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Cannabidiol (CBD) & Athletes: A Definitive Guide

Professional athletes push themselves to the brink every single day, enduring tremendous amounts of stress and pressure, all to gain an edge in their performance.

Athletes are searching for better anti-inflammatory pain relievers, and are now turning to safer options like CBD, a natural alternative to OTC medications. 

While some sports require more physical endurance and strength than others, many sports-related injuries result from over-training and prolonged damage over time.

While there are plenty of over the counter medications available for treating injuries and pain related to training, many of them come with a host of side effects and may cause more harm than good. 

In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know regarding CBD's benefits for athletes, so please keep reading to learn more...

With all the benefits CBD claims to provide, it is no wonder professional athletes are gravitating toward it (more on that later), but should you consider CBD for your post-workout pain and soreness?

We'll dive deep into this CBD craze so you'll be better equipped to make a more well-informed decision.


What do Athletes traditionally use for pain?

Athletes have been known to use a wide range of drugs to combat their pain and overcome the hurdles that prevent them from their highest level performance. Some pain medications have even been banned by sports regulators due to dangerous side effects or unfair performance enhancement.

Still, this has not stopped many athletes from choosing unsafe pain medications who put heavy demands on their bodies daily. Some of the most common over the counter medications for fast pain relief fall into 3 categories:

  • Analgesics - Aspirin is a conventional pain medication used for all types of injuries, but has some scary side-effects you might not be aware of. According to the Mayo Clinic, longterm use of daily aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and hemorrhaging stroke.
  • NSAIDs - Chronic use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve and Midol) pose an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, according to the FDA, and only mask pain, which can trick an athlete into pushing harder than their body can take. 
  • Opioids - America is in the midst of an opioid addiction crisis where overdoses are the reason why thousands of Americans lose their lives annually.

Survey of the Opioid Crisis in the United States

Credit: Vivolo-Kantor, AM, Seth, P, Gladden, RM, et al. Vital Signs: Trends in Emergency Department Visits for Suspected Opioid Overdoses--United States, July 2016-September 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Due to the risks associated with these options, athletes are right to question their continued use while looking for more natural alternatives like cannabidiol (CBD), since it promises pain relief and reduced inflammation without the side effects or deadly risks of traditional meds. 

But is it legal?


Is CBD legal for athletes?

Yes, CBD is technically legal for athletes to use, but it hasn't always been.

In 1998, cannabis was added to the list of banned substances for athletes competing in the Olympics, a year before the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was established to combat the use of "performance-enhancing" drugs granting an edge to competitors.

Substances like Human Growth Hormones and Steroids are the main problems when it comes to performance-enhancers, but once a photo of Michael Phelps smoking cannabis went viral in 2009, which suspended him from competing for 3 months, there has been more attention on marijuana and its effects on performance.

After more research, the WADA concluded that THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana does not enhance performance in ways previously thought. They raised the amount of allowable THC in athletes' bloodstream, and there was not a lot of blowback from this move, so they increased the amount again in 2016. Read more about that from USA Today.

As of this publication, Olympic athletes can consume cannabis when not in the throws of competition, similar to alcohol. As long as athletes use marijuana during the offseason, they are not breaking any rules. The World Anti-Doping Agency set the urinary threshold of 150 nanograms per milliliter for allowed THC in the body for competitors.

At the beginning of 2018, the WADA removed CBD (cannabidiol) from the banned substances list entirely either in or out of competition, meaning that its therapeutic effects can be enjoyed at any time, no matter the season.

If you are curious to read what is on the 2019 WADA Prohibited Substances list, check this out.

Similar to the WADA, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) made the same move declaring that cannabidiol use is not prohibited during any season and that athletes should be allowed to use CBD oil as they see fit to do so.

The important caveat to this statement is that only CBD was removed from the prohibited list entirely. THC is still banned in competition, along with synthetic cannabinoids. Additionally, many national sports organizations in the United States still ban CBD use for their players.

Strides are being made for cannabis legalization outside of sports, including for THC. Federal, state, and local legality is continually changing, so be sure and check to see what the CBD laws are in your state.

There we discuss the strict rules CBD must adhere to so it remains legal. Be sure to check that out.


How CBD Affects Athletes

As we have just covered, athletes can legally use CBD oil both in and out of competition, but what is CBD, why should anyone use it anyway?

Let's start with the basics.

