CBD for Recovery & Performance: Top 7 Benefits for Athletes

Recovery is essential for the success of most athletes. As a result, the use of CBD by athletes has increased significantly. CBD is a natural extract from cannabis that has anti-inflammatory and health-promoting effects and is non-psychoactive. It can act as a performance aid, helping athletes sleep better, reducing inflammation, boosting recovery, and enhancing power output. It can even help soothe the aches, scrapes, and pains of intense physical activity. Physical training and sports can take a toll on the body, causing damage to muscles, tendons, and the nervous system. This damage must be healed to avoid injury and improve adaptation to training. CBD is easily absorbed and can be used by any athlete to help improve their performance. This article will explore the top benefits of CBD for athletes, explain how to use it, and provide considerations for buying and using it for athletic purposes.

Background on CBD

CBD is a naturally occurring chemical compound that provides many essential health benefits for athletes and sportspeople. It is a cannabinoid derived from the hemp plant, a natural, therapeutic chemical that rejuvenates the body. The body absorbs cannabinoids like CBD through the endocannabinoid system. The receptors in this system are stimulated when cannabinoids bind to them. This interaction enables the health-promoting effects that CBD is known for. In particular, endocannabinoids produced via the receptors are responsible for CBD’s anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anxiety-reducing benefits. CBD is not addictive and has few side effects, making it an attractive option for many athletes.

Unlike THC, the other prominent cannabinoid, CBD is not psychoactive and does not cause intoxication or a high. Instead, it helps athletes relax and sleep, supporting the rejuvenation needed between intensive exercise sessions. CBD’s safety has been confirmed in various clinical studies, including those conducted by the World Health Organisation, which have noted how well-tolerated it is and how rare its side effects are.

CBD and Athlete Drug Testing

Drug testing is a significant concern in many sports due to the widespread use of performance-enhancing compounds. Doping tests are becoming increasingly stringent to detect and prevent doping. In response, anti-doping agencies such as USADA in the US or Sports Integrity Australia check for many different compounds and metabolites in athletes’ bodies to confirm whether they are attempting to cheat. THC is banned due to its side effects, risks, and dangers, as it can adversely affect athletes. In contrast, agencies like USADA do not test for CBD, which is accepted as a safe recovery aid. CBD is, therefore, a safe, natural way to support better athletic performance without the risk of sports bans or repercussions from doping.

Benefits of CBD for Athletes

Benefits of CBD for athletes

Athletes can use CBD in some ways to support better recovery and performance. This includes helping with pain, reducing inflammation, enhancing sleep, mitigating the stresses of athletic endeavours or even simply for overall well-being. Let’s take a look at these benefits.

Muscle and Joint Soreness 

The most common use of CBD amongst athletes is in reducing the aches, pains and soreness in the muscles and joints after training. Intense or prolonged exercise can lead to inflammation in these tissues. Soreness is a natural by-product of the body repairing itself in response to damage. But it can also be uncomfortable, plus reduce future athletic performance if left unabated. CBD can aid the inflammatory process, helping tissues regulate excessive inflammation while offering analgesic properties to minimise pain.

In particular, CBD helps reduce inflammatory cytokine and TNF-alpha activity. Through downregulating the production of these inflammation-causing agents, it helps to minimise swelling, redness and aches. It does this via the endocannabinoid system’s immune-modulating effects. In particular, activating CB2 receptors in peripheral tissues like muscles, nerves and tendons helps calm inflammatory immune activity. These pathways work similarly to anti-inflammatory compounds like NSAIDs and corticosteroids, but without the nasty side effects these chemicals can cause. Many athletes prefer it for this reason, favouring CBD’s naturally calming effects on the body without worrying about long-term risks.


Strains and injuries that occur during athletic activity can cause pain in athletes. If left unchecked, injuries can even develop into chronic pain, causing long-term discomfort and detrimental impacts. CBD can be used both orally or topically to help mitigate pain for athletes. It helps lower pain perception or nociception, aiding users in minimising discomfort and improving quality of life. The primary mechanism CBD helps in reducing the perception of pain is by blocking its signalling across the nervous system. It binds to CB1 receptor sites in the brain and CNS. Many athletes report reduced pain perception in their muscles and tendons after using CBD post-training. It is even becoming popular as a topical cream that can be applied to sore joints. Although it’s usually used with THC in a 1:1 ratio for the best results in treating pain, standalone CBD products are also effective for more minor aches.

