Using CBD For Fitness and Workouts

Using CBD For Fitness & Workouts

If you are wondering whether you should take CBD before or after working out, then I have good news - it doesn't matter, because both are beneficial, and we will go over the reasons why in this article. CBD can help with exercising in a surprising amount of ways, and we will break down exactly what they are and how CBD achieves this.

Why Do Athletes Use CBD?

CBD, Focus, Flow and Sports Performance

If you’re an athlete or fitness fanatic, then I’ll bet you’ve been in the zone before. That state of total immersion in your discipline, where nothing else matters. Time stands still, that voice that says ‘you can’t’ drops away, your focus sharpens. You’re flowing. 

This ‘flow state’ is where one can effortlessly and fluidly take on the task at hand, and it’s what enables a lot of athletes to perform at their very best and achieve a state of peak performance. 

In running, this is specifically known as the runner's high (1), where pace, rhythm, breathing and cadence all seem to synchronize seamlessly to allow a runner to stride as if they’re floating. 

What’s interesting about flow states and the runner's high is what’s behind their occurrence. Research has found that when an athlete enters the zone, a cascade of chemical changes occurs within the brain that drives peak performance (2). These chemicals are dopamine, noradrenaline, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin. 

These chemicals change brain wave activity and blood flow to the brain (3). The result is better learning and skill development, faster processing of information, increased motivation and focus which all culminates to increase performance in that activity. 

CBD has an impact on neurochemicals needed to produce flow. Mainly Anandamide. 

Anandamide literally means bliss chemical, and fingers are pointing towards this chemical as one of the factors which helps us flow. 

Exercise naturally increases our production of Anandamide. The interesting thing is that CBD increases our brain's ability to produce Anandamide (4). Hence why a lot of folks liken taking CBD to ‘blissing out’. You’re basically drinking in a mini runners high after taking CBD. 

Runners are amongst the athletes who use CBD to enter flow states more easily, and to prolong their time in flow for increased focus. If this is the case, then there may be a benefit to using CBD pre workout. 

Many action sports athletes also use CBD to heighten their focus, particularly where flow is needed to navigate high risk activities. 

A lot of yoga studios are now offering CBD before taking a class. Yoga is naturally flow inducing, and some yogis like to take CBD to find that flow easier, or deepen the experience of flow and focus within a class. 

Flowing involves being in sync with your body and its movements, which is why it feels so good. Even activities like HIIT and calisthenics can involve aspects of flow. I can certainly attest to feeling more in tune with my body, my form and my flow when I use CBD in strength and coordination training. 

Sometimes flow can be elusive, and a training session can be a drag without it. By using CBD you can effectively ‘flow hack’ and make it easier to find your flow. 

Whilst we still share stories with each other about what CBD might do, research is being conducted by the University of California (UCLA) investigating the effect of CBD on the amount of time it takes to drop into flow, and the depth of flow experienced (5)

CBD, Muscle Soreness and Recovery 

If you’re a trainer, an athlete or just someone who likes to stay fit and healthy, then you’ll know all about the aches and pains that come with regular and particularly challenging exercise. So, the idea of post workout CBD benefits may seem very appealing to you. 

Whether its yoga, crossfit, calisthenics or rock climbing; there’s bound to be some form of soreness after you’ve exerted yourself. 

These activities all involve some degree of repeated muscular contraction, which can make muscles sore. 

With resistance training in particular comes the dreaded delayed onset of muscular soreness (DOMS) that occurs afterwards.

Although no studies have looked at the direct link between CBD and DOMS, many athletes swear by it to reduce soreness and boost recovery. 

DOMS is a form of exercise induced muscle damage. It is caused by micro-tears that occur in muscle fibers, particularly after eccentric muscular contractions. These micro-tears disrupt the balance of calcium in the muscles, which causes inflammation and soreness.

What might be going on here, and how may CBD help with DOMs? Let’s take a look under the hood at the mechanisms to find out if CBD can improve workout recovery. 

CBD was found to restore calcium concentrations in muscle cells whilst also reducing inflammation (6). CBD is known to activate channels (TRPV1) which control the flow of calcium into cells (7). This could be one way CBD contributes to reduced soreness following training. 

The same study also found that by regulating calcium flow, CBD was able to encourage the formation of new muscle fibers from stem cells (satellites and myoblasts) (8). This could be one mechanism by which CBD promotes the speedy recovery of muscle tissue after training. 

