CBD for Runners Uses, Benefits & Side Effects – Does It Really Work?
If you’ve been reading articles on the internet, watching TV, or listening to podcasts and the radio, you’ve likely heard about CBD. Maybe one of your running partners uses it and won’t shut up about it. Or maybe you’re just curious about that new CBD store you ran past last week. Whatever the reason, we’re here to clear up some of your questions and talk all about CBD for runners.
The number of athletes who use CBD grows by the day. From professional MMA fighters to football players and golfers, some athletes swear by its health benefits. But what about runners? A few ultra runners, such as Avery Collins (@runninhigh) are jumping on the proverbial bandwagon as well.
In order to decide if it’ll work for you, let’s talk about what exactly CBD is and all of the benefits that come with it.
What is CBD?
CBD is a cannabinoid derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. It’s a chemical void of intoxicating properties, unlike its counterpart, THC. While both come from cannabis, only THC actually contains psychoactive properties.
Don’t worry – we’ll get in to what CBD actually does do a bit later.
Typically, CBD oils are extracted from hemp, a version of the same plant grown to eliminate THC. In fact, hemp by law cannot contain any more than 0.3% THC. So if an entire plant legally can only contain a trace amount of THC, and manufacturers extract the CBD specifically, purity is almost guaranteed.
You can also buy CBD derived from marijuana, but companies tend to let you know. You might run into issues with shady manufacturing and labeling practices, but for the most part, CBD oils are their own super ingredient. From stress reduction to pain management, CBD is used in all areas of healthcare.
Are you sure there’s a difference between CBD and marijuana?
Yes, but if you want to get deep into the science behind it, check out this video. It explains the chemical breakdown of CBD vs THC, how sources of the two differ, and everything about how it works in your body.
Is CBD good for athletes?
Runners put a lot of miles on their body. It’s a healthy way to stay in shape, but too much of a good thing can break you down. Take care of your body by feeding it nutrients to perform optimally, and CBD is a compound that can help.
Systems within our body constantly send signals to maintain homeostasis. One of those, the endocannabinoid system, utilizes cannabinoid compounds to regulate energy, pain perception, inflammation, and brain function.
CBD adds these compounds to an athlete’s body, much like taking a vitamin targets the health of different systems. It’s known to improve mood and well-being, aid in recovery from workouts, lower stress, and enhance sleep. Overall, it can be a great tool in a runner’s arsenal.
Is it legal and safe to use?
Yes! It might get a bad rap by being associated with cannabis, but the federal government actually legalized all hemp products in 2018.
(Some states have decriminalized marijuana as well, but that’s a different story.)
When extracts of CBD oil comes from hemp, they fall under the 2018 Farm Bill, which reads:
“HEMP.—The term ‘hemp’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”
But that’s just the general population. Elite athletes know that some supplements and products used by the public are banned in competition. Fortunately, thanks to the wise people at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), CBD isn’t one of them.
WADA allowed CBD in competition recently, as long as it doesn’t contain concentrations of THC. Of course, you have to be careful, as product labeling isn’t always accurate. And even when taken from hemp, full-spectrum CBD oils may contain a slight trace of THC, which remains prohibited.
If you’re an elite runner with an upcoming competition, choose CBD isolate first and foremost, and be sure to heavily research the product.
Benefits of CBD for runners
The most immediate and widely-effective benefit of CBD is stress reduction. This can mean anything from a tough day at the office to managing performance anxiety at the start line.
Runners train almost every day, often multiple times a day. That’s a lot of stress on your body. Exercise increases levels of cortisol, your “stress hormone”, to bring blood flow and energy to your muscles. Without proper recovery, however, that hormonal spike continues throughout the day, and your body continues to breakdown.
Taking CBD reduces cortisol, bringing you back to recovery mode and improving performance. But that’s just one upside – let’s take a look at how else CBD can benefit runners.
It helps with performance anxiety
As mentioned previously, your endocannabinoid system partially regulates mood and anxiety in the brain. Nourishing that system with cannabidiol controls stressful affect, like the nerves before a race. If you’re a runner who can’t stop worrying about your performance on race day, CBD might be able to help. Vaping CBD oil or drops under the tongue are quick, effective solutions to performance anxiety for runners.
CBD aids muscle recovery
Research shows that CBD can lower inflammation caused by exercise. Many runners reach for NSAIDs after a run when swelling around the joints gets too bad, but those can be dangerous with long-term use. When pounding the pavement leaves you sore, CBD running recovery fights pain, helping you recover faster and spend more time training.
Have you ever had a bad night’s sleep before a race? If so, you probably get how important good quality sleep is. CBD can help lower any anxiety that gets in the way of your beauty rest, keeping you fresh to perform at your best.
But even if your sleep issues have nothing to do with anxiety, CBD can still help. Research shows that CBD oil enhances REM sleep, the sleep stage where most recovery occurs. It can also put you to bed quickly. Studies show that CBD acts on similar receptors in the brain as caffeine, but with the opposite effect.
Therefore, if you reach for a cup of coffee to start your day, consider adding CBD oil to some chamomile tea before bed.
CBD acts like endorphins
Ah, yes, the runner’s high. We all know and love it so well. You probably understand that this naturally-produced high comes from endorphins. But you might not have known that CBD can yield similar effects.
