cbd for cyclists

CBD for Cyclists: The Experience that Changed My Mind About CBD


By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS

Sleep and recovery are two aspects of training that have increased in importance over the past six weeks. For some athletes, working from home and stay at home orders have opened up opportunities to train more than before. For others, the disruptions to personal and professional responsibilities eroded what training time they previously had. And regardless of whether athletes have been training more or less, nearly everyone has been coping with heightened stress from dual threats to their health and livelihoods. About a year ago I had a training-related experience that changed my personal views on the effectiveness of CBD for sleep and recovery, and even through the source of stress has shifted, I believe it has been beneficial during the current crisis.

What is CBD?

To begin with, cannabinoids already exist in your body. Scientists have identified what they call the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that modulates the activity of neurons and can be influenced by phytocannabinoids (derived from plants). Cannabidiol (CBD) is a phytocannabinoid found naturally in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, which is also found in cannabis, CBD is not psychoactive.

Within your nervous system, two endocannabinoids (2-AG and AEA) are produced in postsynaptic neurons (downstream) and released into the synapse. They bind to CB1 receptors on the presynaptic neuron (upstream) and act to inhibit the release of certain neurotransmitters.

The primary purpose of the ECS appears to be maintaining homeostasis, which it does by keeping neurotransmitter levels in check. Consuming CBD could be thought of as supplementing or increasing the activity of your body’s existing endocannabinoid system. People who are under greater stress have increased inflammation and pain signaling, and it is thought that CBD may help reduce inflammation and attenuate that increased neural activity.

My Story with CBD

While I had done plenty of research on the potential for CBD to alleviate pain, improve recovery, and improve sleep quality for athletes, I didn’t have that much personal experience with it prior to 2019. My sleep and recovery habits had been working fine for me and I didn’t have much need for pain relief, so my occasional trials of product samples didn’t seem to make much difference. That changed during the 2019 Tour of California Race Experience.

For 10 years of the years that the Amgen Tour of California was held, a team of CTS amateur riders and coaches rode the entire course, starting each stage several hours before the pro peloton. It was always a huge challenge, but 2019 was the most difficult of all. The individual stages were longer than average, mostly 100+ miles. There were long transfers between stage finishes and the next morning’s stage starts. And there was no mid-race time trial, which for our group functioned as a much-needed break from the long stages.

The group of riders in our small peloton was the best part of the experience, and we developed strong bonds that can only be created by working together to overcome great challenges. In 2019, the team included both NBA Hall of Fame legend Bill Walton and Andre Kajlich, the first and only handcycle athlete to finish the 3000-mile Race Across America solo. Both men are inspirational in their own ways, as well as being total badasses.

The first two stages of the 2019 ATOC were long and difficult, and for a variety of reasons I found I also wasn’t sleeping well on that trip. Stage 3 was my opportunity to ride with Bill, which is always one of my top rides for the year – and the longest. Bill is the most genuinely happy individual I have ever met. His outlook on life is overwhelmingly positive and you cannot spend time with him without walking away a better person for the experience. He loves to ride his bike and will ride all day, through virtually any conditions. He is steady and smart on the bike but the long days at the ATOC typically meant about 12 hours from start to finish.

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To optimally support athletes during the ATOC experiences, our coaches rotated between groups or riders. Some days you were higher power days to set pace in the front group. Other days were longer and more moderate in the middle groups. It was a great way to vary the effort required and ensure athletes had opportunities to ride with different coaches, and gave coaches an opportunity to spend a day talking with Bill.

By the end of Stage 3 I was in trouble. The first two stages had been hard, I hadn’t slept well since the beginning of the trip, Bill and I rode for 12 hours on Stage 3, and I was scheduled to ride in the fastest group on Stage 4. Andre could see the fatigue on my face when we met before dinner, and suggested a CBD tincture. I hadn’t been impressed by CBD in the past, but I also knew I experienced no ill effects from it, so I decided to give it another shot.

Sleep and Recovery

That night, about 20 minutes before turning out the light I put several drops of the CBD tincture under my tongue, held them there for about 30 seconds, and swallowed. I went to sleep easily, but what was really different from previous nights was that I stayed asleep. I woke up refreshed and feeling more rested than I had all week, and decided not to read too much into it. I knew it could have been a placebo effect, or that I was just thoroughly exhausted, or a combination of other factors, but I learned early in my cycling career that when you’re feeling good, don’t ask too many questions; just go with it. So, I did.

I rode well that day with the front group, not superhuman by any stretch, but better than I anticipated given the efforts over the previous three days. That night and the rest of the trip I continued using the CBD tincture before bed, and experienced similar results in terms of quality sleep and performance on the bike. Not miraculous results, but substantial enough to convince me the CBD oil was making a difference.