Anxiety and Stress

Being an athlete or sportsperson can be highly stressful. Competitions and training can be very demanding, requiring high focus and dedication. These demands can lead to chronic stress and heightened cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone. It is helpful in small amounts but can harm recovery and overall performance in chronically stressed athletes. Imbalances in cortisol from too much stress can cause weight gain, muscle loss, reduced sleep, lower energy levels, and poor performance. Therefore, keeping stress in check is critical to ensuring optimal recovery and athletic results.

As CBD can downregulate the stress response and help control cortisol, many athletes use it for daily stress. Because CBD is anxiolytic, it can help athletes to find calm, mental balance and optimal states of mind for performance. In particular, it promotes the release of stress-relieving endocannabinoids such as anandamide, which help to alleviate anxious feelings, enabling a relaxed state of mind.

Chronic Inflammation and Gut Health

Chronic inflammation from overtraining and impaired recovery can impact performance in athletes. Research is showing CBD’s inflammatory lowering capacities that help prevent chronic inflammation. This even applies to cells in the brain. It is powerful at reducing neuroinflammation, which can impair neuron function. As a result, mental performance can be improved as acuity during training or games. 

Many gut conditions, such as irritability (IBS) and colitis, are caused by chronic inflammation in the intestinal lining from immune problems. CBD helps to prevent inflammation throughout the digestive system by normalising immune function. It can assist in repairing gut health, aiding digestion and intestinal permeability. It’s thought to do this through CB2 receptor activity within the gut and its lining. Inflammation can be soothed by producing endocannabinoids in the region, and the gut biome strengthens. This helps athletes to absorb nutrients better and make the most of their nutrition programs.

NSAID Alternative

Many athletes use anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs to help mitigate their body’s inflammatory symptoms. Examples of NSAIDs that are commonly used in Australia include ibuprofen and diclofenac. These medications are very taxing on the body and liver. Pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories are powerful but carry a much higher risk of side effects than natural inflammation-fighting alternatives like CBD. For example, NSAIDs and corticosteroids can cause stomach ulcers, cardiovascular disease, kidney damage and renal failure. Risks are much more significant when they are used for long periods. As such, athletes can’t rely on these compounds as sustainable solutions to inflammation. CBD is a better option for those looking for a sustainable and natural way to soothe the body plus mitigate the soreness inflammation causes. Even when used for long periods at high doses, it has minimal risk of side effects. 

Sleep Quality

Sleep is critical to both the physical and mental recovery of athletes. During sleep, the body undergoes repair at the cellular level. Tissue, tendons, joints, and muscles are healed, building them back stronger to adapt to higher training loads. Sleep is also critical for metabolic function and energy levels. Poor sleep can result in reduced training performance and higher fatigue, accumulating over time if poor sleep habits are maintained. CBD aids the mind in calming into a relaxed state, making it easier to get into a deep slumber. It’s also been shown to improve sleep length and the quality of rest. Endocannabinoids produced from CBD intake help improve REM sleep cycle length, increasing the total recovery from sleep. REM periods of sleep are when most of the recovery and benefits from sleep are stimulated. 

CBD’s interactions with CB1 receptors in the brain may be responsible for these effects. Its action on the endocannabinoid system is the pathway it uses to help circadian rhythm balance and better sleep cycles. More than half of athletes who start using CBD report improved sleep quality within the first month of using the compound. The neurotransmitter serotonin also plays a crucial role in calming down before sleep. It’s a precursor to melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep regulation. CBD is known to help regulate serotonin production, potentially allowing the brain to produce more melatonin when needed to get to sleep faster. 


Boosting the speed an athlete recovers means they can train more frequently and improve their results. CBD’s natural therapeutic properties as an immune booster, inflammation soother and sleep enhancer all make it great at this. Used effectively, it will substantially improve recovery and support decreases in muscle stiffness, plus faster returns to optimal energy levels. This can help minimise downtime between competitions or training to bolster athletes’ success in their chosen sport.

How to Use CBD for Athletes

Let’s look at the best methods athletes can use to maximise the efficacy of CBD in enhancing their athletic performance and recovery. 

CBD for Pre-Workout Protocol

Timing your dosages of CBD before your training or games can help with performance anxiety plus boost focus for more significant results. Its stress-minimising effects help athletes keep in the zone, stay composed and perform at their best. Its calming and anxiety-alleviating properties enable it to reduce mental stress before high-pressure competitions. Plus, its anti-inflammatory effects help with optimal joint and tendon flex during intense exercise. You can even use CBD to promote hydration during a workout and aid your energy during long training sessions.

