are certain that cannabis doesn’t have performance-enhancing properties, it remains a prohibited substance under WADA’s rules.

Is CBD safe?

According to the World Health Organisation, CBD is a safe and well-tolerated substance, even at high doses. In very rare circumstances, CBD has been shown to have mild side effects. These could include nausea, appetite changes, and fatigue. 

However, athletes should be aware of the risks of taking CBD. In countries without restrictions on THC, some CBD products contain levels of THC that would be considered to be ‘doping’ by the WADA, leading to a failed drugs test. Always speak to your doctor or sports coach before trying out CBD. If in doubt, opt for a product with 0% THC.

How to take CBD 

The CBD industry is booming. There are countless ways in which CBD could seamlessly slot into any fitness regime and improve your results in the gym:

CBD oil

CBD oils are usually taken by placing a few drops under the tongue. This way, the CBD enters the bloodstream quickly, providing fast relief for achy muscles. If the taste of CBD oil isn’t for you, try adding it to any pre-workout coffee or post-workout shake.

CBD pills and capsules

Another great way to get your CBD is in the form of pills, capsules, or gummies. This method gives you a consistent daily dose that builds up in your system over time. Oral CBD products tend to be slightly lower doses than a CBD oil and take longer for the effects to kick in, but they are a good option for those looking to take CBD as they would with any other supplement.

Topical balms and creams

CBD balms and creams are hugely popular in the sporting world. They are applied directly to the skin and interact with cannabinoid receptors in the skin barrier. Topical CBD has local inflammatory action, giving targeted pain relief to achy muscles. 

Hemp protein powder

Seeds from the hemp plant are high in protein. When these are ground up into a powder, it makes for a great plant-based alternative to popular protein powders, such as whey protein. Since CBD comes from the plant’s flowers, hemp protein does not contain any cannabinoids. However, some brands have incorporated both CBD and hemp protein into their products to form a plant-powered super-supplement!

In terms of the science, much more research is needed before any definitive conclusions can be made about CBD in sport and fitness. But whether you’re a self-confessed fitness fanatic or just starting to incorporate a bit of movement into your life, it’s definitely worth giving CBD a shot – it could just be your post-workout saviour. 

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