How Does CBD Affect Athletic Performance And Recovery?

Whether you’re a recreational BJJ athlete or a competitive one, you probably know someone who uses cannabis as a way to improve their performance and recovery.

As the stigma around cannabis disappears, more athletes are opening up about using cannabis as a natural way to improve their performance and recovery.

This is reflected by the partnership between Aurora Cannnabis and the UFC in May of this year.

Both organizations have joined forces in an effort to advance CBD research for UFC athletes.

Is cannabis the next big performance-enhancing substance?

CBD Health Benefits

It’s well documented that top tier athletes use both legal and/or illegal substances to improve their performance.

Anabolic steroids are a prime example.

Anabolic steroids help improve recovery rates, increase muscle mass, and have a range of other physiological and psychological benefits that give athletes an edge.

Although cannabis is not as potent as anabolic steroids or other banned performance-enhancing substances, it still has benefits worth talking about.

How do athletes typically improve their performance and recovery?

High-quality protein: Consuming a healthy diet which consists of protein sources helps you build muscle and recover properly.

Complex carbohydrates: A diet high in complex carbohydrates and low in processed carbohydrates and sugar helps keep energy levels high.

Healthy fats: Consuming healthy monounsaturated fats helps the body to produce important hormones such as testosterone.

Other lifestyle changes such as sleeping enough and monitoring stress levels all play an important role in performance enhancement.

Is there an alternative to banned substances for recovery and performance?

Because martial arts is very competitive, many athletes use illicit substances such as anabolic steroids in order to give them an edge.

Most people don’t realize that the majority of the top guys in all sports are using these substances. If they didn’t, then they simply wouldn’t be at the top.

Athletes also use these drugs to help to alleviate pain, which is a common side effect of overtraining and getting injured.

Athletes also use common pain medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - more commonly known as ibuprofen to help reduce pain. Unfortunately, over the last few decades, there has been an increase in opioid misuse among professional athletes.

Despite these substances being effective, cannabis may be the better alternative.

How Can Cannabis Help Athletes Recover?

Cannabis may be a better option for many athletes as it is natural, lacks any severe side effects and is effective.

So why is cannabis so beneficial?

Let’s start by breaking down the two primary cannabinoids in cannabis responsible for its health benefits.

CBD: Cannabidiol, also known as CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis. CBD helps decrease anxiety, decrease pain and is especially effective for reducing inflammation.

THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, is the psychoactive compound in cannabis which produces the high most people associate with cannabis. THC also has medicinal value.

Both THC and CBD can help athletes improve their performance and recovery by: 

  • Enhancing focus
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Decreasing pain
  • Decreasing inflammation  
  • Increasing energy levels
  • Increasing appetite
  • Preventing insomnia

CBD can help to decrease inflammation

CBD Recovery

CBD is becoming increasingly common among athletes due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Inflammation is a natural process in the body and occurs after strenuous exercise.

Although inflammation is normal, chronic inflammation caused by overtraining or injury leads to pain and a range of other unwanted effects.

Many athletes turn to opioids and other drugs which can mask symptoms such as pain and inflammation.

Although these drugs do work, many of them are addictive and have adverse side effects in the long-term.

CBD is a better option for athletes because it’s safe, it has been proven to work and it has minimal side effects.

How should BJJ athletes use cannabis?

It’s important to remember that despite cannabis having a range of health benefits, everyone is going to experience different results.

This is especially true when it comes to consuming cannabis high in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC.

Some fighters may find that being high on cannabis improves their focus.

Other fighters may find that they become tired or anxious using a high dose, which could lead to a decreased performance.

As well as the variance in an individual’s response to cannabis, the type of strain of cannabis and the ratio of CBD to THC are important to consider.

Other factors such as the way cannabis is consumed (as an edible, oil or vapor), will interplay into creating a different experience for different athletes.

The point here is that experimentation is important in order to find what subjectively works best for you.

A great place to start is to start taking CBD on a daily basis.

CBD will help reduce inflammation, decrease your stress and anxiety. These benefits are bound to be beneficial for the far majority of BJJ athletes. Everyone can benefit from less inflammation and stress.

CBD and THC for neuroprotection

Other research has shown that both CBD and THC have neuroprotective properties. This is fantastic news for combat athletes.

Although the risk of head injury is much lower in BJJ than a sport such as Muay Thai, the risk is still there.

A 2017 review concluded that the phytocannabinoids in cannabis showed promise for traumatic brain injuries.

This is great news for those who have just suffered, or previously suffered from head trauma.

Which cannabis products are the best for BJJ athletes?

Sativa vs. indica strains

Sativa dominant strains tend to be favored by athletes for performance. Indica strains tend to be preferred for recovery.

Although most plants today are a mix of both sativa and indica (also known as hybrid strains), many strains are dominant in one or the other.

Sativa produces a more uplifting and energetic high, which is more beneficial for an active training session. Indica produces a more mellow and drowsy high, which is more ideal for recovery and rest.

High CBD strains

Athletes will also get a lot of benefits out of using high CBD strains.

A strain high in CBD may or may not have THC, and so this is important to double check for yourself.

Regardless, if a strain is high in CBD, then you can be sure it will help with pain and inflammation.

Many athletes are also using topical CBD oil and creams to rub on affected areas of pain and inflammation.


The Inferno Chef

Edibles are also a great option for BJJ athletes.

Edibles are metabolized in the body differently than when cannabis is smoked and so the effects last for a significantly longer period of time.

This longer duration is great if the reason you’re using cannabis is for pain relief.

Phillip Ghezelbash

Philip Ghezelbash is a personal trainer and writer from Wellington, New Zealand. His mission is to help athletes around the world improve their performance through evidence-based nutrition and training strategies.

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