Using CBD for Recovery and Sleep

Athletes using CBD for sleep

The other main times athletes take CBD are after workouts or competing plus before sleep. Using it post-exercise can be a great way to help promote more rapid recovery, ease inflammation or soreness in the muscles, plus aid with stress after workouts. Exercise can cause localised inflammation, micro-tears in muscles, damage to joints, plus cortisol release from the stress response. These lead to fatigue and must be healed to prevent reduced performance in future sessions. Dosing CBD after your workout and taking it with nourishing foods is a fantastic way to promote this healing.

Similarly, many athletes target their CBD doses before bed to maximise the sleep-promoting benefits that the cannabinoid can provide. Taking your CBD an hour or two before you intend to sleep can help to stimulate deeper sleep stages, more REM sleep, enhanced length of rest, plus boosted rejuvenation. You’ll feel fresher and more well-rested and see your athletic results improve with regular use of CBD for sleep.

CBD Dosages for Athletes

Doses of CBD and the overall quantity an athlete takes need to be carefully decided by them in discussion with their coach and sports nutritionist. They’ll need to factor in their metabolism, body size, the intended application of CBD for their chosen sport, how much activity they’re doing, plus timing and frequency of doses. Each will affect how much CBD an athlete needs for their desired results. However, starting with lower dosages initially to test tolerance and sensitivity is good. Some people can be allergic to cannabinoids like CBD. Finding this out early with test doses of small quantities is a smart way to begin. After this, you can ramp up your CBD doses and experiment to find the optimal quantity for your athletic endeavours. Most athletes find daily dosages of 300-600mg of CBD to be the most effective range for helping to optimise performance. 

Side Effect Risks for Athletes

Therefore, CBD is a compound with considerable potency and is not immune from side effects. Although side effects occur, they are rare and only found in a small percentage of athletes. Overall, the cannabinoid is well tolerated. Common side effects are dry mouth, lethargy, drowsiness, diarrhoea, lower blood pressure and upset stomach.

Types of CBD Products for Athletes

A great characteristic of CBD is it can be consumed via many different products. These include oils, tinctures, edibles, capsules, gummies, topicals and even vapes. Each has pros and cons for athletes. 

CBD Oil or Tinctures

CBD tinctures are great for athletes because of their easy dosing, excellent control of dosages by drop, and portability. CBD droppers can easily be taken to training or games, making getting doses before or after a workout simple.

CBD Edibles

Many athletes prefer using CBD as gummies or in energy bars to help provide some quick energy and tastiness into their doses. It makes it easier to stick to a CBD regime, but it can take longer to absorb due to digestion. Orally taken products will release their effects more slowly over a more extended period but also lose some bioavailability due to stomach acid degrading cannabinoids like CBD. 

CBD Topicals

A topical such as a CBD cream or lotion infused with CBD can help an athlete with joint soreness, bruises or aches in a specific area. It can offer a soothing effect for a particular body region, which is great for minor injuries or post-workout strains. This ingestion method has low bioavailability as cannabinoids must be absorbed through the skin layers. 

CBD Capsules

For many athletes, taking CBD in an oil or edible form is not viable because of its unpalatable taste. To overcome this problem, capsules can directly ingest CBD and quickly digest it while avoiding its flavour. In addition, this is more straightforward to dose as each capsule will contain a specific amount of CBD that is easily measured. For athletes, it is also a very convenient method to use CBD and can quickly be taken before bed, after competitions or as a pre-workout protocol.

Considerations When Buying CBD

Considerations of buying CBD for athletes

There are some considerations to consider as an athlete when buying CBD. These tips will help you get the most out of your product while minimising any risks associated with low-quality or fake products.

Isolate vs Full-Spectrum

CBD isolate contains no other cannabinoids or terpenes in the product. This makes it higher strength, but it won’t provide the powerful benefits that minor cannabinoids like CBG can provide, plus it lacks the entourage effect that terpenes offer. Terpenes are other therapeutic phyto compounds produced by cannabis that are synergistic with CBD and bolster its effects in athletes. For those looking for a broader range of health benefits and anti-inflammatory power, seeking a full-spectrum CBD product may be preferable. It will also contain a more extensive range of natural plant nutrients that help promote healing in the body and muscle recovery for athletes.

Choosing Reputable Products

Using a reputable CBD brand that has undergone third-party lab testing is essential for athletes to avoid consuming low-quality products that can contain contaminants or THC. Ingesting these can cause issues both in terms of harming an athlete’s health plus risking them failing regular sports drug testing. Only select and use pure CBD products that have been verified. Ideally, seek out organic sourced hemp in your CBD oil that is less likely to have been treated with pesticides or contain additives.