A clinical trial has recently found that topical CBD was effective at reducing myofascial pain in patients with muscular disorders (9). This finding is encouraging, and hints at a benefit for exercise induced muscular pain as well. 

Inflammation is also something we want to be cognizant of when trying to reduce soreness and speed recovery. 

It's often a controversy because inflammation is important for the remodeling and repair of muscle tissue. Inflammatory messengers IL-10, TGF-β, TNF-α, and NF-κB also encourage satellite cells to grow into new muscle fibers (10), leading to the recovery of muscles. 

However, after training only specific areas of muscle are damaged, but the inflammatory response often spreads to areas of the muscle which haven’t been significantly damaged. This is how inflammation, whilst beneficial for recovery, can also inhibit it. 

This is why athletes choose to use ice baths, and anti-inflammatory drugs following their training - to minimize the widespread effects of inflammation. 

This is where CBD comes in. Whilst CBD does reduce inflammation, it may do it in a way that complements the recovery process. CBD has been found to reduce inflammatory messengers such as IL-1β, IL-6, NF-κB and TNF-α whilst having no effect on IL-10, TGF-β (11). IL-10 in particular promotes the formation of new muscle cells (12). This may be why CBD is able to reduce inflammation without inhibiting the recovery process. 

A lot of oxidative damage also happens after exercise induced muscle damage, which is another factor which contributes to soreness (13)

CBD acts as a powerful antioxidant, and when I say powerful I mean powerful - one study found it was more potent of an antioxidant than both Vitamin C and E (14)

This is another mechanism whereby CBD helps reduce muscle soreness after exercise training, which suggests CBD can be used to assist weight training. 

CBD, Bone Health and Injury

Almost every athlete has encountered an injury throughout their career. Some injuries are manageable, and may only put you out a few weeks, depending on your sport. The kind of injuries that can put you out a season or more are broken bones. Particularly susceptible to fractures are athletes who compete in contact and action sports. 

It is intriguing that the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) controls the creation and destruction of bone (15), (16), so it may come as no surprise that cannabinoids may have an affect on fractures and bone regeneration/density (17)

Bone density is a balance between producing bone and breaking it down. When cells that break bone down (osteoclasts) are suppressed, it allows bone producing cells (osteoblasts) to take precedence, encouraging increased bone density.

CBD affects bone metabolism by increasing the number and function of bone producing cells, and by reducing the activity of bone degrading cells and the resorption of bone in mice (18)

There are receptors on bone-forming and bone-degrading cells. CBD either directly or indirectly interacts with these receptors:

  • Blocks GRP55 on bone degrading cells, which reduces their activity and helps preserve bone density (19)
  • Blocks CB1 activation on bone degrading cells, reduces osteoclast number and bone resorption (20)
  • Blocks CB2 activation on bone cells (20)

CBD has actually been found to enhance fracture healing in rats with broken legs (21), which supports the mechanisms above. 

It has also been found that CBD reduces bone loss in rats with a spinal cord injury, by preserving bone volume (22)

It’ll be interesting to see how CBD fares in clinical trials investigating fracture healing, but the studies in animals are really interesting so far. 

As we’ve discussed earlier, the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and tissue regenerating properties of CBD may help boost recovery. Some athletes also state that CBD has helped them recover from injury. 

Chris Camozzi - “it wasn’t just my knee, my whole body started healing faster. I was recovering faster after workouts, less sore, less down time, able to rebound in ways I never had. Even the bursitis in my shoulder feels better. Everything feels better. I know even telling the story it sounds crazy but that is how incredible and noticeable this was for me.”

CBD, Stress, Sleep and Overtraining

Sport and exercise is demanding on the body. It's a stressor that serves to initiate adaptations that will better serve us against it in the future. 

However the balance between a beneficial stressor and a deleterious one is a fine line for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. You want to ensure you do enough to get faster, stronger and more resilient, but this comes at the risk of overtraining. 

To optimize the balance between getting the beneficial adaptations from stress, and minimizing the downsides, one must control other stressors in their life. 

Sleep is one of the most important recovery processes, and there’s no compromise on losing out on it. Poor sleep or sleep deprivation is a stressor, and one you could do without. 

When we don’t get enough sleep, our hormonal equilibrium suffers as a result. I’m mainly referring to cortisol, which becomes elevated with chronically bad sleep. Elevated cortisol is a sign of overtraining, and can have negative effects on your performance. 

Similarly financial, emotional, romantic and mental stress all pitch in to raise cortisol. Lifestyle stress is a negative synergy with exercise, because it too can ramp up cortisol production.

