There are a number of reasons athletes reach for some sort of pain relief before or after a workout session. Discomfort and irritation are just part of life for athletes who push themselves to the limit. CBD for athletes has begun to replace the widespread use of NSAIDs and for good reason.
The Road to Success is Not Paved with Marshmallows
Physical irritation is extremely common for competitors in sports like mixed martial arts, Jiu Jitsu, boxing and other combative disciplines that require the athlete to get punched, kicked or choked on a regular basis. Bumps and bruises are also frequent for skateboarders who spend a lot of time on the concrete, ice hockey, football, soccer players and more.
Even the general gym enthusiast or yoga practitioner is going to feel the effects of a good workout. In order for muscles to grow, they must be used to the point that micro tears are created. When these tears heal, muscles get stronger. Though this is a normal process, it is easy to overdo it. And even if exercise is not overdone, it can still be uncomfortable. It is normal to want to get rid of that discomfort.
What are NSAIDS?
There are a number of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) which can be purchased over the counter and are common household names.
- Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
- Naproxen (Aleve)
NSAIDS work because of their interaction with prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are a group of chemicals naturally produced in the body to promote inflammation, which is necessary for healing. Inflammation from prostaglandins can result in pain and fever, but also support blood clotting functions and protect the stomach lining.
Prostaglandins are produced by the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme. NSAIDS block this enzyme and thus block both the healing, protecting and pain-inducing properties of prostaglandins.
NSAIDS are easily accessible and generally act quickly to reduce inflammation. This is why NSAIDS have been so popular with athletes seeking immediate relief or attempting to stay in the game just a little longer. Doctors often prescribe NSAIDS as a safer alternative to addictive opioid medications that also serve to reduce physical discomfort. Though generally non-addictive, athletes have been known to develop NSAID dependencies, which can lead to complications.
Multiple surveys have recorded 70 to 75 percent of endurance runners take NSAIDs before, during and after competition and training.
Side Effects of Prolonged Use
One of the most concerning issues with NSAID use is the effect they have on the gastrointestinal system. Prostaglandins act as a protector for the gut wall. The lining is already compromised for athletes during exercise. When the body exerts prolonged energy, blood is diverted to where it is most needed. This means that digestion is not a priority during exercise and blood that would normally exist in the small intestines is utilized elsewhere, thus the intestine lining is weakened.
- A study conducted by Orbis Medical Center in the Netherlands found that the lack of blood supply during exercise can traumatize cells in the gut and cause leakage.
- An Appalachian State University study found that endurance athletes may incur small amounts of colonic bacterial leaking into the bloodstream which can cause high levels of systemic inflammation.
Prolonged NSAID usage or sensitivity can cause stomach ulcers, which are a serious condition and one that an athlete cannot just work through. Stomach ulcers are painful sores in the stomach lining. The top two causes of this condition are NSAID use and bacterial infections.
Do NSAIDS Actually Increase Performance?
For decades, athletes have taken NSAIDS prior to competition. Some have even depended on it. In the case of Manny Pacquiao’s 2015 boxing bout against Floyd Mayweather Jr., Pacquiao was denied permission to take an NSAID the night of the competition. Pacquiao had failed to disclose that he tore his rotator cuff, but was relying on the NSAID to dull the pain during the fight. Throughout training, the boxer was also suffering from severe leg cramps and using a $1,800 anti-inflammatory cream. Pacquiao lost the fight via unanimous decision.
NSAIDs do have the ability to mask pain in the short term, but how much good were they doing for Pacquiao during his training camp? Several studies indicate that NSAID use may slow post-workout recovery.
- The Stanford University Department of Microbiology studied the effects of prostaglandins on muscle tissue recovery and found that they stimulate stem cells to regrow tissue. In cases where an NSAID was used, there were fewer stem cells to promote recovery.
- A study conducted on ultra-marathoners competing in the Western States 100 Miler found that there was no difference in performance between participants consuming or not consuming NSAIDs prior to and during the competition. NSAID users did have higher levels of inflammation in the week after the race.
CBD for Athletes
Many athletes are now taking a closer look at cannabidiol (CBD) to cope with the aches and irritations of training and competing. CBD is patented by the U.S. government as an antioxidant and neuroprotectant. These are two qualities that have the ability to make a big difference in athletic performance and recovery.
Antioxidants for Better Recovery
Inflammation serves as the body’s natural healing response to stress, injury or illness. Free radicals are molecules that both cause inflammation and result in inflammation. Inflammation can present itself in a number of ways, all of which make life just a little tougher for athletes.
- Itchy Skin
The most effective way to reduce inflammation is to stop the cycle of free radicals. This is done by introducing antioxidants like CBD. Naturally dealing with inflammation using antioxidants means more than just masking the discomfort. CBD oil actually addresses the cause while also serving as a coping mechanism.
Finding Balance with Homeostasis
Homeostasis is the body’s natural mechanism to restore balance internally in response to external factors. This includes important functions such as:
- Body Temperature
- Respiratory Rate
- Heart Rate
- Blood Pressure
- Sleep Cycle
- Fluid Levels
Optimal performance requires that all of these systems are functioning to the best of their abilities. The antioxidant properties in CBD help athletes to restore and maintain this balance naturally, through interaction with the endocannabinoid system.
Mitigating the Discomfort
One of the most prominent reasons athletes take NSAIDS is to mask the feeling of discomfort, which may be caused by injury or prolonged use. Within the human body, there are naturally occurring endocannabinoids. One of these neurotransmitters is called “anandamide” which is also referred to as the “bliss molecule”.
Anandamide serves multiple purposes, but one of them is to block pain receptors. CBD interacts with cannabinoid receptors to inhibit production of the enzyme that breaks down anandamide. The increase in anandamide translates to a natural decrease in discomfort.
A Bonus for the Brain
A 2011 study conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found 52 percent of retired NFL players used opioids during their career, while 71 percent of them reported some sort of painkiller abuse.
Not only is the addictiveness of some painkillers an issue for athletes, there is also concern over the amount of trauma athletes are taking to the head. MMA, boxing, football, soccer, ice hockey and many other sports have close contact components that increase the risk of brain jiggle, which is known to have long-term effects. This is where CBD’s neuroprotectant properties come into play and can make a difference in the longevity of careers and quality of life.
CBD is the Safer Option
Late in 2017, the World Health Organization found no side effects for CBD use and that the substance is safe for both humans and animals. The report also stated that CBD is non-addictive.
Athletes are Cleared to Legally use CBD Oil at All Levels
As of January 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has removed CBD from their list of banned substances now allowing CBD for athletes in and out of competition. WADA is the regulatory testing body for all Olympic athletes. CBD’s cousin, THC is still on the banned list. The agency also oversees a number of other professional and amateur sports such as mixed martial arts, boxing, competitive cheerleading, dance, and bodybuilding.
Why Athletes are Choosing CBD over NSAIDS
CBD is a great natural and non-addictive option to cope with discomfort and maintain athletic performance. CBD oil is an all-natural extract from hemp with no known side effects. If you would like to learn more about how the benefits of CBD complement an active lifestyle please check out our educational resources.