CANNABIS & ATHLETES: RECOVERY

by | May 10, 2021 | Athletes | 0 comments

Although great performance is of utmost importance for athletes, what happens after the competition is over and the medals are handed out is just as crucial as everything leading to it. For that reason, one of the things an athlete wishing to go a long way in their discipline must learn are proper recovery techniques to ensure effective healing post-workout. This applies not only to actual competitive events, but also to training. Injuries born out of practice are just as common as those coming from competition after all, and caring for their wellbeing and health at all times is key to making sure they can sustain their performance levels [1].

ATHLETIC RECOVERY

Recovery takes many forms. Some of the most common ones include hydrotherapy, active recovery, stretching, compression devices, and massage. Overall, athletes are encouraged to try a variety of different recovery types and mix and match what works best for them. As athletes at all levels continue to push themselves further into high performance sports and activities, it becomes especially important that they also practice high level recovery. By investigating a variety of recovery methods, athletes at all levels can discover more about their effectiveness on muscle fatigue, injuries, and performance.  

When properly recovered, an athlete has the added benefit of both physiological and psychological restoration, giving them an advantage against the competition who may not have achieved the same level of recovery. This can be achieved by managing both the mind and body, especially since the mind is something that is often overlooked when it comes to active recovery. This is where cannabis really shines when compared to other types of recovery products.  

CANNABIS PRODUCTS

Individual athletes will each have their own preferred method of using cannabis for recovery, but often they will include a full spectrum or an isolate product, depending on what their lifestyle needs are. Cannabis can help athletes with anything from relief of temporary acute pain to a more steady and systemic anti-inflammatory treatment. Cannabis works well to provide quick relief to fresh bruises, abrasions, and even muscle strains. It even has the ability to help with pain relief on more dramatic injuries like sprains [2]. 

There are a variety of products that work well for athletes, depending on their needs – those most commonly chosen ones include edibles, topical salve treatment and tinctures. Which one is best will depend entirely on the person using the product and the type of care they are trying to achieve. If they are working towards a daily systemic advantage, a tincture or edible might be the best solution. If temporary relief of tired or sore muscles is needed, a salve is an excellent option. 

HOW DOES CBD WORK

CBD, or cannabidiol as it is officially called, is one of the chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. Due to quite an exstensive list of possible benefits it can have, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many people reach for it – including athletes. Contrary to its more known cousin – THC – CBD doesn’t have an intoxicating effect, meaning that it does not affect one’s mind, allowing athletes to take advantage of its properties before or immediately following competition. However, how exactly does it work?

CBD doesn’t bind to ECS (the endocannabinois system). Because of this, it can prevent the endocannabinoids from being broken down, which, in turn, allows them to increase the impact they have on the body. Although the way in which CBD and ECS interact is still subject to research, the studies that have already been done suggest that CBD can have a positive impact on most systems in the human body. [3]. The ECS fulfills several functions within it. 

ECS

One of the things the endocannabinoid system is responsible for is the maintenance of homeostasis – in order for the human body to work effectively, all the systems within it need to be in balance. In case something is wrong, for instance, you are in pain due to an injury or an illness, the endocannabinoid system steps in and helps your body return to the state it was before. 

The endocannabinoid system is consists of three main components:

  1. Endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are naturally produced by the body. These chemical compounds are built similarly to endocannabinoids that can be found in the cannabis plants and are one of the reason why ECS and cannabis can interract with each other.
  2. Cannabinoid receptors. Both cannabinoids and endocannabinoids can bind to these receptors and communicate with the systems present in the human body. Because of it, the endocannabinoid system is able to notice and fix any instabilities. 
  3. Enzymes. These are proteins that help break down the endocannabinoids and cannabinoids once they bind with the cannabinoid receptors and bring back the balance in the body. Enzymes make sure that the cannabinoids stop at the right moment. 

CBD – WHAT CAN IT BE USED FOR

APPETITE

Studies performed on rodents noticed that giving the subjects cannabis helped increase the amount of food they ate. This could suggest that it works as a powerful appetite stimulant much, as is commonly known with THC. However, unlike THC, CBD and other cannabinoids do not contain psychoactive properties that cause intoxication. Potentially meaning they could be used for those seeking an alternative way to increase appetite without feeling high [4].

PAIN RELIEF

Being able to reduce pain is one of the most important abilities an athlete can have. Although in many cases some rest and letting the strained muscles rest is enough, sometimes there’s a need to involve medication – and those more powerful ones can not only affect and derail the athlete’s training program, but also make an individual dependent on them. Cannabis is said to help in relieving pain without any of those things happening.  

What’s more, while CBD may be beneficial for reducing chronic pain, its pain relief abilities can also help with easing musculoskeletal pain, often appearing after a workout. [5]. Although plenty of people choose to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs after they experience a sports injury, those drugs can still negatively impact one’s health if they’re taken for a long period of time. Common side effects included a heightened risk of a heart attack or stroke and renal damage. [6]. 

INFLAMMATION

Aside from  anti-inflammatory benefits of CBD, experts believe that because of its analgesic properties, it can be of help with sore and tired muscles. Add pain relieving abilities to the mix, and CBD can be just what you need when experiencing sore muscles – especially as an athlete, who happens to have them more often [7]. Those who like to have more intense workouts might want to consider using CBD prior to them, as it is said to help prepare the muscles for the strain. According to some people, combining CBD with proper stretching, as well as massage positively impacts muscle recovery [8]. 

HEALING

Skin ointments and salves are a normal part of an athlete’s life, especially when dealing with sore muscles or injured skin. Recent research found that, due to antibacterial properties, CBD could potentially be used to treat bacteria that affects the outside of a person’s skin. This is important for athletes who are at risk of coming into contact with all kinds of substances during a workout or other activities. This also opens up the possibility that perhaps in the future CBD will be helpful in treating conditions otherwise untreatable by traditional antibiotics [10]. 

SLEEP

Truthfully, once you’re done with a rigorous workout or competition, a restorative night’s sleep is essential. However, often the adrenaline of the activity or remaining pain may cause the athlete to have a restless or incomplete sleep. Recent research suggests that CBD can be used in the treatment for those suffering from insomnia, as well as other sleep disorders. These studies show that people who struggled to sleep through the night noticed an increase in the quality of their sleep of up to 66%. Such a big difference makes it something that athletes should consider using when they struggle through a restless night fraught with remnants of their competition [11].  

WHAT’S NEXT

After an athletic competition or event it’s important to immediately help the body restore itself back to a healthy place in order to avoid any lasting effects or possible injuries. But what happens if an injury is acquired during competition? Regular recovery will not necessarily be enough in that case, so what’s the best course of action? In our next article we’ll go over how cannabis can assist in injury management.