One study in middle and long distance runners found that starting the season with elevated cortisol values significantly reduced performance during the season (23)

Cortisol production depends on the type, intensity, volume and frequency of exercise. High intensity resistance exercise (60-80% Vo2 Max) elicits a greater cortisol response than lower intensity (40% Vo2 Max), which actually reduces cortisol (24)

HIIT is associated with higher cortisol than aerobic endurance exercise 12 hours after training (25). If rest periods are shorter and exertion is higher in resistance training this tends to increase cortisol levels (26)

Chronic high volume training and higher rates of exertion unsurprisingly correlate with increased cortisol in distance runners (27)

The art of sustainable training is therefore to offset high intensities with lower volumes and adequate rest, and to offset high volume training with lower intensity. Higher training frequency also jacks up cortisol levels, so also needs considering. Measure your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) to stay on top of your stress levels. 

Elevated Cortisol is a problem for a few reasons:

  • Cortisol is catabolic and breaks down muscle tissue (28)
  • Cortisol is important for regulating inflammation, chronic elevations reduce immunity (29)
  • Cortisol is antagonistic to insulin and testosterone, two anabolic hormones needed for growth and recovery. 
  • Cortisol reduces insulin sensitivity, and inhibits glucose uptake into muscle (30)
  • Cortisol spikes in the evening make it tough to get good sleep (31)

Cortisol forms part of the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis, the hormonal network which regulates stress. The ECS is also involved in regulating the HPA axis, through CB1 receptors found on the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. This enables the ECS to put the brakes on the HPA axis to resolve stress. 

Cannabinoids are also a way of reducing stress, and CBD has been shown to reduce corticosterone (cortisol) (32) in animals. CBD has also been shown to influence cortisol release in humans (33), which may help resolve stress. 

This may be due to CBD’s ability to increase the brain's natural cannabinoid, Anandamide. Anandamide activates the CB1 receptor in the hypothalamus, which may cause a downstream reduction in cortisol secretion from the adrenals (34)

In support of this, CBD has been shown to lessen anxiety (35), (36), (37), (38) and improve sleep in people with sleep disorders (39), (40), (41). CBD’s ability to improve sleep has been partly attributed to its ability to lessen anxiety, and perhaps by reducing cortisol. 

The other way CBD helps sleep is by enhancing REM sleep (42), the stage of sleep which is important for learning, memory and mood and for replenishing the brain and body's energy. 

In summary, CBD may lessen the risk of overtraining, and reduce the overall impact of physical and mental stress on training and performance. 

Ben Greenfiled “I'm right on-board. I'll use a lower amount for a nap, like I'll use like 40, 50 milligrams for a nap and then in doses above 100 for sleep”

CBD and Joint Health

There’s no doubt that exercise takes its toll on the joints. The constant friction endured by long distance runners, the load taken by weightlifters, and the stress of dynamic and abrupt movements in sports like tennis, soccer and basketball. 

A significant source of pain fitness enthusiasts and athletes experience is from wear and tear on the joints. 

For example, a recent meta-analysis found that long exposure to high-volume and/or high-intensity running is associated with hip and/or knee osteoarthritis (43).

A systematic review of different sporting disciplines revealed that elite level soccer players, weight lifters, wrestlers and American football players (elite and amateur) had a higher prevalence of osteoarthritis in their knees (44)

Elite track and field, hockey and handball players have a higher risk of developing hip osteoarthritis (45)

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, which results in a breakdown of the joints protective cushioning - the cartilage.

Osteoarthritis is only partly underpinned by inflammation and may also be driven by mechanical wear and tear, causing structural damage to the cartilage. There’s no evidence (yet) that cannabinoids like CBD can help with the structural component of osteoarthritis, but may for the inflammatory component.

In osteoarthritis, inflammation occurs in the joints which affects various tissues that are crucial to their function; the cartilage, synovial membrane (synovium) and bone.  

Cannabinoids have been found to reduce the inflammatory messengers that destroy cartilage, by modulating the ECS found within the joints (46). The ECS regulates the metabolism of cartilage tissue, so using cannabinoids is a way to potentially influence cartilage turnover.  

That’s not all - the ECS is also found in the synovium, the soft tissue which lines the entire inner space within a joint, except where it is lined with cartilage. Again, it’s the ECS job to maintain the turnover of these tissues so that the synovium remains strong and protective to joints. 

Cannabinoids have also been found to inhibit the inflammatory messengers which seek to destroy synovial tissue (47), which may help preserve overall joint health. 

