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How Cannabinoids Fit into Your Workout Routine

by Dan Ketchum

No matter how many reps or laps you do, muscle growth happens when your body is at rest. The American Council on Exercise calls training recovery the absolute most important component of your fitness routine, and for good reason. 

With both pro athletes and scientific studies to back it up, cannabidiol might just be the recovery habit that brings your workout regimen to the next level — and it could potentially play a key role in your pre-workout routine, too. 

Post Workout: What Happens to Your Body?

As Science Focus reminds us, when you engage in exercise, your adrenaline levels and heart rate increase, your lungs pull in up to 15 times more oxygen than when you’re at rest, and your body’s key muscle groups squeeze the veins that run through them to help get your blood pumping. But it’s what happens to your muscles after exercise that makes recovery — and the potential use of CBD for muscle recovery — so essential. 

In the hours directly following your workout, lactic acid buildup can cause muscle soreness, but that’s typically only in the short term. About 24 to 48 hours after exercise, you may feel what is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. This is because resistance training actually creates microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, which in turn increases blood flow and causes pain, stiffness, swelling and inflammation, per the Canadian Chiropractic Association. Although it’s ultimately a sign of muscle growth, DOMS can be an uncomfortable experience and an impediment to further training. 

How Cannabidiol Can Help

Cannabidiol’s potential role in the fitness realm is essentially twofold, as the natural cannabinoid can lend a hand both before your workout and during the recovery period, depending on your needs and usage strategy. 

CBD and Performance

A 2020 study published by Springer’s Sports Medicine-Open observes that, while research remains active and ongoing, “CBD may exert a number of physiological, biochemical, and psychological effects with the potential to benefit athletes.” Though preliminary — and backed by first-hand reports from professional athletes (more on that later) — SMO finds supportive evidence well beyond anti-inflammatory properties, including key areas that may benefit exercise performance.

  • Neuroprotective properties assist in protecting the central nervous system from injury during strenuous activity.
  • Analgesic effects not only reduce inflammation, but change the way the brain perceives the sensation of pain.
  • Anxiolytic qualities help ease anxiety, assisting in the often overlooked — but essential — mental health factor in athletic training.  

CBD and Inflammation

Reducing inflammation is the key factor for muscle recovery. While inflammation ultimately accelerates the body’s muscle repair response, too much inflammation can lead to muscle damage and even exercise injuries, as sports medicine doctor and Hoag Orthopedic Institute executive medical director Dr. Alan Beyer tells U.S. News and World Report.

Cannabidiol is being widely used by individuals after exercise, as noted in Frontiers in Neurology. On the inflammation front in particular, cannabidiol is such an effective agent that it may be able to reduce discomfort and help with mobility. There has been research conducted related to these effects in multiple sclerosis. 

Of course, inflammation plays a key role in the discomfort experienced during post-workout DOMS, leading to swelling, stiffness and soreness; cannabidiol may help ease inflamed muscles by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, signaling neural receptors to target physiological responses. 

Look to the Pros

Speaking to Men’s Health, National Association of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and former sprinter Tara Laferrara says, “As a personal trainer and someone that works out every day and really pushes myself a lot, I noticed the biggest difference in soreness and stress after a workout” when using CBD. Laferrara is far from alone, as cannabidiol continues to become increasingly popular in the pro athlete community. 

For instance, championship Ironman runner Lauren Goss tells The Washington Post that she uses topical cannabidiol twice per day during training, particularly when dealing with foot injuries. Olympians Lolo Jones and Bubba Wason and the NFL’s Rob Gronkowski are also proponents, as are a diverse slate of retired pro athletes, such as the NHL’s Riley Cote and Ryan VandenBussche, and the NBA’s John Salley, Matt Barnes and Kenyon Martin, to name a few.

Olympic triathlete Joanna Zeiger was so positively affected by cannabis that, following the cannabis-assisted recovery period after a traumatic bike crash, she transitioned from the Ironman World Championships to a career as an epidemiologist studying the plant, calling her experience with cannabinoids “life-changing,” particularly for their safety and tolerability. 

In a survey of 1,274 adult athletes, her Canna Research Group found that 67% of the athletes polled had used therapeutic cannabinoids to relieve pain, with nearly 70% reporting a positive effect, regardless of age group (though younger athletes specifically reported better sleep and lessened anxiety, too). Floyd Landis, 2006 Tour de France winner, tells the Post, “I use CBD daily for relief,” noting quite simply that, “Oftentimes, what limits athletes’ progression in sport is pain.”  

Incorporating CBD into Your Routine

Research tells us that cannabidiol is well tolerated and non-intoxicating, and is not only allowed for usage in professional athletic organizations by major regulatory boards, but is commonly used by the pro athletes within those organizations. But what does that mean for your workout routine?

For pre-workout routines, look to full-spectrum oral methods and products, such as KOR Health. Like Health, seek cannabidiol products that emphasize everyday mental clarity, increased focus and immunity support. Likewise, the entourage effect of full-spectrum CBD products — meaning the synergistic interaction of cannabis compounds that enhance its potential effects — can help elevate their pre-exercise effectiveness. 

Our skin has many active receptors of the endocannabinoid system, which means that topical plant-based CBD solutions can be a dependable option, as many of the aforementioned pro athletes have expressed.  Always ensure that you choose third-party lab-tested options and those compliant with U.S. Federal Drug Administration best practices for both safety and efficacy before using topical CBD to wind down, heal and ultimately grow stronger.

Dan Ketchum is an LA-based freelance lifestyle, fashion, health and food writer with more than a decade of experience. He’s been fortunate enough to collaborate and publish with companies such as FOCL, Vitagenne, Livestrong, Reign Together, Out East Rosé, SFGate, The Seattle Times and more.