Just to be clear – I am not saying CBD will get you high. It won’t. But it can improve your mood by regulating neurotransmitters. CBD oils stimulate GABA and serotonin release for a natural, relaxed, and happy mood.
It can help with overuse injuries
CBD has incredible anti-inflammatory properties to assist the body’s natural healing process. Of course, it can’t cure an injury completely by itself. You’ll likely still need rest, ice, and some form of physical therapy. However, it can assist the process.
Taking CBD oils can help runners recover from the following overuse injuries:
A condition affecting the fascia underneath your foot, plantar fasciitis is caused by inflammation. The plantar fascia runs from your heel to mid foot, and supports the stability of your foot. With too much use and tension on the surrounding structures, plantar fasciitis can cause incredible pain with each step.
Tendonitis is the inflammation of any tendon. Most commonly, runners suffer from patellar tendonitis at the knee. Repeated impact forces from running on pavement or the treadmill often place a strain on this delicate structure. Along with ice, rest, and compression, CBD can help reduce the pain associated with this condition.
Bone spurs happen when calcium builds up alongside a bone, most commonly the heel in runners. They’re typically caused by a body’s misguided attempts to heal a strain or tear along the ligaments or bone. As a result of an inflammatory response over long periods of calcium deposits, bone spurs are painful annoyances to any runner.
CBD for runners knee
Runner’s knee, also known as IT band syndrome, is a painful condition at the outside of your knee. It’s also caused by inflammation due to repetitive exercise. Runners tend to develop runners knee when poor posture combines with muscular imbalances, resulting in stress on the outer knee. Topical CBD creams can act as pain-relieving aids to treat runner’s knee.
CBD might improve stamina and endurance in runners
Simply training your endurance means runners are used to tolerating mild pain. It’s the whole idea behind pushing your limits, and it’s most pronounced in ultra running.
However, if you can reduce some of those aches, could you possibly run farther and faster?
Research shows that CBD helps alleviate chronic pain, reduce pain perception, and increase tolerance. As most research is done in clinical settings, more is warranted on CBD in competitive athletes and how the reduced pain perception affects endurance. However, if it can work for other pain conditions, and there are little to no side effects, it’s worth a shot.
CBD, dehydration, and general sports nutrition
Just a quick note here – CBD is only a small part of comprehensive sports nutrition. The most important thing for runners is to maintain a healthy, plant-based diet with lean proteins, good fats, and whole grains.
During long or intense runs, simple sugars such as sports drinks can actually improve performance. Your body needs this glucose as energy, which is why races tend to have stations set up along the course. Keeping hydrated with electrolytes and water will do more for you than taking CBD alone every will.
That doesn’t mean you have to count CBD out, though. Just add a few drops to your sports drink or eat a gummy. It won’t solve stomach issues from dehydration, but it might alleviate other gut-based symptoms that plague runners. Make sure to focus on hydration and overall diet first, and CBD supplements second.
How should runners take CBD?
Depending on your lifestyle, there are various ways to take CBD. Some people love to put it in their morning coffee, as an extra health boost to start the day. Others combine CBD with their post-workout to double up recovery efforts.
Thanks to its popularity and the wide reach of the cannabis/hemp industry, there are seemingly endless ways to use CBD. Below are a few of the most popular:
Oral ingestion of CBD – from drops to gummies, this is probably the most common way to take CBD
Vape Pens – involves heating up the CBD oil so that the vapor can be inhaled. This is the fastest-acting method.
Tinctures – technically also a method of oral ingestion, but involves an ethanol base. Tinctures tend to be much more potent and come in different flavors.
Topical creams – perfect for athletes with localized muscle and joint pain
Hemp seed oil – from the actual seed of the plant, it contains less CBD but more other benefits like omega-3 fats. Most often used in cooking.
Hemp powder – usually sold as a vegan protein powder, but hemp meal can also be used in cooking.
CBD oil for runners works. It’s taken a long time for people to come around to it, but hopefully the stigma is dying down so it can stay.
CBD is a safer pain reliever than most anti-inflammatory drugs, and we all know how clocking 60 miles a week can make us feel. With so many ways to take it, CBD fits any lifestyle. It’s finally cleared by both the federal government and the World Anti-Doping Agency, so it’s safe and legal for use.
The only caveat is that it’s not regulated heavily. A large amount of supplement companies mislabel their products, and CBD unfortunately is no exception. When people are looking to make a quick buck, they are wont to skew facts. Look for brands with third-party approval, that have conducted multiple studies on their CBD, and have trustworthy manufacturing processes.
At the end of the road, if CBD can help you perform better on race day, or just your casual morning run, what do you have to lose? Certainly not the race.
Kimber Rozier is an entrepreneur, former Harvard coach, and decorated professional rugby player for the USA who loves sharing her knowledge through coaching and writing. Certified by the NSCA and Precision Nutrition as an expert, she brings her wealth of experience to the page, sharpening the lens by which we see the world. She writes for many small businesses, as well as large publications such as Men’s Health, MyFitnessPal, and EliteFTS. She now owns her own business, Dare Performance, in which she promotes a healthy lifestyle through journalism. Contact her at Kimber-Rozier.com.