The ECS also controls bone metabolism - the essential balance between the synthesis and breakdown of bone tissue. CBD has actually been found to reduce the breakdown of bone (minerals) in mice (48)

CBD is able to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling associated with general arthritis in rats (49). CBD has also been found to reduce Osteoarthritis pain (50). Similar cannabinoids have also been found to reduce weight bearing deficits and improve grip strength in rats (51), suggesting improved joint function. 

There’s no clinical evidence in humans that CBD may slow the progression of osteoarthritis. But the mechanisms suggest cannabinoids may prevent the early stages and progression of osteoarthritis by inhibiting the breakdown of tissues essential for proper joint function. 

For now, we may have to rely on anecdotes from athletes as more and more adopt CBD into their training and recovery regimens. 

Terrell Davis “I’ve been on CBD for well over a year now, and I can tell you that my body feels great. I have no more inflammation in my body, my knee, and my joint pain is gone. My migraines — I haven’t taken migraine medicine for over a year,”

Tendonitis is also a common problem for athletes across the board. One example being tennis elbow.

Tendons transmit the forces of muscle to the skeleton, and are subjected to repeated mechanical loads. Heavy training and competition may ramp up tendon tissue deterioration, and inflammation. 

Tissue deterioration and inflammation both play a role in tendinopathies. As a powerful anti-inflammatory, I would expect CBD to be useful for inflammation, but perhaps not for tissue deterioration. That’s just a thought - there’s currently no scientific evidence to support it. 

However, Charles Bush-Joseph, M.D has this to say; “CBD coupled with stretching, icing, and foam rolling is a common treatment plan for tendonitis injuries about the knee, such as iliotibial band syndrome.”

CBD and Pain 

One of the most common uses for CBD is undoubtedly pain. This is for the general public who experience pain as a result of conditions, diseases or injuries. But when it comes to sports and exercise, CBD may prove beneficial for athletes experiencing pain, too. 

Most of the evidence regarding CBD and pain is from studies examining pain related to health conditions, so there’s no direct evidence related to pain due to sports and exercise. 

However, given the mechanisms of action of CBD, and a few anecdotes from athletes themselves, it is likely that there is some benefit for using CBD for pain related to exercise and/or injury. 

Topical CBD has been found to significantly reduce neuropathic pain of the lower extremities (52). Topically applied CBD has also been found to reduce myofascial pain after 14 days of consistent use (53)

Oral CBD (~ 18.5mg/day) alone has been effective at managing pain, however the pain killing effect was greater when combined with THC (54)

Typically higher doses of CBD are needed for a greater pain killing effect, or a combination with THC. 

A lot of athletes (in the states) also have access to THC, and they often choose to microdose THC alongside CBD (10:1 CBD:THC) for a more pronounced pain killing effect. 

There’s some decent evidence that supports the use of a 1:1 ratio of CBD:THC for managing pain. 

Most studies investigating effects on pain use Sativex, a pharmaceutical THC:CBD spray (delivers 2.7 mg THC and 2.5 mg CBD per actuation). These trials have shown that neuropathic pain in Multiple Sclerosis is effectively reduced by a THC:CBD combo (54), (55), (56)

How To Use CBD for Pain

There’s two main ways CBD can be helpful here, which may depend on what your sport or activity is. 

  1. CBD can be used during training or competition to help increase tolerance to pain. 
  2. It can also be used to help manage pain outside of training. 

Using CBD During Training

Increasing your pain threshold to tolerate particularly intense and/or long bouts of exercise no doubt helps you go the extra mile (quite literally). 

Some athletes (particularly endurance) use NSAID’s like Ibuprofen prophylactically to manage pain whilst competing. Interestingly, Ibuprofen doesn’t appear to significantly reduce the perception of pain throughout competition (57) - even though many athletes use it for this purpose. 

A few endurance athletes are ditching the ibuprofen for CBD (sometimes with a touch of THC) to help them increase their pain tolerance and focus during exercise. 

Ben GreenfieldI talked to a lot of athletes, especially in like Colorado for example, who are using THC, and THC edibles, and weed to increase focus and to decrease perceptions of pain during exercise. So I decided to see if I could use CBD.  I was experimenting with everything from the 10 to the 50 milligram range of CBD capsules for this, and I've found that I can get a very, very similar effect”

Whether you’re taking on a particularly tough WAD (workout of the day), slogging through an ultra or turning up the intensity, CBD may just be the thing that helps take the edge off. 