Formulations for Athletes

Today, it’s easy to find CBD formulations designed for athletes. These will be enriched with additional nutrients that benefit athletic performance, such as vitamins and minerals, or contain terpenes and other phytonutrients that aid recovery. In addition, CBD products created for athletes will not have any THC to prevent any issues with drug testing and potential sports bans.


Most sports and professional athletics competitions implement drug testing for steroids, performance-enhancing compounds and many supplementary compounds in athletes. These ensure the playing field is even for athletes, eliminating any potential pharmacological advantages. In Australia and the US, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) are the central bodies that conduct drug testing of athletes. Either body does not ban CBD under current regulations; however, THC is banned. This is a crucial consideration in product selection, as athletes must only use products that contain 0% THC and are entirely pure to avoid being banned or having penalties imposed on them. Even trace levels of THC should be avoided. You may risk failing these tests if your product is low-quality, contaminated, or contains THC. 

Does CBD help athletic performance?

CBD has become a hot topic in the athletic community for its potential to support various aspects of performance and recovery. While research is ongoing, several mechanisms suggest that CBD may positively impact athletic performance. These include its anti-inflammatory effects, which can aid in reducing inflammation and promoting faster recovery after intense physical activity. CBD may also alleviate exercise-induced pain and discomfort, making it a popular choice for athletes. Additionally, by interacting with the endocannabinoid system, CBD may modulate stress responses, potentially helping athletes manage pre-competition anxiety and stress. Quality sleep is crucial for recovery and performance, and CBD has been explored for its potential to improve sleep duration and quality. Furthermore, CBD’s neuroprotective properties may benefit athletes by potentially protecting the nervous system from the impact of physical trauma or injuries. Some athletes have reported enhanced focus, reduced anxiety, and improved recovery when incorporating CBD into their routine.

Does CBD help with sports anxiety?

CBD’s potential anxiolytic effects make it a subject of interest for athletes dealing with sports-related anxiety. CBD interacts with receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating stress responses, potentially helping athletes better cope with anxiety-inducing situations. CBD’s interaction with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors may also contribute to its calming effects. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps regulate excitability in the brain. Some studies suggest that CBD may have a positive impact on cognitive function, potentially improving focus and concentration, which can be beneficial for athletes dealing with performance anxiety. Athletes may consider incorporating CBD into their routine before events or training sessions to help manage anxiety. However, starting with a low dosage and monitoring the effects is essential, as individual responses may vary.

How much CBD should an athlete take?

With CBD dosage for athletes, individual factors such as body weight, metabolism, the severity of symptoms, and the desired effects must be considered. Athletes should start with a low CBD dosage and gradually increase it until the desired outcomes are achieved. A standard recommendation is 1–6 mg of CBD per 10 pounds of body weight. Athletes with higher body weights may require a higher dosage, while those with lower weights may benefit from lower doses. The purpose of CBD use also influences the optimal dosage, with a lower dosage recommended for general well-being or mild symptoms and a higher dosage for addressing specific issues like pain or anxiety. CBD affects individuals differently, so athletes should pay attention to how their bodies react to different dosages and adjust accordingly. Consultation with healthcare professionals or sports medicine experts is recommended, especially for athletes with pre-existing health conditions or taking medications. Ultimately, athletes should approach CBD dosage with a personalised and cautious mindset, aiming to strike a balance between achieving therapeutic effects and avoiding unnecessary or excessive consumption. Monitoring individual responses is vital to optimising CBD dosage for athletic performance and recovery.

What CBD oil do athletes use?

Athletes use various CBD products, and CBD oil is a popular choice due to its versatility. When choosing CBD oil for athletic use, factors include choosing full-spectrum CBD oil or CBD isolate, third-party testing results, potency and dosage, formulation, and legal considerations. Athletes should experiment with different CBD oils to find the one that best suits their preferences and goals.


CBD offers athletes a new way to optimise their recovery, enhance their performance and compete better. It helps heal and repair the body, promoting better sleep, lower inflammation, and reduced pain after training while helping to alleviate the anxiety of competing. From professional athletes to amateurs, CBD is now a game-changer offering a holistic wellness approach. It helps address both the physical and mental demands of athletic pursuits. It can reduce inflammation and soreness similarly to NSAIDs like ibuprofen but is a natural alternative with fewer side effects and can be used for much longer. Many notable athletes like Nate Diaz already use CBD for soreness. When buying it, only purchase reputable products containing no THC to avoid failing drug tests. Shop for reputable, athlete-formulated CBD products that your sports medicine specialist verifies. Taking it is straightforward, but the correct dose for you needs to be discovered through experimentation and testing. More athletes are embracing the power of CBD as a natural performance enhancement and plant-based well-being tool.