Protein is the most abundant structural substance in the body. After water, it’s the most abundant substance in the body, period. Protein provides the building blocks for muscles and organs, and it even helps organize DNA.
Based on this it’s not surprising that protein plays a huge role in maintaining — and improving — body composition. Athletes experience protein’s importance daily, and many of them do everything they can to make sure they’re getting enough protein to maximize muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
If you’ve read our previous articles, you’ve come to understand just how important CBD is to muscle growth, too. CBD sets the stage for optimal MPS by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing cortisol en route to a healthier, fitter you.
So, protein is integral to muscle growth, and so is CBD. Both substances are pretty amazing performance enhancers in their own ways. Could there be a way to combine them? As it turns out, yes.
CBD = Recovery
CBD is an adaptogen. What that really means is that it lowers stress levels by helping one's body to break past its normal limitations and actively adapt to stressors
And exercise, like it or not, is an inherent source of stress.
Keep in mind, though, that not all stress is bad. Exercise actually falls under the category of eustress, or good stress. Other subtle forms of eustress include things like exposure to cold temperatures or even eating polyphenol-rich vegetables.
Eustress is a powerful tool for athletes, but it’s one that has to be harnessed and used very carefully. Hans Selye, the scientist who coined the term, himself remarked that “it’s not so much what happens to you but how you take it.” Eustress only becomes too stressful when a person fails to adapt to it. In other words, it’s completely conditional.
That’s where CBD comes in. Its adaptogenic nature is a double edged sword. CBD doesn't just lower stress — it also raises a person's stress tolerance. And that makes things like intense exercise all the more powerful.
Raised stress tolerance means good things for the athlete who's pushing themselves to go further. Taking CBD consistently might make the sweet spot between overtraining and undertraining a little easier to find. An athlete on CBD can push themselves to their limits without having to fear nervous system burnout or sports injuries as much.
How does all this happen? We’ve already covered many of the mechanism behind CBD in previous articles, so let’s just take a look at two of the most important ones here: reduced inflammation and lower cortisol.
CBD, Whey, and Inflammation Regulation
Inflammation is one of those health markers that should be kept in balance. A little bit of inflammation is beneficial to exercise recovery, and thus also to muscle growth. But an inflammatory response that’s too strong, or one that goes on for too long, blunts recovery and makes bouncing back from hard workouts very, very difficult.
52% of all Americans experience post-workout aches and pains when trying to get fitter, and even athletes devoted to this quest run into the same thing. It’s safe to say inflammation is a big deal.
Thankfully, it’s also a target of CBD. The plant molecule reduces inflammation by directly strengthening our body’s TRPV-1 system. This system regulates many elements of pain perception and even controls how we feel heat. CBD’s impact on this receptor system results in a body that can more easily sense inflammation — and therefore more easily reduce it.
Keep in mind that inflammation’s also regulated by the immune system. Strong immunity, after all, is what first sets off the inflammatory response. Once again, this response is a good thing...but only in moderation! It’s not uncommon for the immune system to react too strongly to unusually stressful exercise.
And when that happens, CBD comes to the rescue yet again. The same benefits that make it so powerfully protective against autoimmune diseases actually help with exercise recovery, too! CBD and the other cannabinoids in hemp ‘quiet down’ the immune system and tangibly reduce interleukin levels.
Interleukins, especially IL-6, are highly inflammatory signaling molecules. They share a fatty-acid precursor, or building block, with endocannabinoids. It’s almost like CBD gives the body the option to choose: funnel energy towards inflammation (interleukins), or towards fluid growth (endocannabinoids). By reducing stress, CBD makes recovery and growth the biochemically easy choice.
CBD isn’t the only thing that reduces this type of inflammatory product. Protein does, too — especially the whey protein variety.
Whey protein boosts something called IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor. IGF-1 is extremely anabolic, as you might assume by its name. It’s also inversely related to interleukin levels; if one is up, the other is typically down. Low IGF-1 and high IL-6 usually mean sickness. But high IGF-1 and low IL-6 is reflective of the perfect environment for vitality, bone health, and muscle growth. As if this wasn’t enough, whey protein intake’s been correlated with lower levels of another inflammatory marker, C-reactive protein, too.
Whey protein doesn’t just boost insulin-like hormones; it also boosts insulin itself. That’s exactly what you want in the post-workout period. Together with CBD, whey protein taken PWO ‘shuts off’ the stress response and initiates anabolism when it’s needed most.
Though the mechanisms whey and CBD use are very different, the end result is the same: more muscle growth facilitated in a more ideal environment!
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: chronically high cortisol levels present the single biggest barrier to athletic recovery and success.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that’s partially responsible for the fight-or-flight phenomena. It leaves behind a trail of unpleasant side effects. It hurts mood and reduces sleep quality. Just as bad, it’s catabolic — that means it breaks down other substances in a desperate effort to free up more fuel for the body.