My decision to use CBD was cemented since I’ve been able to obtain products made entirely from industrial hemp. I personally have no problem with the medical or recreational consumption of THC, and the World Antidoping Agency and US Antidoping Agency have clarified their rules such that the threshold for a positive test for THC is high enough (no pun intended) that it minimizes the risk of inadvertently testing positive. Even so, I don’t feel right using products produced from marijuana and/or designed to deliver appreciable amounts of THC (hemp-derived CBD products only contain trace amounts of THC).

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Comments 16

  1. Chirs, this is a very interesting read. I have struggled terribly with sleep on my cycle touring. I just cannot drop off to sleep and when I do I find that my sleep is very fragmented. I also get the same issue when following a structured training plan and I can notice my sleep starting to go off course, and unless I take a 3-4 day break from training I will eventually end up with full blown insomnia and end up in that awful “tired but wired” state.

    I just need to find a quality CBD here in the UK.

  2. It was interesting to read this article as I was curious as to what problems cyclists could have during a session as it seems low impact when compared to say running.

    However, the article has given good insight into what cyclists must endure, especially at an elite level.

    I have learnt from the article that sleep and recovery are important for athletes and hobbyist cyclists.

    I look forward to reading more on training right, supplementation and consumer reviews on products from the website.

    Thank you!

  3. I can refer to this article for my dissertation about CBD and its uses. I thought that CBD oils can just be used to relieve stress. One of my friends bought me a CBD oil from this site. I may try to use it as well for cycling.

  4. Thanks for the informative article Chris, glad you’ve found a natural product to enhance sleep & performance.
    One thing to remember, (& I’d imagine Care by Design would agree), is that with cannabis when consumed or extracted properly, there’s the entourage effect, where the terpenes, flavonoids & cannabinoids work together for a more powerful, broad-based effects. These products are generally labeled full-spectrum or whole-plant, and tend to have more benefit, than isolated cbd.

    Hemp plants contain an average of 3-5% cbd, while cbd-rich cannabis plants can contain 18-20% cbd. So, it takes much more product to produce, and unless the hemp is grown healthy, non-polluted soil, (which I’d imagine Care by Design does), there’s also a greater risk of contaminants. Both hemp & cannabis are known as bioaccumulators, meaning they suck up contaminants & heavy metals from the surrounding soil.
    I realize that top competitors need to be very careful because of all the testing, (glad to hear the agencies have set a certain threshold to allow for small amounts of thc). Happy riding.

  5. I tried a high-end, high-potency, lab-test guaranteed, THC-free very expensive brand of CBD oil in pill format for a few days. It didn’t do anything except lighten my wallet considerably, I was very disappointed. Maybe it doesn’t work for everyone. But I never tried a tincture. I would be willing to try it again in tincture format as I would sure look forward to the supposed sleep and calming benefits. But CBD is expensive. For the cost the benefits need to be obvious and very noticeable.

    1. I think you need to take it for at least two weeks to feel it’s true effectiveness. I used the tincture and yes it is expensive but the cheaper varieties did not deliver the same results.

  6. I’ve been using CBD for a year and measuring HRV for about 4 and I can say from both the feeling of restfulness and increase in HRV that it has had an effect on me. Finding the right dosage is key and I found under the tongue for a couple minutes + oil pulling helps absorbtion.

    It’s not magic, but when life stress is high AND training is high, CBD seems to tip the scales in my favor.

    I highly recommend anyone trying it to use HRV as a way to figure out your dosage (e.g. train in a similar z2 each day, add 10mg until you see results)

  7. I’ve tried it, didn’t notice any difference (pain or sleep wise). Does this just mean that I’m one of those “lucky” one’s that stuff like this doesn’t work for, or may there be a reason why it didn’t help? (Wrong dosage, wrong type, nutritional deficiency, unknown medical condition, etc.)

  8. I’ve been using CBD which is free of THC for over a year and it does help improve my sleep pattern. My understanding is the primary benefit for sleep is managing cortisol levels.

  9. I would be careful before taking any cbd products. My doctor prohibits me using these products due to the unknown interaction with my current prescriptions. Just an FYI.

  10. Hi Chris, I’m a family physician in Philadelphia. I have seen the benefits of medical marijuana in my patients that suffer from pain and anxiety. I am interested in trying CBD oil for sleep for both my patients and myself. Let me know how and when I may be able to purchase some from this reputable company you endorse.

    Thanks, Andrew Poulshock DO

    PS- love to read your articles and books

  11. Hi Chris, Great article indeed. I believe that CBD has incredible beneficiary effects for all athletes in all disciplines based on a plethora of articles. However, I would like to see you write something regarding the benefits of CBD and THC and the correlation if any. I have been very specific and diligent with my training. Now, more so than ever, with Zwift and my Smart Trainer (Tacx Neo 2), I have really been able to dial in -if you will- how my body responds to HIIT based on my “Time Crunch Cyclist” workouts. When I complete specific training that requires me to tap in to neuromuscular efforts, I have found that THC not only allows me to sleep soundly, it also provides a recovery element that is truly miraculous. Maybe it’s just a placebo effect, maybe not. Thank you in advance for your time.

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