Athletes - and especially those for whom training means more than just balancing everyday stress - are always looking for new ways to improve their physical performance. In order to fully exploit athletic potential not only training must be perfectly coordinated and planned, but also nutrition and recovery. The last factor, in particular, is often neglected. However, numerous elite athletes are already using CBD products to take their recovery to a new level. To understand how CBD can help, we need to look at two important factors for recovery.
Training, especially strength training, is a certain stress for the body. The word stress sounds negative at first, but it is not necessarily. Stress from training ensures that our body adapts to the stimulus and makes the desired progress in the form of more strength, muscle mass or endurance. Inflammatory processes play an important role in this adaptation process. During every training session, our muscles are partially damaged in the smaller units, which causes micro-tears. As with any injury, inflammatory processes occur that are important to transmit the signal for the desired improvements [1, 2, 3].
Every injury requires an acute inflammatory response to start the healing process. We all know the feeling of delayed onset muscle soreness. An inflammatory reaction leads to an accumulation of substances and fluids that act on our nerves and cause pain . However, as always, the rule here is: the dose makes the poison. If the inflammation is too severe or lasts too long, this can significantly impair muscle and strength adaptations as well as athletic performance. This is the first place that CBD comes into play because it has been shown to inhibit inflammation in the body [5, 6, 7].
Just like the painkiller ibuprofen, CBD inhibits, among other things, the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX), which is responsible for producing special tissue hormones that transmit the inflammatory signal and trigger pain. If COX is inhibited, the inflammation is also inhibited. Unfortunately, there are no studies to date that directly examine the effect of CBD on muscle recovery, but maybe we can learn something from the data regarding ibuprofen.
Here we have to look at the context a little. Two studies in young amateur athletes indicate that a low dose of 400 milligrams of ibuprofen a day does not have positive or negative effects on the muscle hypertrophy and strength gains. On the other hand, a quantity of 1200 milligrams can significantly impair the desired adjustments [8, 9]. The situation is different with older people. As we age, chronic inflammatory reactions occur, which are partly responsible for the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength . Here, taking 1200 milligrams of the painkiller has been shown to lower the level of chronic inflammation to a level that is beneficial for muscle building . Excessive and chronic inflammation does not only occur in old age, but also when we train extremely hard or are exposed to other stress factors such as alcohol, tobacco or obesity. In sports, long-lasting inflammation often causes joint pain.
In practice, this means that CBD improves recovery and muscle building in existing chronic or excessive inflammatory processes. However, since the cannabinoid only inhibits COX by 30% compared to 80% with 800 milligrams of ibuprofen and its remaining effects come about through other mechanisms, such as the blocking of pain receptors, it can be assumed that CBD will not harm muscle building even if we are absent of chronic inflammation [7, 12].
Two other extremely important factors for exercise recovery and athletic performance are sleep duration and sleep quality. Studies show that prolonging the duration of sleep and improving the quality of sleep in athletes can lead to a significant increase in performance and support the maintenance and development of muscles [13, 14, 15, 16, 17]. Research data suggest that taking CBD can help with sleep problems . This, in turn, could indirectly translate into improvements in physical performance.
So far, unfortunately, there are no studies that directly examine the influence of CBD on performance and regeneration from training. However, we know of two main mechanisms by which the substance could improve our progress. As soon as we have an increased level of inflammation in the body and / or do not sleep well enough, CBD could promote muscle mass, strength and endurance. We do not know whether this is the case even in the absence of these factors, yet. Nevertheless, CBD has been removed from the list of prohibited substances of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2018 and is therefore worth trying by every athlete.
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