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CBD Gel: What Is It, And Will It Help With Muscle Recovery?

09/06/2021 14 MIN. READ Alyssha Bal
09/06/2021 14 MIN. READ Alyssha Bal


An Introduction to CBD 

On some level, we’ve all experienced the awkward stiffness, muscle aches and general discomforts that a strenuous workout can trigger. Despite what the motivational YouTube videos might have you believe, most people don’t feel like they are walking on clouds the day after an intense training session. While hemp-derived substances are making massive strides in the sports and wellness market, there is a chance you may not be quite so familiar with CBD. If so, don’t panic! In the following few paragraphs, we’ll do a quick run-through of the basics.

What is CBD? 

CBD is short for cannabidiol - a signature cannabis compound (cannabinoid) with a fascinating botanical profile and a long line-up of potential wellbeing benefits. At the mention of cannabis, you may find yourself asking an important question: Is CBD legal? Well, if you live in Britain or Germany (or pretty much anywhere in the EU), there’s no need to break into a sweat. In these countries, governments tolerate regulation-compliant CBD products on two primary conditions:

  • CBD extract must come from registered hemp crops
  • Each product must comply with maximum THC limits (0.2%)

  • In line with similar requirements, CBD is legal throughout most of the European Union and North America. However, it’s crucial to confirm the status of CBD where you live before making any purchases or commitments.

    On the subject of sports recovery, it’s also helpful to note that protective agencies such as UK Anti-Doping permit the use of CBD in athletics (as long as it does not contain any THC). THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol: a psychotropic cannabinoid that may impair the senses when consumed in excess.

    Now that we’ve established some of the circumstances in which CBD is legal, let’s consider some factors that might motivate people to try CBD products.

    How Does CBD Work?

    At present, we don’t have enough evidence to tell you exactly how CBD may interact with your body. However, many researchers suggest that CBD molecules might influence your endocannabinoid system (or ECS). The ECS is a high-performing network that enables signalling between cells, with the ultimate goal of helping your body to adapt to changes and maintain inner balance (or homeostasis, if you want to get scientific). 

    Within the ECS, chemical messengers called endocannabinoids are naturally generated by your body. These substances relay signals by ‘binding’ with receptors in your brain, spine, and peripheral organs to stimulate targeted reactions.

    As you can imagine, the ECS is involved in many vital processes - from muscle formation and bone growth, to immunity and sleep. The importance of these functions cannot be overstated - particularly if you are developing your fitness and wellbeing.

    According to preliminary evidence, CBD may potentially impact your ECS by:

  • Supplementing your body with additional cannabinoids (which might limit the extent to which some unhelpful signals are relayed)
  • Binding with receptors that have yet to be discovered

  • These dynamics might help to make a wide range of potential CBD benefits possible. According to trending anecdotes, some CBD users suggest that cannabidiol might impact symptoms of discomfort, swelling, stress, and more. We’ll explore how these possibilities may relate to muscle recovery later on in this text. For now, let’s clarify what we mean by CBD topicals.

    What are CBD Topicals?

    CBD topicals (or cosmetics) are a non-invasive and potentially targeted opportunity to consume cannabidiol. While edibles and vape fluids are ingested or inhaled, specialised skincare products can help you get in touch with CBD from the outside-in. Since these hemp-infused creams and gels are gradually absorbed via your skin’s membranes, you may need to allow up to an hour for any possible CBD effects to emerge. As with most cosmetics, it’s also wise to perform a cautionary patch test on your wrist or neck in case any skin irritation occurs - once you’re all clear, you can fully enjoy your CBD topical.

    However, the story doesn’t end here. Some CBD manufacturers have stepped up to the plate by developing innovative and aromatic formulas that might just impact how you feel after exercising. As you may have already guessed, CBD gel is a fresh concept that we’ll reconnect with shortly. At this stage, it’s helpful for us to get up to speed on muscle recovery.

    Exercise, Rest, and Recovery

    Often, rest and exercise seem like they are worlds apart. In today’s society, we hear so much about the importance of physical activity (and productivity) that taking a break can seem more like an afterthought than a worthy pursuit. You may have even seen some self-professed ‘gym buffs’ wearing hoodies with the slogan: Eat, Sleep, Gym, Repeat. But did you know that strategic periods of rest can actually play an active role in your exercise routine and general wellbeing? Let’s unpack some of these ideas as we explore how rest can work to your advantage:

    Rest vs Exercise

    It goes without saying that exercise involves pushing past your comfort zone and putting your mind and body to the test. While increased perspiration, ragged breathing, and mild aches and pains are relatively normal during bursts of physical activity, you shouldn’t need to ‘power through’ these symptoms during a period of rest. 

    At a physiological level, exercise engages your sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the urgent fight-or-flight response). On the other hand, rest engages your parasympathetic nervous system (associated with relaxation). According to research from J L Chen and others, your natural parasympathetic response may have a crucial bearing on how quickly you recover after exercising - especially if you practice weight training.

    Here are some other valuable distinctions we can make between exercise and rest:

  • Exercise subjects your body and mind to short term conditions of stress
  • Even if you are training responsibly, incidents of wear and tear are unavoidable
  • Rest allows essential recovery processes to occur within your body and mind
  • Too much exercise and not enough rest can result in overtraining syndrome

  • For your reference, some common symptoms of overtraining syndrome (sometimes called ‘burnout’) may include underperformance, anxiety, poor sleep, and long-standing muscle or joint pain. If you’re struggling to get the balance right between your fitness and wellbeing, your first step should always be to speak with a doctor, trainer, or licenced wellness professional. 

    What is Muscle Recovery?

