The best training program walks a fine line.
Training itself may cause physical adaptations, but it’s the rest between training sessions that actually creates strength and skill gains. The opposing forces of intensity and recovery need to be controlled and balanced; the athlete’s mind must also be primed for success. Walking this fine line is a battle that requires every part of the extreme athlete to work in unison towards the goal.
Of course, depending on your sport of choice your goal will vary. You might be aiming to ace a new slalom course, land an FMX-inspired backflip, or hit a new deadlift PR.
But almost regardless of your particular goals, the biggest hurdle to overcome stays the same. It’s you.
More specifically, the biggest barrier between you and your goals is your ability to recover from training sessions. The faster you can recover, the quicker you can train again. The more you can train, the more your body can evolve and adapt!
As an extreme athlete, you’re probably already aware of all this. And you probably already take supplements or nutraceuticals of some sort to speed up your recovery process. But did you know that there’s a new recovery-enhancing supplement out there, one that operates on a micro scale to impact your performance on a very macro level?
That supplement is CBD. Though it’s not actually new to humankind, it is new to the world of extreme sports…but probably not for much longer, for reasons you’ll soon find out.
Ecinachear. Cordyceps Rhodiola. Panax Ginseng. Ashwagandha.
Do any of these sound familiar? They’re all adaptogens, substances known and loved by athletes for their energizing, pro-recovery properties. It turns out that hemp-derived CBD is an adaptogen, too. Though not technically classified as one yet, CBD does definitely fits its definition…
Adaptogen: a nontoxic substance and especially a plant extract that is held to increase the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning.
Let’s break this description down for a minute — it’s actually quite simple. Adaptogens are plant-based substances that help the body deal with stress. That’s important because exercise is a type of stress, too!
Granted, in an ideal world exercise would only be classified as good stress, also called eustress. As one insightful study put it:
“exercise is known to activate the body’s stress response, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and yet many people engage [in sports] because they perceive its effects as relaxing”.
In the sometimes non-ideal world of extreme sports, however, you subject your body to all types of stressors: both the good, and the bad, and the ugly. In addition to relatively ‘normal’ markers of stress like HPA-axis and central nervous system (CNS) fatigue, you’re likely to experience sports-related injuries, emotional trauma, pressure to perform, and more.
To put is simply, the lifestyle of an extreme athlete is stressful.
Might the best antidote for this stress be CBD? We think so. It’s been shown to quiet down the HPA axis, calm the nervous system, and lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol. CBD is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, though it only reduces inflammatory selectively…in a way that doesn’t inhibit adaptation and recovery.
CBD may also help cardiovascular improvements happen more easily. It is an effective antioxidant, after all, and a 2013 study discovered that:
“CBD reduce[d] the cardiovascular response to models of stress”.
That most likely includes the eustress that is exercise.
This same study highlighted CBD’s role as a vasorelaxant, much like beet juice or nitric oxide. Those substances are known to be sports-performance enhancers courtesy of their vasodilating component, and we expect that CBD will soon be proven to improve cardiovascular strength just the same.
Another potential benefit: CBD could keep muscle tone within its optimal range. While intense workouts often cause muscle cramps and other electricity-related imbalances, CBD seems to regulate neurotransmission enough to calm down tired muscles. Though CBD’s effect on muscle tissue hasn’t been scientifically proven yet, it’s very plausible given the proliferation of CB2 receptors within muscle cells.
Plausible…and being experientially proven by athletes themselves. As Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph told Runner’s World,
“while specific research on the use of CBD in this instance is lacking, many believe that it helps prevent muscle and collagen breakdown.”
Of course, all this happens within the context of CBD’s nourishment of the human endocannabinoid system. That’s what allows CBD to transform one’s health from the inside out, from the micro to the macro-scale. Taken consistently, cannabidiol replenishes internal endocannabinoids, which in turn transmit signals that optimize communication and synchronization within the body. And a body able to communicate with itself is better able to stay in balance and resist stress.
While these benefits are impressive, did you know that the endocannabinoid system may also be a motivational driver of exercise? It’s a real possibility… and one that seems likely on the theoretical level.
After all, endocannabinoids are secreted in huge volumes after intense workouts. With this post-workout boost comes feelings of bliss and contentment; that’s the “runner’s high” that virtually all athletes know and crave. Once thought to be caused by endorphins, it’s more plausible that runner’s high is caused by endocannabinoids like anandamide.
This is where things get really interesting: why would the body induce such good feelings after intense exercise, if it didn’t have some physiological reason to encourage said exercise?
Also keep in mind that the fitter an athlete gets, the harder they have to work to initiate the endocannabinoid cascade associated with post-workout nirvana. Could nature have given us this feedback loop to reward our pursuits of getting stronger and faster and fitter?
While CBD’s theoretical benefits are fun (and insightful!) to reflect on, it’s possible to go one step further. That’s because a growing number of extreme athletes have begun taking CBD for themselves — and they are indeed experiencing many of the upsides we’ve been talking about. It may not be necessary to wait for CBD’s effect on this or that aspect of training science to be validated in the lab, when one can simply test the theories on their own!
Let’s see what both current and former elite athletes are saying about CBD’s pro-recovery qualities thus far…
Former pro football player Cullen Jenkins reports that CBD oil helped get him out of a post-retirement slump. At first, he was afraid it would get him high, but was happy to experience otherwise. “It’s more of a mellow, calming, smooth feeling. I felt pretty good.”
Though he used to rely on painkillers to recover from training and all of its associated injuries, no more. Today Jenkins uses his personal experience to advocate for the NFL’s adoption of more CBD-friendly policies.
Nate Diaz has been vocal about his use of cannabis for a while, but more recently took time to set the record straight on what particular cannabinoid he’s been using. “It’s CBD […] It helps with the healing process and inflammation, stuff like that. So you want to get these for before and after the fights, training. It’ll make your life a better place.”
Moving forward to even more recently (August 14th), Diaz just smoked a CBD-flower joint at one of the UFC’s open workouts. He proceeded to pass the joint around to fans for all — including millions on social media — to see. Some initial tension from UFC president Dana White gave way to the fact that CBD use is, in fact, entirely legal.
During his long career Tony Hawk set an impressive number of firsts. According to Britannica he “invented dozens of moves, including the ollie-to-Indy, the gymnast plant, the frontside 540-rodeo flip, and the Saran wrap.” He was the first skateboarder ever to land the ‘900’ trick, which he did at 1999’s X-Games.
A 2016 video of 48-year-old Tony Hawk — pulling off his famous ‘900’ once again — proved he still had it. Could some of his longevity be credited to CBD? That’s not totally clear, but Tony Hawk has definitely come around to cannabidiol today.
In a press release from this April, he mentions being “excited to be a part of this new movement that is becoming more recognized as a healthy alternative to recovering from the aches and pains that we regularly incur in the action sports world.” It looks like Tony’s skateboard brand Birdhouse will also be joining the CBD movement.
Who could have imagined just a few years ago that Tony Hawk, one of the world’s most recognized sports figures, would support CBD?
Not many…yet that’s exactly what’s happened. If anything, the quantum-speed growth of CBD’s popularity is a testament to just how well it works. Not just for the average person, and not just for those who value fitness and wellness…but also for the extreme athlete.
Look for this once-niche movement to only get better in the future. The CBD industry is projected to hit $22 billion in annual sales by 2022, and we expect that extreme athletes will be responsible for more than just a niche-sized segment of it.
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