You may have noticed a strong trend amongst the many CBD-infused products to hit the shelves in recent years towards those intended to help with athletic performance. Quite a few are even endorsed by professionals (weightlifters and runners are particularly well represented) who are quick to claim how CBD has helped them improve performance by reducing inflammation, improving sleep quality, managing nerves, and speeding up the recovery process. Always research products prior to buying, in that way you get a balanced view of what they offer versus cost.

It is no secret that top athletes place their bodies under pretty extreme pressure. Aches and pains can soon become rips and tears unless they are careful. But can CBD actually provide another way to help them stay in peak condition for longer? Let’s take a look.

Why Is CBD So Popular With Athletes?

Obviously, not every athlete is being paid to promote various CBD brands – which begs the question of why it has become so popular over just a relatively short period of time? Infused recovery products (and they come in many forms) now rank as one of the most popular across a wide variety of very different disciplines. Everyone from cyclists and sprinters through to bodybuilders, boxers, and MMA fighters seems to be gladly hopping on the bandwagon. It is fair to assume that they wouldn’t be doing so – at least not in such numbers and for so long – unless there were tangible advantages of doing so.

Many people take CBD to help address specific conditions which tend to also feature quite prominently among those who routinely push their body to the limit. Anxiety and sleeplessness are common problems with high performing athletes, and even the most average Sunday afternoon runner will know how difficult it can be to recover fully within just a day or two.

CBD is commonly used to help potentially (that word again!) reduce inflammation caused by tired muscles and overstretched ligaments. Traditionally, athletes have used pharmaceutical medication to deal with this aspect of their training (ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, etc) even though they have well proven unpleasant side effects. As CBD does not cause any kind of side effect whatsoever, athletes who are more open minded to natural/holistic remedies are using it in ever more ways. But does CBD really work as well as many people seem to assume?

Help With Managing & Overcoming Pain

It is fair to say that CBD has two primary athletic uses – pain management and recovery improvement. Pain is a serious hindrance to athletic performance, and there are more ways and methods of helping overcome it than there are sports at the Summer Olympics. It is important to remember that pain is a daily part of life for athletes (both professional and hobbyists) and those hours spent building up to events/marathons/shows etc do take a physical as well as psychological toll. Overtraining is a very real risk and one that can cause serious damage.

Athletes who swear by CBD tend to not focus so much on how it can help them cope with their main during and after exercise. As anyone who has taken these supplements will know, it is far more subtle and works differently to any form of familiar painkiller. A good number of people who do take CBD for chronic illnesses describe how it seems to somehow just make their pain more ‘manageable’ even though it is still clearly very present. This ambiguity is perhaps why so many experts are divided over how much the endocannabinoid system really has to do with pain control – as the evidence it does anything at all is far from scientifically clear.

Enhanced Recovery & Better Sleep

As with many other aspects of CBD, we need to rely a little upon anecdotal evidence to look into this topic. The extent to which it may help with sleep disorders (especially those caused by anxiety) is far from understood, yet a good proportion of people claim that it has made a real difference towards improving the quality and restfulness of their sleep.

Despite the evidence for how it helps with sleep being pretty insubstantial, there are a good number of studies that have observed improvements with inflammation and physical recovery times. Research is ongoing but seems to be pointing towards how CBD seems to change the way proteins bind with damaged tissue and help to reduce inflammation. Likewise, it seems that CBD certainly encourages the body to maintain a state of hemeostasis that is proven to help remove and replace damaged cells.

Needless to say, an improved recovery rate will go some way towards reducing the extent of pain which the body will experience during regular and intensive physical exercise. There must be some level of interconnection here (as there are with many other aspects of CBD) and the evidence – modest as it may be – points towards these supplements being beneficial to an athlete’s overall performance.

Studies Supporting The Benefits Of CBD For Athletes

In 2018 the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine published the finding of their study into how cannabis affected athletic performance and recovery. Note that this was directed at herbal cannabis/marijuana and did not isolate non-psychoactive CBD products from the survey. Despite the interpretations being quite broad, the overall conclusion was that athletes found cannabis moderately improved their pain threshold and helped them to relax and consequently recover faster.

The earliest reports that CBD specifically could help reduce inflammation among people suffering from chronic health conditions go back to around 2009. It certainly seems to help manage that kind of pain (and plenty of anecdotal evidence supports this) which suggests it could have similar qualities for athletes as well.

Once more, studies have been conducted into how CBD helps make anxiety disorders easier to live with for a number of years. It is worth mentioning again that many – but not all – people who do suffer from anxiety report that it can have quite remarkable positive effects. Correlating general anxiety disorder through to ‘pre-match nerves’ may be pushing the boundaries a little, but there does seem to be some level of causal link.

Are There Concerns About Athletes Using CBD?

Quite a high proportion of athletes took the removal of CBD from the World Anti-Doping Agency watchlist in 2018 as a ‘green flag’ to take these supplements across the board. The truth is a little different and has already caught a few people out. Although athletes from many different disciplines are now able to take CBD without risk of repercussions, it must still conform to the legal standards regarding psychoactive THC which is still considered a banned substance. Any trace of THC is considered illegal by the WADA – meaning that those who use CBD products must be very careful to make sure that they are as pure as possible.

One of the issues facing athletes is that while products containing no more than 0.3% THC are legal in most countries/states, even that threshold may be detected and considered illegal in competitive sports. Full-spectrum CBD products – which make more use of different components found naturally within the hemp plant – tend to have higher quantities of THC compared to isolates. The problem is that a growing number of people are starting to feel that full-spectrum (‘whole plant’) varieties are considerably more effective than isolates – putting athletes in a rather tricky situation.