For many athletes, the day begins with your workout.
Prior to working out, you might still be in that semi-conscious state that sometimes accompanies early mornings. Hopefully you manage to do some journaling or meditation; maybe you spend some time in gratitude, too.
But the day truly begins with your morning workout. It sets the stage for the rest of the day, both symbolically and physically. Whether in the gym or on the trail, or even cycling down the road, the time spent working out provides an opportunity to get in the zone.
And in this flow state, good things happen. Increased blood flow means an influx of good ideas and new ways of viewing things. Increased fat oxidation means a stabler mood (and better weight control!). And a post-workout endorphin boost keeps you feeling great all day.
As a fitness enthusiast, you already understand the importance of getting that daily workout time in. You’ve experienced firsthand that a single good workout can optimize both mind and body and set your entire day up for success.
In this article, we’ll take a look at why exercise is so important — and how it does what it does to the body and mind. Then we’ll describe some ways you can amplify these already impressive effects using CBD.
As it turns out, pursuing fitness and using CBD actually have some things in common! And it could be that the CBD molecule holds the key to taking your fitness to the next level.
Exercise & Endocannabinoids
You know that euphoric feeling that often accompanies the end of a great workout? The endorphin boost we mentioned earlier? It’s actually not caused entirely by endorphins.
When the endorphin system was discovered in the ‘70’s, scientists got very excited. Here was a biological system that responded well to certain components of plants (sound familiar?); one that could be ‘hacked’ by opioids in order to relieve pain. It was known that endorphins impacted mood, so the phenomenon of ‘runner’s high’ quickly got grouped into the category of things endorphins could do.
But endorphins are too big to get into the brain easily. They don’t cross the blood-brain barrier — at least not very well. That’s led us to a new theory: that post-exercise euphoria actually happens when the body produces its own internal cannabis.
Endorphins are too large to pass through into the brain, as you can see here!
In reality, internal cannabinoids are produced all the time, in virtually every part of the body. They’re what make the ECS tick; what makes it possible for us to stay healthy even when the outside world is constantly changing. But these endocannabinoids get produced extra fast after a tough workout:
Anandamide, an endocannabinoid, gets boosted post-workout.
And unlike endorphins, endocannabinoids are small enough to move freely throughout the brain. That makes them the most plausible cause of runner’s high.
If you’re wondering why the body might do something like this, you wouldn’t be alone. Why would nature chemically incentivize working out? There are several interesting explanations. The book Born To Run argues that evolutionary forces helped us adapt to frequent exercise. Rewards for such activity included a successful hunt — and feel-good hormones, of course.
Though exact theories may vary, it does seem like the human body has an innate desire to strengthen itself through working out. Given the endocannabinoid system regulates so many other things, it almost isn’t surprising that this inner drive is overseen by it, too.
CBD: A Master Antioxidant?
A body in motion can be compared to a sports car. Capable of putting out controlled power and operating in even the most challenging conditions, both sports car and athlete are impressive displays of what’s possible through forward motion.
But both will eventually break down once pushed passed a certain point.
The car’s engine may overheat; and eventually, it will definitely run out of gas. The athlete, on the other hand, will produce excess lactic acid and far too many free radicals. They’ll ‘run out of gas’, too, when their glycogen deposits have been exhausted.
There’s a theme here: small inefficiencies will eventually produce big problems. They can become rate-limiting factors on the path to peak performance.
Keep in mind that things like free radicals are normal; they’re not bad. Neither is lactate. It’s just that they can become barriers to athletic ability that either slow your body down or have to be overcome.
As an athlete, you already know about the importance of antioxidants. You may have also heard of glutathione, the ‘master antioxidant’ that our bodies make in nearly every cell. While many people focus on antioxidants like vitamin C, glutathione is far more powerful and efficient.
And it turns out that CBD boosts glutathione — which in turn eats up free radicals and speeds up muscle recovery — multiple times better than Vitamin E or Vitamin C.
This means good things for you and your athletic performance. Taking CBD may allow you to bounce back faster from hard workouts. It may even make these workouts more enjoyable by enhancing the runner’s high we mentioned earlier.
Cannabidiol and Endurance
At the heart of CBD’s athletic benefits is the idea that it’s an adaptogen — “a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.” In helping with this adaptation, CBD may allow you to handle more intense workouts without risking overtraining or burnout.
After all, the best fitness plans walk a fine line; they’re a blend of pushing yourself past old limits and allowing plenty of time to recover. Push too hard, and you risk plateauing. Push too little, and your body won’t get the message to progress. Taking CBD consistently might make the ‘sweet spot’ in your training a little easier to find. (We’ll talk more about this exciting concept in our next article!)
Now that we’ve covered CBD’s impact on recovery, let’s look at another one of its benefits, one that’s especially good for athletes who want to lean down: CBD shifts metabolism toward fat oxidation. That’s great for endurance athletes in particular, but also for any athlete who wants to keep carbohydrate cravings in check.
The biochemistry in action here is pretty complex, and includes conversion of normal fat to its more metabolically-active relative, brown adipose tissue. Thankfully, you don’t have to understand how brown fat works to reap its benefits!
For those athletes who do bike or run hundreds of miles every week, CBD’s impact on fat metabolism is especially exciting. You’re already training your body to burn fat for fuel; CBD just provides a little more help in this area. And increased fat oxidation means your glycogen stores can be saved for more critical efforts later on in your workouts.
