CBD and the Performance Athlete

Peak Performance is an all-encompassing paradigm to include training, reload practices, and fueling strategies. What seems to become an afterthought as the demand increases throughout the year, is the value rest and reload has on the athletes’ ability to perform at the absolute highest level possible.

Athletes, whether you are a short-stop on the Astros or an age-group triathlete, you are in constant pursuit of adopting anything that will gain even a 1% advantage and keeps you stronger for longer. These high achieving athletic crusaders push their bodies to the absolute limits that their DNA allows them to endure. In all respects of life, the only way to achieve peak performance is to implore intelligent reload strategies that work, in tandem, with their training program, to bring these desirable adaptations to life.

The amount of physical trauma that long-term performance commands also leaves the body susceptible to injury. Chronic use of conventional label NSAIDs, such as Aleve and Advil, are commonplace amongst the entire athletic family tree. This practice comes at a price, such as gastrointestinal distress, and places a strain on the liver.

Cannabinoids, better known as CBD, is taboo, but slowly gaining acceptance in professional sports such as MLB, NHL, Big3 and USA Triathlon. With the changes seen in WADA policies for the 2020 games, now allowing Olympic athletes to use natural CBD, it is only a matter of time before the other leagues champion the same policy.

These policies are becoming more and more relaxed because research has identified that the body has an endocannabinoid system with endogenous cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors. In the 1960s, US-funded research essentially exposed the harmful effects of cannabis in the body; during this time, the recreational use of cannabis was becoming widespread. What the National Institute on Drug abuse seemingly discovered was a novel physiological system, the endocannabinoid system- ECS, and the benefits surrounding the biochemical properties of the plant.

Without diving down the rabbit-hole here is the short version of what the ECS is responsible for:

  • It is comprised of enzymes, receptor sites on cells, that receive information from cannabinoids and molecules known as endocannabinoids that are biosynthesized from lipids
  • Believed to have more receptor sites than any other system in the human body
  • ·Critical to human health by maintaining homeostasis
  • ·Positively influences brain development beginning in early adolescents
  • It assists with pain mitigation
  • Is vital in disease prevention.

Pain & Performance

The ECS widely influences the mechanisms that cause pain. Chronic inflammation that results in long-lasting pain is linked to anandamide. This fatty acid neurotransmitter reduces inflammation by being oxidized by inflammatory enzymes like cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipoxygenase (LOX). This simultaneously increases the production of proinflammatory molecules, which increases the perception of pain. Dr. Johnson refers to this as “the perfect storm when proinflammatory enzymes are elevated, reducing endogenous cannabinoids to reduce pain and increasing molecules that heighten pain.”

It is safe to say that the consumption of exogenous cannabinoids, CBD, becomes vital in regulating the ECS and managing pain and inflammation.

Endurance athletes, specifically in Ironman triathlon, are notorious for excessive volumes of training to build the adaptations needed to endure the 140.6-mile single-day event. It has been known this chronic level of physical and emotional stress triggers a constant fight or flight response by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA). The results of this response are hallmark to “over-training syndrome” and injuries. Research suggests this can cause a disruption in the ECS, which heightens sensitivity to stress and is compounded in the trenches of triathlon training. Studies have proven there are chronically elevated levels of cortisol in response to the massive demand of training and races in the sport of endurance competition. The result from this typically leads to HPAA dysfunction resulting in implications for the athletes’ somatic and mental health.

“Endocannabinoids increase our ability to cope with stress by regulating the HPAA. Chronic stress also diminishes the ability of the ECS to shield against stress and predisposes one to anxiety and depression.” Hillard, CJ. Stress Regulates Endocannabinoid-CB1 Receptor Signaling. Semin Immunol. 2014 Oct; 26(5): 380-8.

Johnson states, “Collectively, the overwhelming evidence indicates the ECS is critical to maintaining homeostasis, buffering stress and regulating the HPAA during and after a stressful situation.”

It is believed what separates elite level athletes, from the masses, is their ability to dig deeper and go stronger for longer. There is anecdotal evidence supporting central and peripheral fatigue resistance, during endurance running and/or cycling performance, when using a low dose transdermal balm. The balm can be applied to the upper and lower legs about 90 minutes prior to training to allow for a steady-state plasma concentration over the 2-4 hour training session.

CBD products can come in various delivery systems such as edibles, transdermal balms, capsules, nasal sprays and tinctures. Choosing the right product can become daunting, considering the newness and constant change in regulation.

A 2017 study found that almost 70% of CBD products tested had higher or lower CBD amounts than those listed on the label. Bonn-Miller, MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF. Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online. JAMA 2017; 318 (17): 1708-9

Many reputable brands exist in the market space; it is a matter of finding one that is:

  • Supported with evidence-based research
  • Partnered with leading authorities in the space
  • Physician-approved & recommended
  • Phytocannabinoid and not synthetic uses the safest, most effective extraction methods- CO2 uses sourced hemp with no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers.

In short, there seems to be an alarming amount of evidence that the ECS works to bulletproof our physiology by buffering stress, regulating our HPAA, and maintaining homeostasis. Knowing this, it becomes a no-brainer as to how valuable CBD could be for a competitive athlete who is consistently pushing their physical limits to redefine their genetic ceiling. When the body is unable to recover optimally from the training demand, not to forget life stress, you are left trying to shoot a cannon from a canoe.

Hillard, CJ. Stress Regulates Endocannabinoid-CB1 Receptor Signaling. Semin Immunol. 2014 Oct; 26(5): 380-8.

Bonn-Miller, MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF. Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online. JAMA 2017; 318 (17): 1708-9

Johnson, Scott A., AMP, CEEOS, CCMA, CPC; The Endocannabinoid System and Cannabis- The Perfect Partnership for Self-Regulation and Healing