A new small-scale study from the German Sports University in Cologne suggests that CBD might help athletes recover faster from muscle damage after intensive resistance exercise.
The randomized and double-blind study only involved 16 participants but found that a single dose of CBD helped reduce the concentration of several muscle-damage markers in the blood and improved strength recovery after back squat exercises. The researchers said the improvement was small but may indicate the CBD can have pro-recovery effects after strength training.
For most people – athletes included – it’s normal to feel sore for a day or two after an intense workout. This is because resistance training exercises can lead to damage and inflammation of the skeletal muscles.
As a result, the performance for those skeletal muscles decreases and requires time to recover.
However, for competitive athletes, minimizing that recovery time is essential for getting back into training as quickly as possible to promote muscle growth and increase performance.
“Dietary supplements are often used to this end,” the study authors said. “CBD products, in particular, are often consumed by elite athletes.”
One way to assess muscle damage and recovery is by measuring the amount of two muscle proteins in the blood – creatine kinase and myoglobin. When muscles are damaged during exercise, these proteins can leak into the blood and be detected using biochemical tests.
In the study, the research team asked the healthy participants to perform one of two different exercises.
The first was a jump and reach test to measure their average maximum jump heights after three jumps. The second was a strong back squat, where participants were given four attempts to back squat their maximum weight.
Participants were then given either a placebo or a CBD drink during their recovery period and asked to do the same exercises again after 24, 48, or 72 hours.
The research team found no difference in muscle damage for participants after the jump and reach exercise – likely because the exercise was not intensive enough. But with the strength back squats, participants given CBD had significantly less creatine kinase and myoglobin levels in the blood after 72 hours – suggesting that CBD might have helped with muscle recovery.
The researchers explained that one reason improved muscle recovery was only seen at 72 hours could be that the body needs additional time to absorb and utilize CBD.
“Previous studies have shown that the maximum absorption of CBD can take between one to four hours,” the study authors said. “It can be speculated that post-exercise use may be too late to reduce muscle damage.”
In which case, the authors said that it may be more beneficial to take CBD before training to give the body more time for absorption.
CBD improved back squat performance in participants
In the study, CBD not only helped reduce the amount of muscle damage caused by back squats after 72 hours, but researchers also found that it helped the athletes perform better in the follow-up exercises.
“In contrast to the placebo group, the CBD group was able to recover [their] squat performance and even slightly increase it,” the study authors said.
After 72 hours, two participants in the CBD group performed worse in their maximum back squats, but for those who were given the placebo, eight did worse than before. However, seven participants who took CBD squatted a higher weight than before, whereas only three in the placebo group did better.
“It seems that after 72 hours, the CBD group has largely recovered and thus has restored their maximum performance,” the study authors said.
Researchers say more research needed on the regenerative properties of CBD
This study is only one of a handful that has investigated whether CBD can aid in muscle recovery after exercise.
An earlier study from the German Sports University done in 2020 also found that CBD reduced muscle damage in highly trained male athletes after performing a workout composed of three sets of 12 back squats and three sets of 15 drop jumps.
Despite a growing interest in the use of CBD as a supplement to improve regeneration, the research team says research into the pro-regenerative effects of CBD remains “quite limited.”
More studies are needed to confirm the pro-regenerative effects of CBD and to determine whether consistent CBD supplementation or CBD use after endurance training might be helpful in muscle healing and recovery.
“Further studies on the pro-regenerative and recovery effects of CBD after strength training or other sports are essential,” the study authors said.
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Calvin Chan is a researcher and medical writer from Edmonton, Canada. As a big science nerd, he loves reading and writing about everything science - from cannabis to dark matter and even alien life. Calvin has a PhD from the University of Alberta.