CBD & Strength Gains
But CBD’s not just for endurance athletes. It’s incredibly helpful in power sports, too. The CBD molecule supports greater muscle gain and reduced DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). It may even promote a better physique via improved insulin sensitivity. And we already mentioned that CBD might just let you train harder — in the case of strength training, it does this by protecting the central nervous system, too.
Let’s take a look at these benefits one by one:
CBD supports muscle gain and reduces muscle soreness.
Muscle gain is a complicated process. First, it involves damaging muscle tissue, on a microscopic scale, through mechanical tension like lifting heavy weights. After this damage comes much needed recovery time, during which muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is triggered by hormones like mTOR and HGH. The harder the workout, the longer it might take for complete muscle recovery to occur — up to 48+ hours in some cases.
Over time this process gets more efficient. Muscle fibers become more resilient to stressors like mechanical tension, and the cyclical gap between muscle damage and increased muscle synthesis widens. The result: increased MPS and less muscle soreness after exercise.
CBD is anti-catabolic, meaning muscle mass is protected like it should be throughout these growth cycles. That quality’s already been proven in those who need it most. Could CBD aid strength athletes and bodybuilders in the same way? There’s not enough research on the topic to know for sure, but that hasn’t stopped strength athletes from exploring. CBD’s action on insulin sensitivity (we’ll get to that next) also point to it aiding muscle growth.
Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours to days after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. This soreness is felt most strongly 24 to 72 hours after exercise. There’s some evidence that CBD reduces the duration and extent of DOMS, helping you respond better than ever to even the toughest lifting programs.
CBD may improve body composition by improving insulin sensitivity.
Insulin sensitivity and body composition go hand in hand. Insulin is an anabolic, or growth-promoting, hormone... meaning it’s great for building lean muscle mass. But in this case it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Chronically high insulin levels can cause one to gain more fat than muscle, eventually even leading to blood sugar imbalances and diabetes.
The solution? Keep insulin low most of the time — and boost it post workout.
Keep in mind that intense exercise itself already improves insulin sensitivity. Muscle cells are already perfectly primed for insulin’s anabolic properties in the post-workout period. And that means they’re also perfectly primed for energy intake. For example, whey protein taken at this time quickly gets broken down and shuttled, by insulin, directly into the muscles.
These carefully targeted insulin boosts actually train one’s body to use the hormone more efficiently, resulting in improved insulin sensitivity. Being sensitive to insulin means that your body can direct calories to exactly where you want them: into muscle cells, not fat stores. This leads to greater lean muscle mass, which can then become more insulin sensitive itself...talk about a positive feedback loop!
The (insulin sensitivity) bar is raised from exercise...and also possibly from CBD?
Even better, this feedback loop can be amplified by CBD. By improving insulin levels, CBD helps redirect energy towards anabolism and muscle growth, especially in that critical post workout period. Long term, its use has been correlated with lower fasting insulin and smaller waist size.
CBD lets you train harder by protecting your central nervous system.
Earlier we looked into how cannabidiol helps endurance athletes train harder by preventing free radical buildup. Strength athletes can be confident that CBD will do the same thing for them, and more: the plant molecule is also a neuroprotectant that safeguards against nervous system burnout.
CBD’s impact on the central nervous system (CNS) is exciting for other reasons, too. Strength levels are heavily dependent on CNS adaptation, after all. Could it be that CBD speeds up these adaptations, allowing for faster strength gains? It’s possible — and worth making an effort to find out. As always, CBD dosing remains as much an art as a science!
CBD reduces high cortisol levels.
This might be the most important CBD benefit we’ve mentioned yet.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that’s toxic to sports performance unless cleared out of the body properly. If you’re read our other articles, you know that CBD reduces stress amazingly well. This reduction in cortisol is a big reason why.
Unlike insulin, cortisol is catabolic; it promotes breakdown. That’s not what you want when trying to make the most of your strength training program! Overall, cortisol is one of the biggest barriers to quick workout recovery, hurting your mood and sleep quality along the way. Left unchecked, it leaves one in ‘fight or flight’ mode and eventually contributes to overtraining syndrome.
Thankfully, CBD is nature’s antidote. It’s been proven to lower cortisol production and powerfully reduce both real and perceived stress. Stress reduction opens the door to other good things: you might experience better sleep, a brighter outlook on life, noticeably faster recovery times, less muscle soreness...or some combination of all of these!
With benefits like this, it’s no wonder that many athletes are turning to the cannabis plant. Its active ingredients are proving to be transformational to athletes of nearly all types. One of them, CBD, offers all the benefits of this plant — without any of the downsides that can accompany THC use. It’s completely legal, and won’t show up in drug testing.
You’re already pushing your body to its limit in pursuit of optimal athletic performance. Why not make the most of it by setting yourself up to grow stronger from your efforts?
Your endocannabinoid system is already active, too, boosting endocannabinoid levels post-workout in an attempt to adapt. Why not help it enhance your response to training in all the ways it wants to?
CBD presents a way to do both. It’s capable of amplifying the benefits you’re already getting from exercise. It works with your workouts — not against them — allowing you to break through old barriers and move upwards to the next level.
Could CBD be the next big thing in the realms of athletic performance? Athletes on the leading edge of their sport think so. Leading scientists suspect it, too. Overall, the answer so far is a very promising yes.