    As the name suggests, muscle recovery is the complex process by which hundreds of your muscles adjust following exercise. Even after you’ve showered, changed out of your gym clothes and opened the fridge door, your tenacious skeletal muscles continue to mobilise and respond to the microscopic injuries that characterise every workout. Structurally, muscles consist of densely packed protein fibres (aka. filaments) with high water content and a capacity to store short-term sugar supplies (in the form of glycogen). After physical activity, your energy stores diminish, water levels are significantly lower, and muscle fibres are torn and broken down. It all sounds quite heavy going, doesn’t it?

    As a result, recovery typically involves the following crucial processes:

  • As you rehydrate, your fluid levels are restored (including fluids in your muscles)
  • As you eat, your muscles are refuelled (along with the rest of your body)
  • Your muscle fibres repair and metabolic waste products are removed
  • Your muscles begin to build protein - leading to muscle growth or ‘gains’

  • Some people reduce these steps down to the Three “R’s”: rehydrate, refuel, and rebuild.

    By now, you can probably see how this natural cycle of damage and repair plays an instrumental role in your day to day fitness journey. While leading voices at the World Health Organisation (WHO) promote the manifold benefits of regular exercise, it’s safe to say that recovery is part of what makes regular physical activity sustainable. Without it, we’d run ourselves ragged.

    Active Recovery vs Passive Recovery

    Interestingly, recovery doesn’t always involve sitting on the bench (or flopping onto a yoga mat in a heap of exhaustion). While there is a time and place for these situations, recovery can also be a reasonably dynamic process. Active recovery applies a ‘keep-it-moving’ principle by incorporating gentle, easy movements to help your body and mind recover on the go. In contrast, passive recovery is more about hitting the pause button and committing to a period of complete stillness or inactivity. A 2017 study involving swimmers suggests that mindfully recovering from intense activity at a pace that feels most comfortable for you may potentially be the ideal first response once you’ve finished exercising. However, recovery is about far more than just catching your breath.

    How Long Does Muscle Recovery Take?

    It’s essential to keep in mind that muscle recovery can take anywhere between 24 and 72 hours to manifest - depending on the intensity of your workout. You might also need to factor in any injuries you may have sustained during exercise (on top of the usual wear and tear). In the hours and days following your workout, it’s best to treat your muscles with extra care. 

    If you’re determined to take your wellness routine from strength to strength, you may want to set your sights on bigger goals than maintaining a balanced diet and drinking enough water. Can sporty self-care products such as CBD gel be part of your recovery routine? Keep reading to find out more.

    What is CBD Gel?

    As you may have already guessed, CBD gel is a transparent, lightweight, and fast-drying skin product infused with cannabidiol. As you rub it into a local area (for example, your lower back), this gel creates a cooling sensation against your skin and offers an aroma that may help you relax after stress of many kinds. For reasons we will discuss, CBD gel is trendy among athletes and people who lead active lifestyles. At this point, it’s helpful to distinguish it from another popular topical: CBD balm.

    CBD Gel vs CBD Balm: What’s the Difference?

    CBD balm is usually solid at room temperature and made from plant-derived oils or waxes that give it a thick texture. As a general rule-of-thumb, body balms are not always suited for on-the-go use, because they contain larger molecules that may not be easy to absorb in a hurry. While this oiliness may lend well to deep conditioning or massage, it can feel a bit ‘greasy’ in other contexts- especially if you’ll be moving around as part of your post-exercise routine. On top of this, any unabsorbed residue might even stain your clothes!

    In contrast, CBD gel is semi-solid at room temperature and contains smaller particles that may be easier for the skin to absorb without any unpleasant ‘oily’ sensations. This gel is a combination of water, alcohol, oils (such as CBD oil), and a thickening agent (such as carbomer). While you may need to wait at least 45 minutes to notice any potential CBD effects, a hemp-infused gel might just be one of the most convenient ways to enjoy CBD topicals. 

    Let’s explore some of the active ingredients that might ‘gel’ together nicely:

    Active CBD Gel Ingredients

    Cooling Menthol (aka. Mint Oil)

    Menthol is a plant terpene (fragrant oily compound). When it is used in skincare, menthol acts as a ‘counter-irritant’. This means it’s a substance that creates cooling and warming sensations in a way that might impact how you interpret deeper signals (such as pain symptoms). According to a 2012 study investigating exercise-induced muscle soreness, menthol may potentially impact your self-perceived comfort levels to a greater extent than ice! 

    Other researchers suggest that applying menthol to your skin might trigger a quick and short term decrease in blood flow - which may possibly come in handy if you’re dealing with symptoms of post-workout tissue swelling.

    Other Terpenes and Essential Oils

    While we don’t have time to go into extensive detail, some other plant-derived oils and terpenes add character to CBD gel. These natural substances may even offer some aromatic and potentially stimulating properties that may impact your sense of wellbeing.


    Like menthol, limonene is a terpene found in cannabis plants (and, not surprisingly, lemons). As you may be able to tell from its name, limonene has a sweet and citrusy smell. According to a 2020 study involving rodents, topical limonene might potentially impact post-exercise inflammation symptoms. It may also influence the natural muscle protein activity that takes place in your body.

    Eucalyptus Oil

    While people often incorporate eucalyptus oil into deep breathing exercises, such as mindfulness meditation, this essential oil may also complement an active lifestyle. Some studies suggest that eucalyptus may impact some signs of swelling and symptoms of muscle tension in your airways. According to aromatherapy principles, the scent of eucalyptus may also help you create a mood of clarity, focus, and refreshment. 

    Clove Oil

    Warm, sweet, and spicy, clove oil is a golden fluid that emerges from clove buds. