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CBD for Athletes: How to boost your performance and recovery using CBD

Why is it that we have elite athletes on the mind these days? Could it be something to do with the biggest international sporting event with ancient origins that’s happening right now in Tokyo? With the brightest and fittest sports stars from our country competing at the top level, we’re investigating CBD for athletes.

Recovery, endurance and performance are all thought to be positively impacted by CBD and of course, we want to see our homemade heroes bring home the gold. CBD is thought to benefit any athlete who participates in high-impact or action sports. These sports can be thrilling to watch and even more so to participate in. But with all that heart-racing action, a few aches and injuries are unavoidable. To get back into the game, you may need to find some respite – enter CBD.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a naturally occurring chemical found in cannabis and hemp plants. Although research on CBD is relatively limited, there is evidence that it may have promise alleviating pain, inflammation, and muscle soreness. Athletes, especially those who risk incurring injury or overexertion during an athletic competition, will inevitably require treatment for such conditions.

Modern day Olympians and sports stars might consider adding CBD to their sports training regimen for a variety of reasons.

CBD for athletes-UK rules and regulations

Let’s start with the obvious question. Are Olympians allowed to use CBD? The answer is yes. CBD was removed from the list of prohibited drugs – in and out of competition – by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the start of 2018. There is one major caveat: CBD was the only substance removed from the list of illegal substances. Tetrahydrocannabinol(THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana, as well as synthetic cannabinoids, are still illegal in competition. This means people must be incredibly careful when using CBD products for athlete’s recovery.

There can be trace amounts of THC found in full-spectrum CBD. While these amounts are negligible, there could be a risk of THC appearing on a drug screening. If you're a drug-tested athlete who wants to use CBD for pain treatment or stress relief, stick to products you can trust. Look for CBD strains that are high in terpenes and phytocannabinoids, as they help the hemp plant reach its maximum potential. Some products can achieve a high level in broad spectrum, zero THC hemp oil through primary processing and secondary extraction.

Cannabidiol (CBD) as a Pain Reliever

One of the most common benefits associated with CBD is its potential to help relieve or lessen pain. CBD works with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS) to eliminate free radicals, restore equilibrium, and reduce inflammation. CBD can be a fantastic natural alternative for athletes that engage in strenuous exercise or high-impact motions. While THC, CBD's more well-known psychoactive cousin, can be used to relieve pain, it has been proven to impair short-term memory and have other undesirable side effects in athletes.

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CBD is good for action sports athletes who take it on a regular basis because it does not generate a dependency like certain prescription pain relievers. Indeed, some evidence suggests that CBD could be utilised to treat opiate or comparable chemical addiction. Because CBD interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, there has been some debate about whether CBD or THC is psychoactive. However, the interactions with the receptors are different, and CBD will not get you high. Although it may positively impact your general mood. Nothing bad about that side effect.

Why CBD for athletes recovery might be a more positive option

Athletes place an enormous amount of pressure and stress on their bodies. Constant training encourages physical adaptation and improved performance. On the other hand, it can cause physical damage and persistent wear and tear; contributing to injuries and suffering. Current pain management techniques are helpful, but they can also be detrimental. Many people are interested in CBD for athletes in order to boost sports recovery and pain alleviation. Should you do it?

Chronic usage of over-the-counter pain medicines (like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium) is associated with a higher risk of health complications than previously thought. In this environment, athletes are understandably interested in (CBD) promises of pain relief and inflammation reduction without the hazards.

CBD for Athletes vs NSAID

Athletes have relied on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) for decades. Ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac and high-dose aspirin are just a few of the everyday painkillers we all have easy access to. For a long time these over-the-counter painkillers commonly found in most households were widely used by sportsmen and laymen alike.

However, the pills that we sometimes reach for to soothe a muscle twinge, localised pain and even headaches would likely be used much more by elite athletes. Yes, NSAIDs are thought to be reasonably harmless in small doses for occasional use but what if pain management is something you have to consider nearly every day?

NSAIDs are certainly very effective at relieving and perhaps masking pain for a short time. Yes-pain is temporarily relieved-but they do not contribute to our overall health. Also, just how much do they help post-workout recovery and long-term sustained use affect other areas of an athlete’s body?

Some studies make the case that sustained use does in fact harm our bodies in the long-term. The Sports Medicine Review has published three studies linking the possible negative effects of heavy, long-term NSAID use with renal complications, gastrointestinal complications and cardiovascular risk. That’s not to say that these common anti-inflammatory painkillers are toxic but sustained and heavy use may have a negative impact on all these particular biological functions.

With CBD, there is certainly the idea or perception that this compound might be a more natural alternative to synthetic NSAIDs. As well as an anti-inflammatory compound believed to be an effective pain reliever, CBD is also thought to be an antioxidant and a neuroprotectant. If proven conclusively true, this could be a game changer for athletes. Pain and stress relief that also actively protects their health? Those are benefits that cannot be underestimated for human beings who push their bodies to the extreme. The potential here is incredibly exciting.

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CBD products for athletes to help with stress

In this past year alone, we have seen three high-profile athletes speak out about the mental pressure of living their lives, performing at the top athletic level and engaging in publicity for sports events . Sha’Carri Richardson, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka respectively have all opened up about the toll elite athleticism takes on your mental health. The willingness to speak out about how stressful the life of a top-level sports star is relatively new; it may hopefully lead towards changing the perception that sports stars need to appear stoic and infallible in public.

The pressure of competing at the highest levels is immense. That’s why sports psychology is now commonly thought to offer athletes a significant competitive advantage. As a result, psychological processes and mental health are increasingly being acknowledged as critical to continuously high levels of sporting performance for athletes at all levels who are serious about performing at the top of their game.

CBD can also be utilised to help athletes manage sports performance anxiety, according to a review published by Sports Medicine-Open. According to the review's authors, CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety in non-athlete human populations, and it may be even more helpful when combined with psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy. The study investigated the effect of CBD partnered with behaviour therapies on various aspects of a group of athletes' lives. These included things like nutritional intake, pre-competition anxiety, energy expenditure, sleep, pain and energy level perception in athletes who are negatively impacted by sports performance anxiety.

While the results couldn’t be considered conclusive, the researchers concluded that further study on the effects of CBD on SPA are warranted.​​ CBD products for athletes We previously touched on the point that while CBD has been permitted for use by WADA and indeed most sports and sporting bodies around the world, CBD’s psychoactive counterpart THC is prohibited. This prohibition is not limited to sport. Marijuana, the strain of the cannabis plant that contains high levels of the psychoactive compound THC is still illegal in many countries. Although, international laws are slowly changing to allow marijuana use in a medicinal capacity for some serious diseases.

CBD is the main compound found in hemp. Usually the hemp strain of the cannabis plant has been naturally bred to contain high levels of CBD and only trace amounts of THC. Usually less than 0.3-0.2%, meaning there are no psychoactive effects and these negligible amounts are highly, highly unlikely to trigger a positive THC result in a drug test. It’s possible to use CBD completely on its own. The compound can be completely isolated from other cannabinoids found in the hemp plant. Or it can be completely separated from THC without being isolated from other useful cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids found in the hemp plant.

These forms are called CBD isolate and broad-spectrum CBD respectively. Full spectrum CBD is CBD in its most natural state-in other words, it is combined with all those other compounds found in the plant. It also contains trace amounts of THC. There is an idea that all these cannabinoids, even the tiny amounts of THC, work better together than they do alone. This is called the entourage effect. However, if you’ve dedicated your whole life to becoming an elite athlete, you might find the idea of even trace amounts of a banned substance too much of a risk to take. We’ve put together a list of CBD products for athletes that for the most part, contain no THC. We’ve also included more than just CBD supplements, we’ve chosen some topical products that may be able to aid post-training recovery in a more localised way.

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Poko Recovery Warming Balm

This Irish-owned CBD beauty brand has been gaining an excellent reputation over the years. They have now branched out into a line of topical recovery balms. Both the Poko Recovery Warming Balm and the Poko Recovery Cooling Balm have post workout uses. Warming balms have always been effective at targeting deep-tissue muscle pain and strain. This product goes one step further. The exothermic components, capsicum oleoresin and comfrey oil, provide heat to deeply ease muscle stress, while CBD helps to soothe inflammation.

For painful disorders including tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and arthritis, cold sprays and gels are also particularly efficient pain relievers. The sudden acute cold sensation offers a fast-acting drop in skin temperature which can distract pain stimulus by successfully filtering out pain signals. Poko also make a cooling balm.

Dynamic CBD 15% 1500mg CBD Organic Hemp Seed Oil 10ml

This wonderful sublingual tincture is completely THC free. It’s reasonably high strength and made organically from the finest EU hemp. Not only that, its carrier oil (the oil that the CBD extract is suspended in) is hemp seed oil. Oil made from the seeds of the hemp plant do not contain much CBD. CBD comes from the leafier buds and flowers of the plant. Yet hemp seed oil is a vital supplement in its own right. It contains lots of vitamins and minerals and essential fatty and amino acids that are not commonly found in plants. These are all highly beneficial for cardiovascular health, inflammation reduction and recovery. This is the perfect tincture for athletes.

Huna Labs 600mg CBD Hemp Protein Powder 1250g

Protein, often described as the body’s building block. Always a safe bet to feed growing, adapting muscles with protein. Why not do that with the added health and recovery benefits of CBD and hemp? Huna protein powder is a fantastic plant-based exercise companion laced with 100% natural CBD. It tastes great, helps you gain muscle, and aids in recuperation. Due to its complete amino acid profile, hemp protein is an excellent protein source for vegetarians and vegans.


The growing body of research points towards CBD being incredibly beneficial for elite athletes. Something that is also evidenced by top football clubs like Birmingham City FC linking up with the Green Monkey CBD brand and Megan Rapinoe advocating and promoting Mendi CBD products.

CBD could be the way forward to keep elite athletes in top gear both mentally and physically. It may even help our British heroes bring home some medals from this year's Olympic Games.

You may also like to read: How CBD can help with improving mood and energy

Josephine Gibney

Josephine Gibney is a freelance writer from Waterford. She has worked as a lifestyle reporter, a creative copywriter and a communications specialist over the last ten years. Her short fiction was longlisted for the 2020 Sean O’Faolain Prize and she is currently working on her first novel.

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