Cannabinoids already exist in our bodies, and our bodies interact with them with something scientists call the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS modulates the activity of cell neurons.

CBD vs. THC molecular structure


Cannabidiol (CBD) is a natural phytocannabinoid found in cannabis plants that our ECS uses for many useful applications within our bodies, including but not limited to restoring basic functionality where other treatments fail.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is also found in cannabis but has a psychoactive side effect which may provide unwanted results like hindered cognitive function.

Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive as it does not have potentially adverse side effects, yet has been shown to provide incredible benefits to patients suffering from many medical conditions.

I recently did some of my own research into CBD's impact on our body's ECS. An excellent resource to learn more about how the endocannabinoid system works can be found in this textbook called The Essentials of Pain Medicine, 4th ed.

If you want to see what the book looks like, check it out here on Amazon or you can contact the publisher or visit your local library for a copy to learn more.

The science behind CBD and how it can influence human health is still evolving due to the recent changes in hemp's legal status, but according to a recent study in 2018, here are the essential takeaways.

The human nervous system consists of endocannabinoids that bind with CB1 receptors (found in the brain, spinal cord, and other tissues) and CB2 receptors (located in immune system tissues), which inhibit or release certain neurotransmitters.

In the case of epilepsy, CBD binds with these receptors to reduce seizures caused by, in part, the buildup of glutamate. CBD may mitigate these seizures by decreasing the accumulation of glutamate.

The Endocannabinoid System Diagram

When CBD binds to CB1 receptors, it has a substantial effect on the body's central nervous system; when CBD binds to CB2 receptors, it has been shown to reduce inflammation.

The ECS appears to exist primarily to maintain homeostasis, keeping neurotransmitters within acceptable levels, mainly serving as a check to the body's nervous system.

CBD can be thought of as a substance that increases the activity of your body's ECS, supplementing its normal function so that it may work more efficiently than on its own.

Athletes put their body's through the wringer every single day, leading to more pain and inflammation than what their endocannabinoid system is designed to handle for prolonged periods.

Adding CBD to supplement a healthy lifestyle may help your ECS keep your neurotransmitters in check, resulting in a more balanced body.


Using CBD For Pre-workout or Post-workout

As we have discussed above, CBD works by binding with CB1 and CB2 receptors to assist in balancing neurotransmitters controlled by the endocannabinoid system. What happens when you take CBD as a pre-workout supplement or just after a workout?

As of now, there aren't many studies on the effectiveness of CBD as a pre-workout supplement, but in a 2017 survey, the National Center for Biotechnology (NCBI) found that CBD lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and acts as a vasorelaxant, meaning it reduces the tension in blood vessel walls.

Bodybuilders have been known to take vasorelaxants before working out to increase blood flow to their muscles. Given the NCBI's research matches CBD with similar behavior to other vasorelaxants, we can surmise that CBD could be an effective pre-workout supplement for this purpose.

It is vital that more studies be conducted before any conclusive statements are made as to CBD's effectiveness as a pre-workout. Using CBD as a part of a post-workout routine has far more research backing it.

CBD is known to suppress inflammation in the body, which is a cause for pain resulting from workout stress. It may help to curb the effects of intense training by providing much-needed pain relief caused by inflammation, according to a 2006 study by the NCBI.

Because CBD is not a psychoactive drug, it may be a better solution as a muscle relaxant, given many other muscle relaxants could have behavioral or psychoactive effects.

Some brands like Mana Artisan Botanics™ also offer therapeutic creams and oils that can be applied directly to your skin.

That's why we are proud to endorse a product designed specifically with muscle pain in mind.

It feels good and smells great!

What's more, Mana Artisan Botanics™ has offered 10% off your first order! 

So be sure to check them out.

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Athletes can use CBD after a workout without losing any productivity, which is very important when considering how staying alert is valued while both in and out of competition.


Benefits of Using CBD Before Competitions

Studies have shown that CBD reduces anxiety, and not just social stress, but performance anxiety as well! This means that CBD could be used instead of the usual anxiolytic drugs like Xanax or Klonopin, which have a risk of causing dependency where CBD does not.

In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers determined that CBD decreases anxiety during public speaking exercises. They measured the anxiety levels of volunteers and of the half that took CBD before public speaking anxiety levels were significantly reduced as opposed to the half that did not.

What this means for athletes is experiencing less stress both before and during competition as well as the host of benefits after competition with regards to pain management and inflammation.

