General, Pain, Sleep & insomnia, Sport & Recovery

CBD and Sports Recovery

CBD is making a name for itself in the world of sport, with many athletes advocating for its ability to alleviate exercise-induced pain and inflammation, improve sleep and reduce anxiety. With so many health benefits, it may just be the next big thing in sports medicine…

When the South African government announced the move to lockdown level 3, all athletes and fitness fanatics across the country celebrated being able to exercise freely again (well, for the most part). But, as anyone who’s had to take a break from training will know, getting back into your regular exercise regime can be an uphill battle. If you’re nursing a few niggles or are experiencing some post-workout pain, CBD might just give your training programme the boost it needs.

While cardiovascular fitness and strength training are key to building a strong body, proper rest and recovery are equally important. If you don’t pay attention to your post-workout plan, you risk injury, which will quickly derail your training. But what qualifies as good recovery? Some may suggest ice baths, deep tissue massage, foam rolling and plenty of supplements, but many athletes are now exploring the myriad benefits of CBD.

By working with the endocannabinoid system, which helps to regulate body function, CBD helps to reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, improve sleep and boost immunity – all of which promote quicker recovery. We take a deeper look at the science to understand why CBD is winning over the sports world…

CBD and inflammation
Whether you’re new to exercise or a professional athlete, picking up an injury is always a risk if you aren’t careful. 

One way to prevent injury is to ensure you keep inflammation of the muscles and joints in check. When you exercise you cause microscopic damage to your muscle fibres which triggers your body’s inflammatory response to get to work repairing the damage and ultimately building an even stronger body.  While inflammation is an important part of healthy immune function, too much inflammation for prolonged periods can cause muscle strains and sprains. 

Many athletes turn to ibuprofen to reduce inflammation, but research suggests that regular use can result in damage to the kidneys – a study in a 2017 Emergency Medical Journal showed that ultra-marathon runners who used ibuprofen every four hours during a 80-kilometre race were 18 percent more likely to finish the race with kidney damage.  Not surprising then that athletes are in the market for a less harmful alternative to ease exercise-induced inflammation. 

Enter CBD. While research is limited, studies have shown that CBD interacts with cytokines – the molecules that signal cells in the body to respond to inflammation – elevating the anti-inflammatory cytokines while inhibiting the pro-inflammatory cytokines, making it a potent natural anti-inflammatory.

Pain relief and CBD
We’ve all heard the saying ‘no pain, no gain’ right? Well, if you’ve set some big goals for yourself, be it running a marathon, tackling a triathlon or taking part in a big cycle race, you’re no doubt preparing by pushing your body to its limits with intense training sessions. 

Whether you’ve been clocking longer distances or are lifting heavier weights, you’ll inevitably suffer from sore, tired muscles. While you can wear these like a badge of honour, you don’t want this post-workout pain to hold you back. Opioids, which are often prescribed for pain management, might offer instant relief, but at what cost? 

Side-effects aside (and there are many), these medications can linger in your system, making you feel sluggish and tired, not to mention they are highly addictive. The beauty of CBD is that it boasts a strong analgesic effect with limited side-effects. In fact, pain relief is probably one of the most common reasons people turn to CBD. 

But how does it deliver such powerful medicinal benefits? The secret is in its ability to upregulate the endocannabinoid system, which influences many different functions in the body, including its pain response. 

One study conducted in the Journal of Experimental Medicine in 2012 found that CBD could suppress neuropathic and inflammatory pain by targeting a3 glycine receptors while another more recent study of rats showed that by interacting with receptors in the brain, CBD helps to modulate the body’s pain response, stopping sensory neurons from detecting pain. As the research shows, CBD is an effective pain management treatment and, when applied topically, is particularly good at treating localised pain from a stress fracture or a pulled muscle.  

CBD and sleep
While you may associate sleep with switching off, it’s actually the time when your body really starts working. 

During the sleep cycle the production of cortisol, which is responsible for muscle breakdown, is inhibited while levels of testosterone – the hormone that helps to build muscle – are elevated. Add to that other benefits like increased energy and improved mental focus and it’s no wonder a good night’s sleep is considered a key component of any training programme.

But, sleep doesn’t always come easy. Whether you struggle to fall asleep because of anxiety or an overactive mind – not unusual before a big race – or you suffer from interrupted sleep, CBD can help you get better quality shut-eye. Unlike prescription sleep medications, CBD doesn’t sedate you but rather works to promote relaxation and calm, which in turn promotes better sleep.

CBD and your immune system
Strong immunity is key to keeping your training on track. And in the time of Covid-19, giving your immune system an added boost is even more important. While proper nutrition, particularly a diet rich in antioxidants, is a big part of building strong immunity, CBD is a smart addition to your daily routine because of its ability to help the endocannabinoid system function optimally, which in turn keeps all systems in your body, including immunity, in perfect balance.   

So whether you’re training for a marathon, a triathlon or next year’s Argus cycle tour, CBD might just be the missing piece of your performance puzzle…

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