Move over protein powder, CBD is set to be the hottest sports supplement among athletes for 2022. So, should you try it?

By Mary Comber

Team GB weightlifter Jenny Tong uses it to recover from gruelling training sessions, US soccer star Megan Rapinoe swears by it to improve her sleep, and triathlete Rachel Rutherford takes it to calm anxiety. What’s their secret remedy? These sportswomen are among a growing band of athletes turning to CBD oil (cannabidiol) to aid sports recovery and perform at their best.

‘Since using CBD, my sleep has improved drastically and had a huge impact on my recovery, meaning I’ve been able to increase my training capacity,’ says Tong, who uses Puresport drops at night and muscle balm post exercise.

Other sports athletes say CBD helps ease pain, calm nerves and improve focus. So how does this plant remedy work and could it help boost your workouts?

cbd sports athletes

What is CBD oil?

CBD is one of 113 natural, therapeutic compounds called cannabinoids found in the plant cannabis sativa. It’s a legal, non-addictive substance that, unlike cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC), has no psychoactive properties so doesn’t get you ‘high’.

In the UK, it’s classified as a food supplement and you can buy it in the form of fast-acting oral drops and sprays, slower-releasing capsules and gummies, or topical creams, balms and patches.

Once in the body, CBD works by interacting with your endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of receptors (CB1 and CB2) in the brain, gut, muscles and skin that regulates bodily functions.

‘The ECS is linked to immune health, pain response, sleep patterns, mood, gut function, metabolism, hormone balance and more,’ says Dr Elisabeth Philipps, clinical neuroscientist specialising in ECS and phytocannabinoid medicine, and scientific advisor to fourfive CBD. ‘These receptors can be activated by CBD to support a healthy body and mind.’

CBD oil as a sports training aid

Until recently, CBD was banned in sport. Then, in 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances, leading to a wave of uptake from athletes and sports therapists who recognised that CBD’s proven benefits for sleep and inflammation translated well to sport.

‘I work with a number of pro athletes and have seen first hand the benefits of adding in quality CBD products to recovery, training and performance programmes,’ says Dr Philipps. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games was even dubbed ‘The CBD Olympics’ due to use of the supplement by athletes during the run up to the event.

Graeme Close is professor of human physiology at Liverpool John Moores University where he is conducting research on CBD and skeletal muscle. He is also nutrition consultant to England Rugby: ‘I think CBD is one of the more exciting things that’s happened to sport nutrition in the past decade,’ he says.

‘But, as a scientist who advises athletes, I need a stronger evidence base. Because CBD has been prohibited for so many years, research is practically non-existent in a sporting context, so
we need the science to get moving.

‘For instance, we wouldn’t know the best dose to recommend – in Europe, the safe upper limit has been set at 70mg CBD/day. This could be way too low to have a benefit but we have to go on the side of caution for now.’

cbd sports athletes

Golden rules of CBD oil in sports for athletes

Quality and regulation of CBD products is an issue for athletes too, says Close. ‘Even though CBD is no longer prohibited by WADA, all other cannabinoids are, so it’s quite a risk for athletes to trust there are none in a product. Even if a product is THC-free, that doesn’t mean all the other cannabinoids aren’t there.’

Regulation in this area is improving now and a few sport-focused brands, including fourfive and Puresport, offer CBD isolate products that are certified safe for drug-tested athletes by governing bodies.

Meanwhile, Healthspan offers a sport-safe CBD alternative, Elite PEA+ Sport (£32.99). For regular consumers, some high-quality CBD brands such as Dragonfly CBD offer a choice between narrow-spectrum CBD (a CBD isolate) and broad-spectrum CBD (containing other therapeutic cannabinoids that may provide a beneficial ‘entourage effect’) and publish lab reports online.

Studies on CBD and athletic performance are still lacking and product quality is uneven (see below), but CBD is considered safe and well tolerated. So read on to discover the potential benefits of CBD oil for athletes and follow our expert tips to try it yourself

How to read a CBD oil label

Want to try CBD? Look for the following information to ensure a good-quality product and correct dose, says natural health expert and chemist for Dragonfly CBD, Dr Timothy Bond.

  • Quantity of CBD in milligrams per bottle [eg 500mg/1,000mg]. This tells you the product’s strength.
  • Quantity of CBD in milligrams per drop. This allows you to measure the right dose.
  • Number of drops of product allowed a day. The UK recommended limit of CBD is 70mg a day.
  • A ‘THC-free’ guarantee. By law, products must contain less than 0.2 per cent THC.
  • Evidence of third-party testing by an independent lab, to ensure THC free and pure.
  • A batch number, allowing you to check quality.

TIP: ‘Start with a lower dose,’ says Dr Bond. ‘Perhaps try a 500mg-strength product and take five-to-seven drops after exercise and one hour before bed. After a week, see how you feel and continue or increase the dose/strength.’

cbd sports athletes

5 benefits of CBD oil for sports athletes


A good night’s sleep is key for athletic performance – it allows tissues to repair, muscles to build and improves cognitive function. But research shows that, thanks to anxiety, injury and pain, many athletes struggle to get a decent night’s rest.

It’s no surprise then that better sleep is the top reason sportspeople try CBD. By regulating the body’s endocannabinoid system, CBD is proven to reduce insomnia and promote refreshing REM sleep, improving daytime alertness and focus.

Dragonfly CBD Broad Spectrum Oil 270mg‘A 2019 critical review in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology found cannabinoids can improve sleep quality, decrease night-time waking and help people get to sleep faster,’ says Dr Bond.

