Cannabidiol (CBD) is being touted as the ultimate aid to effective post-exercise recovery, mostly for its anti-inflammatory properties. It makes sense that something which claims to manage inflammation could speed up the body’s recovery process in between workouts, because inflammation itself is a side effect of that process.
By reducing discomfort from the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), and allowing you to get back into the gym to keep your workout program rolling, CBD manufacturers like LevelOut, claim that their products will help you to achieve more consistent, and therefore more successful, training. In short, it claims to be something of an exercise recovery Holy Grail.
But is it, really? I decided to find out by doing a very non-scientific – but still authentic – test by taking CBD oil every day for a month, to see if it did indeed reduce post-workout muscle ache, and to review how practical it is to use a CBD product every day.
Here’s what I found out after a daily dose of LevelOut RESET (5% CBD), which contains a blend of broad-spectrum CBD oil as well as plant-based terpene oils, which are added for flavor and to amp-up the anti-inflammatory effect. (Full disclosure: LevelOut provided free samples for the purposes of this review but did not sponsor or pay for any content.)
What The Science Says First things first, the science on performance and CBD is limited. There have been no significant studies into using CBD oil for post-exercise recovery, but there have been studies into using it to treat ailments. It has been established that cannabinoids are muscle relaxants, and a Bath Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases 2006 study showed that CBD could combat rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory condition.
So, CBD works if you’re ill – but what if you’re healthy and looking to get stronger and more able by doing a workout plan or exercise program? I set out to answer this by doing my regular strength-building weight lifting program and adding strenuous rock climbing sessions into the mix, while taking CBD oil every day for one month. This is what the test told me, broken down week by week:
Making It A Habit It turns out that the hardest thing about taking CBD oil every day is remembering to do it. The whole point of using CBD in its oil form with a pipet (rather than as edibles such as tablets or chews) is that the bioavailability of edible CBD is only around 10%, whereas oil or sprays held under your tongue rise to 20% or higher bioavailability.
Normally I would take health supplements with food – it’s easy to build this into a daily habit too. Unfortunately, CBD oil isn’t the most appetizing thing to take before dinner (more on that later) so I ended up keeping the bottle at my desk. Having it in line of sight meant it was much easier to remember to take it religiously.
If I took the CBD oil after a tough workout, then the next day the muscle soreness was less severe
Mobile Mornings For me, the day after doing a new weight lifting workout, or a particularly heavy climbing session, can be brutal. My joints can feel stiff and less mobile, and the DOMS can be so bad I start to get ‘the fear’ when I see a set of stairs! One thing I did notice was that if I took the CBD oil after the session, then the next day this was less severe, even in the first week of using it.
OK, so the muscle soreness and stiffness was still there – it wasn’t like I’d chewed a handful of ibuprofen – but it was definitely more manageable, and it did mean that I wasn’t considering canceling my next session a day or two later. We know that being consistent with your workouts is the best route to achieving gains (see the RSNG report here to find out why), so this is a real-life win for CBD oil.
I did find that LevelOut’s recommended dose of 0.5ml (25mg of CDB), my response was marginal. I had to up the dose to 1ml (50mg of CBD) to really notice an effect. I should point out here that you can technically overdose on anything, but scientists have yet to find an unsafe dosage of CBD. That said, don’t go all in with it – there’s no point being a guinea pig and it would get extremely expensive!
You Get Used To The Taste The advantage of taking CBD in oil form – rather than in a tablet or edibles – is that this is the most bioavailable form of the chemical, which means your body will absorb more of it, maximizing any potential benefit. The disadvantage is that unflavoured CBD oil can taste a bit like a compost heap, and the way to get the most bang for your buck is to use the pipet to put the oil under your tongue and then hold it there to be absorbed for a couple of minutes.
Personally, I have used hemp protein powders in the past and I like the nutty, slightly earthy taste of those, but CBD oil does have a very strong earthy flavor and bitter aftertaste. I will say that the citrus terpenes in the LevelOut blend cut through this quite well, so I got used to the flavor pretty quickly – it wasn’t the deal breaker I had been led to expect.
Playing With Timings To begin with I was just taking the CBD oil whenever I remembered, but one morning after a heavy workout I felt sore and realized I had taken the oil in the morning rather than after my session. So, I experimented with taking it after my workouts and it did seem to improve how I felt the next day. It does seem (anecdotally at least) that you can time when you take CBD to get the best relief from muscle soreness.
Unexpected Benefit Over the past three weeks I had noticed a subtle and gradual improvement on the quality of my sleep. I didn’t feel ready to attribute this to anything in particular until week three, and it’s still possible that this was unrelated to using CBD oil. For instance, it could have been that I was paying more attention to my workouts and diet, as a side effect of doing the test, and benefiting from more consistency in my lifestyle. Whatever the reason this improvement in sleep did coincide with using CBD, so take from that what you will.
It’s also true that the limonene and citral terpenes (aromatic compounds found in plants) blended with broad-spectrum CBD in the LevelOut RESET product, have been found to have calming effects on mice. Again, I’m not a mouse, but I did find that I was sleeping deeper and sometimes for longer too.
Fine Tuning By the final week of the test, I had felt enough of a reduction in muscle soreness after my workouts that I was convinced the CBD oil was having an effect. For most of the test I had been taking 1ml of LevelOut RESET per day (50mg of CBD), but towards the end I did play around with the dosage a bit more, taking up to 2ml (100mg of CBD) after especially heavy workouts. While this may have had more of an anti-inflammatory effect, I did notice that it seemed to make me a bit drowsy when I took it in the mornings, so I tended to stick to the 1ml dose, unless I was taking it before bed.
I realised I had become calmer and things that might have gotten to me before, I could just let go of and move on from
Anxiety Dialed Down Week Four was also the point at which I realized another unlooked-for benefit had been gradually and subtly coming about. Like most people my work/ life balance can easily get out of whack and generate unhelpful stress. But after taking CBD oil daily, I realized I had become calmer overall and things that might have gotten to me before, I could just let go of and move on from.
Admittedly, four weeks is not a long time (and this could be explained by other things) but I do think that the CDB and essential oil blend had a subtle but lasting calming effect, of some sort.
An Expensive Habit? Part of me wants to say that you should go out and try CBD oil for its muscle-soreness combatting, and mind-calming effects, but another part of me thinks that you could achieve this through other means, such as a really good diet full of antioxidants, and low in junk food and alcohol. Even things like getting a regular massage could have a similar effect, although you would have to make a habit of it.
When you look at the cost of taking enough CBD oil every day to have a noticeable effect, the cost is significant. For me, that dosage was 1ml, which meant a $72 (£55) bottle of LevelOut RESET would last exactly one month. Put another way, that’s the price of a gym membership.
For me, CBD helped me to workout consistently by reducing muscle soreness, and maximizing my recovery time between workouts, but I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely essential. It’s very much a ‘nice to have’ addition to your arsenal, in that sense. That said, if you are looking to improve the consistency of workouts, as well as the speed of your results, it could be a simple and effective body hack for you to try on for size.
Just do yourself a favor and check the legality of CBD in your country or region first, then pick a CBD oil that’s been lab-tested by a third party, and preferably extracted with CO2 rather than chemicals…
WHAT NEXT? Looking for more about nutritional supplements? Then you might find this RSNG report on fish oil tablets interesting…
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