Using CBD After Training

CBD is arguably the most popular choice amongst athletes who compete in sports that are hard on the body - NFL, NHL, MMA, UFC, Rugby, action sports and endurance events. These sports often come with either an acutely or chronically high risk for encountering pain, and many athletes often reach for the medicine cabinet to find relief. 

There’s a lot of inflammation that occurs with exercise, and it often hits the muscles and joints the hardest. Inflammation is essential for recovery and adaptation to exercise, but it’s also a by product of pushing your limits, and comes at a cost - it’s painful. That's why the use of NSAID’s is popular in sport, particularly Ibuprofen.

Interestingly, high doses of Ibuprofen have actually been associated with slowed muscle recovery, reduced strength and hypertrophy after resistance training (58), which could be interfering with the acute inflammatory response to exercise. Normal doses don’t appear to impact muscle pain, soreness or recovery (59). It’s tricky as high doses may be needed for pain relief, but at a burden to the recovery process. 

Other downsides of long term use of NSAID’s include gastrointestinal, hepatic, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and kidney complications (60)

The good news folks, is that CBD is also a powerful anti-inflammatory, which has demonstrated its ability to reduce inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain (61). It also has a great side effect profile (62), which means that side effects are minimal when using it even at high doses and for long periods of time. 

The World Health Organisation has also declared that CBD is safe (, 2019), which may translate into long term use without the risks associated with NSAID’s. 

Floyd Landis told the Washington Post - “It’s not something I was exposed to as an athlete, but it was effective in allowing me to wean off opioids,” he says. “Now I use CBD daily as a pain reliever.” 

Which Famous Athletes Take CBD?

John Isner - “I play a sport where taking a single point off can be the difference between winning and losing a match and Defy (CBD) is a product specifically intended to put me in a position to perform on every single point,”

Nate Diaz recently spoke about CBD, “It’s CBD. It helps with the healing process and inflammation, stuff like that. So you want to get these for before and after the fights, training. It’ll make your life a better place.”

Andrew Talansky recently told Outside Magazine how CBD has helped him manage lingering pain from a previous hip injury. “I took it for a couple of weeks, and there was a noticeable difference immediately. And it wasn’t just that my hip was feeling better. I was less anxious, and I was sleeping better."

Ben GreenfieldI talked to a lot of athletes, especially in like Colorado for example, who are using THC, and THC edibles, and weed to increase focus and to decrease perceptions of pain during exercise. So I decided to see if I could use CBD.  I was experimenting with everything from the 10 to the 50 milligram range of CBD capsules for this, and I've found that I can get a very, very similar effect”

Floyd Landis told the Washington Post - “It’s not something I was exposed to as an athlete, but it was effective in allowing me to wean off opioids,” he says. “Now I use CBD daily as a pain reliever.” 

Terrell Davis “I’ve been on CBD for well over a year now, and I can tell you that my body feels great. I have no more inflammation in my body, my knee, and my joint pain is gone. My migraines — I haven’t taken migraine medicine for over a year,”

Charles Bush-Joseph, M.D has this to say; “CBD coupled with stretching, icing, and foam rolling is a common treatment plan for tendonitis injuries about the knee, such as iliotibial band syndrome.”

Chris Camozzi - “I wanted to focus on recovering from my torn MCL so I tried the CBD oil.  I healed my knee faster than my docs had ever seen. I’ll never forget the Dr. saying “I’ve never seen anyone recover from an injury this quickly.” After everything I had heard about CBD, it wasn’t a shock and I was a believer.”

George Kruis used CBD whilst he was recovering from an ankle injury; “I spray it under the tongue for a minute or two and then just go about my business.”

Ben Greenfiled “I'm right on-board. I'll use a lower amount for a nap, like I'll use like 40, 50 milligrams for a nap and then in doses above 100 for sleep”

How Does CBD Interact with Workout Supplements?

CBD does have a lot of interactions with pharmaceutical drugs, and some other herbs. You can check out the interactions between medications and CBD here

So far as interactions with workout supplements go, there does not appear to be any interactions with popular supplements such as protein powders, amino acids and carbohydrates since these are dietary in nature. 

However, other supplements may differ. You can check for any interactions between supplements and CBD here

Since many supplements are broken down by the liver, and CBD can slow liver enzymes that break some substances down, it’s good to be conscious of how your liver and kidneys are functioning in general. 

It’s unlikely that there would be any significant interactions with dietary supplements, but you can check for interactions, as well as keep an eye on liver function with regular health check-ups.