CBD also helps reduce anxiety and pain that can sabotage athletes’ sleep and helps them avoid sleep medication.

TRY THIS: Broad Spectrum Dragonfly CBD Oil (from £19.50, 270mg) This organic CBD oil includes a wide range of cannabinoids and flavonoids for an ‘entourage effect’ that may aid sleep. It’s THC free.

Top Tip: Take CBD an hour before bed. Try products with sleep-inducing ingredients such as magnesium.


Whether it’s sore muscles or a niggling sports injury, CBD can relieve pain and speed up recovery. ‘CBD has been shown effective in both inflammation-mediated pain, such as joint pain, and non-inflammatory chronic pain,’ says Dr Bond. ‘It might also impact pain signalling.’

Preliminary research suggests that CBD may also promote healing of traumatic musculoskeletal injuries. A 2021 study found significant effects on recovery of muscle damage and recovery of squat performance after 72 hours when taking CBD.

The remedy also offers a natural alternative to the painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs athletes often rely on. An eight-week study of a group of patients found 53 per cent reduced or eliminated their opioid painkillers within eight weeks of starting CBD.

TRY THIS: fourfive CBD Thermal Joint Gel 300mg CBD (£30, 100ml) Ease pain and stiffness with this warming, fast-acting formula infused with CBD, arnica, glucosamine and menthol.

Top tip: For instant relief, apply a CBD muscle rub or balm to the affected area post workout.


Got pre-event nerves? When you’re facing a big day or a tough fitness challenge, CBD can keep you calm and focused. One double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that taking CBD before public speaking reduced anxiety and cognitive impairment among sports athletes.

And, rather than sedating you, CBD works with your body to manage anxiety – ideal for athletes who need to stay alert. ‘Successful performance is about being physically and mentally prepared, long before you step on to the track or field,‘ says Dr Bond.

‘It’s about being well rested, calm and focused on the task in hand, not being worried or distracted. CBD is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, stress and lower blood pressure. These combined effects promote a calm state of mind.’

TRY THIS: Puresport Clarity Oil 1,500mg CBD (£79.99, 30ml) Sharpen your focus with these oral drops containing CBD, adaptogenic herbs ashwagandha and ginkgo biloba, and vitamin D3.

Top tip: Pop a few CBD drops under your tongue (for quickest absorption), 30-to-60 minutes before events.


Every athlete dreads getting sick. But when you’re training hard, your immune system takes a hit. ‘Athletes can experience reduced immunity due to high levels of stress in their bodies from heavy training and competition,’ says Dr Philipps.

A poor night’s rest compounds the problem – during sleep, your body produces infection-fighting chemicals called cytokines. Happily, scientists believe CBD can support the immune system and help you stay well.

‘There are CB2 receptors on immune cells, so using CBD and other phytocannabinoids
may balance immune-system function,’ explains Dr Philipps. Indeed, initial laboratory tests suggest CBD can reduce your viral load.

TRY THIS: Healthspan CBD Support Immunity 150mg CBD (£37.95 for 60 capsules) These antioxidant-rich capsules contain 5mg of CBD, plus vitamin C and black elderberry extract to protect your immune system.

Top tip: Look for CBD products with added protective ingredients, such as vitamins C and D3.


Ever get a dodgy stomach when you run? You’re not alone! Up to 70 per cent of athletes suffer gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. ‘Inflamed guts are the price many athletes pay to be top of their game,’ says Dr Philipps.

‘The stress of training can cause exercise-induced GI damage, leading to nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. And performance anxiety hits the nervous system, upsetting digestive function. Regular use of anti-inflammatory medications can massively damage gut tissue, too.’

It’s no coincidence athletes who take CBD notice digestive problems improve. The endocannabinoid system stretches throughout the gut, regulating digestion and balancing the gut’s immune system.

‘CBD may directly reduce inflammation in the gut by activating CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, helping reduce IBS and colitis,’ confirms Dr Philipps.

TRY THIS: Cannaray Bright Days CBD Gummies 300mg (£18, 30 gummies) Handy when you’re on the move, these fruity-flavoured vegan gummies each contain 10mg of CBD.

Top tip:  To soothe your gut, take CBD orally in the form of capsules or gummies.

One athlete’s experience with CBD: ‘I was in pain every day for 10 years – then I discovered CBD’

Photography: Chris Kirkham

Britain’s greatest-ever skier Chemmy Alcott has broken 47 bones during her career. The Ski Sunday presenter told WF how CBD changed her life…

‘I’ve been living in pain since December 2010, when I had an 80mph ski crash that shattered my right leg. I tried nerve blockers and huge amounts of painkillers but I felt my judgement getting cloudy and, as a downhill skier going 92 miles an hour, that’s dangerous.

‘I’d heard about CBD but, as an athlete, was concerned about purity so approached Dragonfly CBD [an organic, seed-to-shelf brand]. While on location filming Ski Sunday, I committed to two hours of yoga a day plus CBD.

‘It was amazing – I skied daily for seven weeks without swelling on my leg or pulsating pain keeping me awake. I felt incredible all day. Now I can push myself again.

‘When I wake up, I take six drops of Narrow Spectrum Dragonfly CBD Oil 1,000mg (£54.50). Before bed, I use High-Strength Broad Spectrum Dragonfly CBD Oil 900mg (£49.50). I wakesurf, so I apply the CBD Hydrating Body Moisturiser 1,000mg (£45) to bruised areas; it immediately reduces inflammation.’

Alcott is an ambassador for Dragonfly CBD. For information and stockists, visit

Click here for our top tips on speeding up muscle recover after training!