This is a very real problem for many athletes. The solution? Fuel up with something that does everything cortisol doesn’t. Science has found an antidote: whey protein.
Decades of research show that whey protein is able to lower cortisol levels while simultaneously boosting serotonin production. You can thank its rich amino acid content for that. It looks like the endocannabinoid-mediated runner’s high just got that much more powerful.
A Body-Composition Breakthrough
While these benefits are great and all, recovery is only one aspect of athletic performance. And quick recovery time isn’t the only thing that goes into forming the fittest, healthiest version of you.
Let’s take a look at another important topic for athletes: body composition.
This may come as a surprise, but even those who maintain an active, health-conscious lifestyle can struggle with their weight. Other fitness enthusiasts might not need to lose any weight...but instead be desperate to gain strength and muscle!
Elite athletes aren’t immune, either. Many of them resort to dangerous techniques like extreme glycogen manipulation or the overuse of fat-burners in their own battle against the scale.
But why sacrifice longevity for performance when you don’t have to? After all, the battle isn’t against a set of numbers, or even your body itself, but instead against an important hormone called leptin.
More specifically, improvements in body composition necessitate battling against leptin resistance and improving leptin sensitivity.
Leptin controls a lot of activities within the body, including hunger, body temperature, satiety, and certain aspects of immune function. As we said, it’s important, and unlike cortisol, not something we should be focused only on reducing.
Instead, our hope is that by understanding leptin you’ll be able to work with it, not against it, on your journey to improved body composition. And the way to do that is to become as leptin sensitive as possible.
When leptin sensitive, your body will be able to accurately gauge its muscle and fat levels and adjust things as necessary. In other words, you’ll have more control over your body fat setpoint. Improving leptin sensitivity means less false hunger and greater satiety at any given level of leanness.
It’s been well documented that whey protein increases satiety, too. And that can be explained largely because of its impact on leptin levels. Supplemental whey protein increases thermogenesis (from food and even from fat stores!) and actually counteracts the leptin resistance that can occur from suboptimal diets.
CBD does something similar. Leptin production in the brain, after all, occurs ‘downstream’ of endocannabinoid system signaling. And the Cannabinoid type-2 receptors that CBD feeds so well into actually foster improvements in leptin receptor sensitivity, too. All this means you might feel less driven to consume otherwise addictive, unhealthy foods, at the same time experiencing greater levels of leanness!
Pure Ingredients for Pure Performance Improvements
To summarize, both CBD and whey protein have the potential to help you make the most out of your workouts. The proof is in the protein, after all! One study put it this way:
“Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the driving force behind adaptive responses to exercise and represents a widely adopted proxy for gauging chronic efficacy of [exercise /nutrition].”
And adapting to exercise is what it’s all about. In CBD and whey protein, nature has provided us the adaptogens we need to adapt the right way. Why not make the most out of these powerful, natural tools to gain muscle and get fitter in the process?
While nature’s design is perfect, the current status of the nutraceutical industry is a little more unsure. It’s common for compounds like CBD and whey to be overprocessed and under-filtered, or worse, be adulterated with cheaper ingredients. All this in the name of greater profit margins.
Unfortunate, but also a part of reality. Thankfully, though, there are ways to protect yourself from these unhealthy trends. Make sure your CBD is sustainably sourced and validated by lab tests. And make sure your whey protein is in its most potent, most bioavailable whey isolate form.
When it comes to protein intake, quality’s at least as important as quantity. Why’s this? Because protein isn’t actually directly used by the body; first it has to be broken down into smaller, more absorbable components called amino acids. The quality of a protein determines how well recognized — and therefore how well absorbed — its amino acids are upon ingestion.
Whey protein is absorbed better and more quickly than virtually any other protein source out there, containing all 9 essential amino acids. And whey protein isolate is fastest among every kind of whey, something that a 2003 study clearly confirmed. According to another study, this one from 2012, whey boosts MPS even more powerfully when taken within 2 hours of a workout.
These findings have helped make whey protein isolate the premium of the crowded supplement industry — and rightfully so.
Another important point: the whey protein you select should be rBGH-free. rBGH stands for recombinant bovine growth hormone, and it’s sometimes given to cows to increase their milk production. Given it’s synthetic, largely untested for mass consumption, and already banned in many European countries, that’s not good.
So avoid products that aren’t clearly rBGH-free, and avoid protein powders that contain cheaper alternatives like whey protein concentrate. We’d encourage you to select the highest quality supplements you can find, whether that means sustainable CBD, whey protein isolate, or both! After all, your nutrition and recovery deserve the best of both worlds.