It is no surprise to see how popular CBD is becoming as a supplement for athletes.


What are the Best CBD products for Athletes?

If you are looking for the best CBD products for athletes, it is important to consider what kind of results you are trying to achieve. For example, an athlete with muscle soreness would do better with a CBD roll-on product versus a CBD vape.

Below are a few different CBD product options that should help you out!

CBD for Pre-Workout

If you are into hitting the gym, then chances are you are interested in maximizing the efficiency of the time you spend there. You'll want to look into a good pre-workout supplementation regimen that is catered to your specific training needs.

Vaping CBD For Pre-workout

When you choose to vape CBD, the benefits can be experienced almost immediately, so depending on how urgent you need to feel that sense of calm or focus prior to your workout, would determine if inhaling CBD through vaping is the best option for you prior to working out.

WhY Should you Vape CBD as part of your Pre-workout Regimen?

Vaping does more than deliver the powerful benefits of CBD, it encourages breathing, which is really important for your body prior to intense physical activity. If you find that you are easily "winded," it might make sense to practice breathing deeply before and in-between exercises to replenish the oxygen your muscles need to function properly.

PROS

  • Fast Absorption
  • Small and Easy to Carry
  • Promotes Breathing

CONS

  • Too much may cause light-headedness
  • Not allowed to use within most businesses
  • May be disruptive to others' workout

CBD Supplement Powders For Pre-workout

Serious athletes swear by pre-workout supplementation for the simple fact that when your body has proper nutrients aimed at delivering oxygen where it needs to go at just the right times, their performance increases.

WhY Should you Take a Pre-Workout Supplement Powder Containing CBD?

Pre-workout supplement powders that include BCAAs, caffeine and other stimulants have been shown to increase athletic performance. Since CBD improves overall body function, it makes adding it to a pre-workout supplement a no-brainer! Enjoy these products up to 45 minutes prior to physical exertion for best results.

PROS

  • Pairs well with other pre-workout powders.
  • Longer lasting benefits than vaping

CONS

  • May not taste great
  • Takes up to an hour to work

CBD During Workouts

While working out, there are a couple CBD-infused products you could try to enhance your workout while you sweat.

Let's look at a couple ideas below!

Ingesting CBD For During your Workout

While working out, there are a couple CBD-infused products you could try to enhance your workout while you sweat. Some athletes swear by using whey protein in between sets, so perhaps a hemp protein with CBD could be a good choice for you if you fall into that category.

Let's look at a couple ideas below!

CBD-infused Sports Drinks, Protein Shakes and Water During Your Workout

With how easy it is for CBD isolates to absorb into liquids, manufacturers are developing plenty of juice, shakes, and drink options which contain CBD. Some recommend using a pre-workout supplement powder mixed with your standard water bottle, while others infuse CBD directly into water, so all you have to do is bring that with you to the gym.

WhY Should you Consume CBD While Working out?

CBD is not always the most appetizing for some people, but when you are sweating and craving water, you'll down that CBD-infused water quickly, and it will get to work much faster since your body is actively absorbing any liquids it can get.

The main reason you might consider taking your CBD supplements during workouts is because CBD helps your endocannabinoid system maintain healthy function while reducing inflammation. Think of this as preventative care, that you are preparing your body to repair itself before it needs to.

You'll also maintain your focus and drive throughout, feeling like your body is a well-oiled machine while you workout.

PROS

  • Stay hydrated
  • Prepares your body for repair
  • Triggers your ECS while under strain which promotes better function.

CONS

  • May not taste great
  • Benefits are not immediately noticed
  • Typically very expensive compared to other CBD options

CBD for Post-Workout

Now that your body is ready to cool down and you are feeling exhausted, it is in a state where it will absorb important nutrients. Many trainers suggest that the post-workout period is one of the most important times for your body's recovery.

Aside from sleep, this is the time when your body needs to replenish its stores of glycogen and throwing in some CBD might be a good opportunity as well.

Let's discuss some of the ways athletes are taking CBD as a part of their post-workout plan.

INGESTING CBD After YOUR WORKOUT

Since your body is in a state of exhaustion, your body works hard to absorb as many nutrients as possible to keep you alert and functioning. It is this time that your body needs assistance absorbing the nutrients you would normally feed it after working out.

