Get an Edge on Your Workout: Is CBD the Answer?

When it comes to gaining an edge in training, CBD appears to offer a range of therapeutic benefits both before and after workouts. Is there evidence to support its use, and what do the pro athletes have to say about it?
Written by 
Emma Francis Stone, Ph.D.
|checkMedically reviewed by 
Leonard Haberman, MD & Chemist.
|Last Updated:
CBD and sports

All athletes are on the hunt for a legal supplement that gives them an elusive edge, lifts their game, and takes them to the next level.

Enter CBD; -a supplement that has already found its way into the training bags of gym bunnies and pro-athletes across the globe. As a well tolerated, non-intoxicating cannabinoid with anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and analgesic properties, could CBD represent a new frontier for the fitness landscape?

Let’s get legal: Can athletes even take CBD?

Before exploring the merits of incorporating CBD into a training regime, it’s vital to get clear about the legality surrounding its use as a supplement. Hemp derived CBD that contains 0.3% THC or less is legal throughout the U.S. at a federal level. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), CBD products derived from hemp (containing less than 0.3% THC content) is also legal for athletes to use.

However, professional athletes must still exercise some caution when using CBD. Cannabinoids in general are still forbidden by WADA, which has ruled out the use of full or broad spectrum cannabinoids. CBD nutraceuticals and supplements from less than scrupulous providers may contain higher levels of THC than advertised.

A recent study reported that only 31% of CBD extracts sold online were labeled accurately. Almost half had underestimated, and a quarter had overestimated, their CBD content. One fifth of samples also contained detectable levels of Δ9 THC, a definite no-no for competitive athletes who regularly undergo drug screening.

CBD products from third party tested, licensed CBD retailers offer the most assurance with respect to quality and cannabinoid content.

Is there evidence that CBD can support athletes in training?

While research exploring the potential of CBD as a training supplement is still in its nascent stages, current evidence suggests that the cannabinoid may offer diverse therapeutic benefits.

A July 2020 review published in Sports Medicine reported that CBD can support athletes both physiologically and psychologically. Specifically, the cannabinoid’s anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, analgesic, and anxiolytic actions, plus its ability to expedite healing of skeletal injuries, are ideally matched for those who train regularly. The inherent properties of CBD can translate into potential benefits for both before and after workouts.

For personal trainers and athletes, the proof is in the pudding. Former collegiate athlete, current Health & Wellness Consultant, and personal trainer Zach Riney has experienced the benefits for himself. Riney, who is currently completing a Master’s Pharmacy degree in the study of Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics at the University of Maryland, endorses the use of CBD in the pre and post workout period. So too does Adam Kemp, certified personal trainer and professional basketballer, and Nico Marley, former linebacker and founder of Lion X Wellness.

CBD for pre-workout: Are there benefits?

Any athlete will attest to the healing and energizing power of sound sleep before a workout. While research clarifying the effects of CBD on sleep is currently undergoing a clinical trial, CBD users report that CBD is an effective sleep aid.

CBD may assist in the pre-workout period in other ways, too. According to the Sports Medicine review, CBD exerts neuroprotective effects that can support contact sport athletes like boxers and football players. The cannabinoid also yields anti-inflammatory properties, which can help those recovering from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS); and can ease anxiety before competitions.

“Personally, CBD has provided me with a way to manage the “upset stomach” feeling of most pre-workout supplements I’ve taken in the past,” says Riney. “The mental clarity, the unobstructed focus, and the ‘in the zone’ sensation CBD bestows really helps me get the most out of a workout.”

Marley also emphasizes the benefits of enhanced clarity. “In the pre-workout stage, CBD gives me a sense of focus and calm before I start my workout,” he says. “When I was playing college and professional football, I would always incorporate CBD into my regime, to help me focus on the goal before me and play my very best.”

Riney points out that as a pre-workout supplement, CBD must be taken at low doses for it to boost energy levels. “If high doses are consumed, it will promote a more sedating and relaxing sensation, which may not be ideal for certain workouts,” he cautions. Riney specifies that a low dose is anywhere between 5 to 25 mg, depending on the individual’s stature, body mass, and metabolism.

When it comes to delivery method, sublingual tinctures or vaping may provide the most convenient, speedy way to ingest the cannabinoid. “A sublingual tincture will get into the bloodstream somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes, an ideal time frame for consumption as you prepare and get to your workout”, Riney says. “Inhaled CBD, which is more than likely going to come from a vaping device, can be in circulation in a matter of seconds.”

