So why are athletes so keen to use CBD?
You only have to Google ’athlete and CBD use’ then hit the news tab to see many articles with current or retired athletes partnering with CBD companies. From basketball players to boxers, it seems one of the attractions for athletes wanting to get involved in this industry is due to its valuation of $US55 billion by 2028.
But why is this such a booming industry? Primarily because there are many claims of CBD helping with pain, sleep, anxiety and even concussion. If you are a nutritionist or even sport scientist, at some point in your career you would have spoken to an athlete regarding one of these areas. With this in mind, let’s see what evidence there is for each one of them.
Symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage (EIMD) and impact induced muscle damage (IIMD) are common in most sports. For example, runners who spend hours on end pounding the tarmac will experience EIMD from frequent and consistent muscle contractions. Athletes who are involved in physical collisions sports like rugby, American football and ice hockey, will experience EIMD but also IIMD.
Think about this… a typical rugby player weighs about 100kg – this is the same as a commercial fridge. Normally one player will run into two or three defensive opponents trying to tackle him and get the ball. This is 100kg running full steam into 200-300kg of human wall, so a combined impact of 300-400kg. Is it any wonder collision-based players experience pain after competition?
One route to try and support recovery from pain is through nutrition. Protein, amino acids, polyphenols, omega-3 fatty acids, creatine and vitamins C, D and E have all been shown to support recovery from pain, with beneficial supporting literature.
Outside of nutrition, non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are also regularly taken by athletes in an attempt to try support pain management, however if consumed chronically, NSAIDs can upset the stomach, cause headaches and constipation – none of what we want for our athletes! This is where CBD enters the arena as a potential alternative pain-relieving option.
Interestingly however, the majority of studies which have investigated CBD on models of pain have been completed in animal models. Research with humans is limited and at present it is too early to support CBD use as an alternative to standard pain medication in athletes.
Sleep disruption (less than seven hours of sleep) appears to be more common in athletes than the general population. Many professionals working with athletes have had countless conversations in regards to their sleep hygiene (i.e., phone use prior to bed, bright lights in the bedroom, caffeine consumption in the evening). Sleep is an obvious area to improve to help athletes recover from their training and competitions.
Although many athletes have shared anecdotal reports of sleep benefits from CBD consumption, in 2018 a placebo-control, double blind cohort study suggests there is no benefit, or even negative effects of CBD on sleep. The summary here then is that before we can be confident of any possible beneficial effects of CBD on sleep, more placebo-controlled studies need to be completed.
If you are interested in improving sleep with your athletes outside of CBD, then check this fantastic article out.
Being a professional athlete is nerve-racking at the best of times, let alone during major competitions or important matches. This in turn can result in athletes being over-aroused, not wanting to eat and losing sleep. Even one of the best tennis players of all time, Roger Federer, gets nervous and anxious!
Like sleep, at present, the literature regarding CBD and anxiety is ambiguous. Outside of CBD use, practitioners may suggest visualisation techniques, rehearsals or athletes participating in more practice to master a skill they may be anxious about. One of the world’s best football players ever, Cristiano Ronaldo, is a big fan of visualisation to improve performance.
Imagine being blindsided (great film by the way) by a tackle in rugby or American football. Or crashing your F1 vehicle into a wall at 150kmh. The violent blow to the head or shaking results in dramatic changes in neurochemicals inside the brain, which cause the common side effects of concussion – for example, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and poor balance to name a few.
Unfortunately, although some media outlets claim concussion can be alleviated by CBD use, there has actually only been one study directly assessing the effects of CBD supplementation on the treatment of brain injury. Guess what – the study was conducted in mice! Now although our furry little friends might get a concussion from running into three of their furry little friends, I think you will agree with me that this cannot be translated into the human population just yet. Although the mice study may show reduced inflammation in their little brains, the exact mechanism by which CBD works is still not understood.
Although this is an exciting area of work, much more research needs to be done, particular in human trials.