CBD & Exercise: Why everyone should have CBD in their gym bag

CBD & exercise - is CBD good for running? Does CBD help with working out? Here’s everything you need to know.

If you’re still stuck in the dark ages of experiencing gruelling muscle pain the day after an intense workout, it’s time to update what’s in your gym bag! 

Sure, there’s something to the phrase ‘no pain, no gain’. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a natural bodily response which occurs when your muscles are healing, strengthening and growing. But there’s no need for it to be debilitating.

What causes DOMS?

When you push your muscles past what they’re used to or perform an eccentric exercise (which causes you to tense a muscle at the same time you lengthen it) you create microscopic tears in the muscle fibre which, in healing, helps to create new and stronger muscle mass. Your body releases an inflammatory response to help protect and repair these tiny tears which, in part, is thought to be the cause of the pain.

What helps with muscle soreness?

Because of the inflammatory nature of DOMS pain, it makes sense that focusing on anti-inflammatory modalities and practices can help alleviate some of that discomfort. 

Cold Water Therapy

You may have seen TikTok’s of people lowering themselves into ice baths, or heard of the Wim Hof method, which combines breathwork and brief, full-body cold exposure. The reason for this is that cold water therapy is purported to provide a myriad of benefits, including increased immune response, accelerated metabolism, reduced inflammation, improved sleep and higher energy levels. Many avid exercise fanatics and sportspeople swear by cold exposure for reducing the pain of DOMS, and it’s thought to be most beneficial within 24 – 48 hours of an intense workout.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

‘You are what you eat’ is another phrase with some weight to it. What you put into your body makes potentially to biggest difference to your overall health and well-being, and, as Hippocrates famously said, food is medicine. So why not use it to try and reduce DOMS? Anti-inflammatory foods include leafy greens, berries, oily fish (or omega-3 supplements, such as hemp oil) and turmeric.

CBD massage oil

Massage in general is great for aching muscles, but adding a high-potency CBD massage oil to this practice brings it to a whole new level.

For a CBD product to act on muscles, it needs to be able to get into your body, not just sit on the surface of your skin. To do this, you could take CBD oral drops or capsules, or focus locally on areas of need with a transdermal CBD product (a product designed to penetrate through the layers of the skin). Some products include alcohols and harsh chemicals to achieve this, but there are actually over 350 chemicals that can be added to the mix to act as ‘transdermal permeation enhancers’, including terpenes (aromatic compounds) and fatty acids. A multitude of studies have shown that CBD is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and can help reduce muscle spasticity and accelerate muscle recovery via transdermal and internal products.

Does CBD help with working out?

The joys of including CBD in your workout routine doesn’t end with soothing post-workout muscles. There’s some evidence that suggests it’s a great pairing before and during a workout too!

Although CBD is most commonly used as a way to de-stress, relax and sleep, you may be surprised to read that some people swear by it for boosting energy too! The CBD molecule (and many of the other 140+ cannabinoids in the hemp plant besides) is pleiotropic (meaning it acts via multiple molecular pathways in the body) and biphasic (meaning it can have totally different effects depending on the dose).

One 2014 study, published in Current Neuropharmacology, dubbed CBD as a ‘wake-promoting agent’ after discovering that it actually appears to boost energy too. This is thought to be down to the interaction with dopamine receptors. 

Dopamine is best known as a pleasure and reward chemical, but it’s actually an essential amino acid that your brain and body need at appropriate levels to function at their best. A rush of dopamine also increases energy expenditure and motivation, which can help a lot when pushing hard at the gym!

Is CBD good for running?

In addition to the points noted above, all of which also apply to using CBD before and after running, the ‘runner's high’ you may have always attributed to endorphins is now believed to be more about endocannabinoids.

Our naturally produced endocannabinoids, Anandamide and 2-AG, are synthesised and released when really pushing yourself on a run or during exercise as a way to get you through this challenging time and help to rebalance your body. If you’ve ever been dropping while on a particularly gruelling run and then experienced a whoosh of euphoria, that’s your endocannabinoids (also known as ‘bliss molecules’) kicking in. 

One of the key ways CBD works is by interacting with the endocannabinoid system, inhibiting the enzyme that ordinarily breaks endocannabinoids down and therefore supporting increased levels of these neurotransmitters flowing around your body. This means that, with the help of some pre-run CBD, you might find that runners high helps you out right off the bat.