CBD Edibles and Supplement Powders After your Workout

Many bodybuilders will eat candy or drink a sugary sports drink at this time while they take their post workout consumable capsules containing all kinds of supplements like fish oil or CLA.

The most common option is to drink a whey protein shake to help your body rebuild its muscle fibers and prevent soreness. If your whey protein supplement contains CBD, this is a great opportunity to dose.

WhY Should you Use Supplements Containing CBD After Working out?

In addition to whey protein, your body may benefit from chewy CBD gummies or other candy varieties to replace those sugars your body needs after an intense session.

CBD has been shown to aid in the body's ability to recover from physical stress, it also helps with pain management. 

PROS

  • Replenish Glycogen stores when combined with sugars
  • Prepares your body for repair
  • Triggers your ECS to assist in your body's repair.

CONS

  • May not taste great
  • Benefits are not immediately noticed
  • Typically very expensive compared to other CBD options

Using CBD for Recovery

After your body has had a chance to rest a bit after putting it through tremendous strain, you may encounter soreness associated with your recent exercize. With that soreness may come swelling or other undesirable after effects.

We'll finally cover some post-workout recovery options which are designed to help you manage pain and inflammation.

CBD Topical Lotions and Creams For Recovery and Pain Management

While ingesting CBD is a great way to absorb the cannabinoid into your bloodstream, it is no surprise that immense pain and swelling can result from general exercize, especially if you've overtrained a muscle group, and edible CBD just doesn't solve the pain problem as fast as a salve will.

Muscle soreness is a fact of life for any athlete, but that doesn't mean you should endure it like a Spartan. You can use CBD roll-ons, lotions, creams and scrubs to help soothe your muscles while your body recovers.

WhY Should you Use CBD Topicals As a Part of Your Post-Workout Recovery Plan?

The most impressive attribute for CBD topicals is that you can treat pain and soreness exactly where you feel it. So if your knees are in pain after a long run, you can easily rub in some CBD lotion which contains other fast-acting ingredients and terpenes designed to manage your pain quickly. 

No other method can target your pain in this way.

PROS

  • Targeted Pain Relief
  • Nearly immediate relief from other ingredients
  • Triggers your ECS to assist in your body's repair.

CONS

  • May have a smell
  • Takes longer for CBD to absorb than other methods

How Much CBD Should You Use?

Now that we've gone over a few ways athletes can use CBD to assist them with their training, you may wonder how much CBD to use, so we will go over all of that now.

There is no standard which defines a consistent dosage regimen for general use. Because CBD products are not well-regulated, there may be inconsistencies in how much CBD is in a particular product. This is why it is crucial to review any third-party lab testing to see what is in the product before you purchase it.

CBD Tincture Dosing Chart

Depending on the method you use to take CBD, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact dosage accurately, but the best solution here is to start with a lower dosage and work your way up until you begin to see the results you are after.

The most accurate way to take CBD is via a powder capsule or tincture measured in milligrams or milliliters without any fillers or flavoring agents. These are often referred to as CBD isolates.

If you are athletic and using CBD for muscle pain, it is better to use a topical solution over an edible solution because the topical solutions will often combine other ingredients which provide more instant relief while the CBD interacts with your ECS.


What's the CBD Dosage for Athletes with Physical Pain?

Based on widespread anecdotal evidence only, the standard CBD dosage recommendation may depend on your body weight. Start with 1 to 6 mg for every 10 pounds of body weight. 

We've built a calculator for you so that you can find the lowest starting dose for your body weight below: 

The above dosage recommendation is general and merely a suggestion. Your case may differ in that you may need a lot more, while others may need a lot less. Please consult with your physician before supplementing your treatment with CBD.


FINAL THOUGHTS

So as you can see, society is on the verge of an impactful revolution for pain management and overall health as CBD becomes an excellent solution for athletes who wish to manage their training stress and recovery.

The industry needs more time for science to further backup claims that CBD providers make, but with legalization comes tons of studies. While there is still so much to learn about how CBD affects our bodies, you can be sure the science will catch up quickly.

What we know now is that CBD offers a myriad of potential benefits for athletes while posing minimal risk. Even if your CBD regimen improves your quality of life by a small amount, it is worth it to investigate it for yourself.

About the Author Jessica Jones

Jesse has spent most of her adult life struggling with anxiety. After studying neuroscience at University, she has since dedicated her life into researching the effects of CBD on the human body. The content on this website reflects her research.

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