For Kemp, a long time basketballer, pre-training CBD can help offset some of the aches borne of years playing the game. “I enjoy taking CBD products 30 to 45 minutes before my workouts because they help reduce some of the general joint pain and aches that I feel due to my years in basketball,” he reflects.

CBD for post-workout: Are there benefits?

As much as CBD can help to hone focus before workouts, so too can it help with the recovery process after training.

The anti-inflammatory nature of CBD may help to ease the sting of acute muscle soreness which occurs after a strenuous session.

“CBD also influences the serotonin receptors, which can modulate mood, pain, and cognitive functioning,” remarks Riney. “CBD reacts with glycine receptors, adenosine receptors, PPARs, and COX and LOX enzymes, all of which are involved in the body’s inflammatory response.”

Riney adds that its antioxidant properties help in the removal of toxic byproduct buildup in the muscles, and it can also reduce muscle spasms. “CBD is also a positive allosteric modulator (meaning it fits the receptor site and enacts the same/similar action) at GABA receptors, so it can aid in the relaxation and recovery process, especially with post-workout jitters and sleep promotion.”

When it comes to a delivery method, Riney suggests higher doses either taken sublingually or orally (using edibles such as gummies), especially in the afternoon/evening to enhance relaxation and sleep.

For Kemp and Marley, topical CBD also plays a critical role in post-workout recovery regimen.

“If I have any flare ups of tendonitis or other chronic muscle or joint pain, I will often use a CBD topical after my workouts for the day are done,” Kemp says. “Taking CBD products throughout the day, year round, has helped me deal with chronic pain and soreness and continue training often and intensely.”

Marley uses CBD Cooling Balm on sore areas after training. “Football takes a lot of you. From running drills at practice, maintaining a gym schedule, and playing on the field, my body would always feel it after,” he reflects. “By incorporating a CBD balm, it’s really helped me heal in the most natural way possible. It’s been tremendously easier not to worry about being sore from working out because of CBD.”

The final word

As the authors of the 2020 Sport Medicine review caution, more clinical research is required to confirm the efficacy of CBD as a training supplement.

That being said, all present evidence looks promising and athletes and trainers such as Riney, Kemp, and Marley have gleaned benefits from incorporating CBD into their training and recovery regimens.

There’s no doubt future research will further unpack the therapeutic uses of this versatile cannabinoid for athletes so watch this space!

References

  1. Atalay, S., Jarocka-Karpowicz, I., & Skrzydlewska, E. (2020). Antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol. Antioxidants, 9(1), 21.
  2. Bonn-Miller, M. O., Loflin, M. J., Thomas, B. F., Marcu, J. P., Hyke, T., & Vandrey, R. (2017). Labeling accuracy of cannabidiol extracts sold online. Jama, 318(17), 1708-1709.
  3. Lachenmeier, D. W., & Diel, P. (2019). A warning against the negligent use of cannabidiol in professional and amateur athletes. Sports, 7(12), 251.
  4. McCartney, D., Benson, M. J., Desbrow, B., Irwin, C., Suraev, A., & McGregor, I. S. (2020). Cannabidiol and sports performance: a narrative review of relevant evidence and recommendations for future research. Sports Medicine-Open, 6(1), 1-18.
  5. Moltke, J., & Hindocha, C. (2021). Reasons for cannabidiol use: a cross-sectional study of CBD users, focusing on self-perceived stress, anxiety, and sleep problems. Journal of cannabis research, 3(1), 1-12.
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Dr. Emma F. Stone is passionate about plant medicine and the potential it holds in transforming the current medical paradigm. She has written extensively for Leafly, Weedmaps, Flowertown, Psychedelic Science Review, and contributed to industry reports and fact sheets detailing cannabis medicine, dosage, and delivery methods for diverse conditions. She’s currently working on a book exploring plant medicine and its uses.
Leonard Haberman
Leonard Haberman
MD & Chemist
Dr. Leonard Haberman is a physician and chemist who has been involved in solving chemical and medical problems for 43 years. He graduated from New York University as a dual major in chemistry and biology and went on to obtain a PhD in chemistry from the University of Minnesota where his focus was synthetic methods. He spent 18 years with the Shell organization, working in a mixture of technical and business roles. He returned to the university in 2005, graduating with an MD degree in 2009. He has published in the open literature and in the proprietary literature of the Shell organization. He holds two patents and currently works as a consultant, assisting clients with projects within the disciplines of medicine and chemistry that have potential business applications.

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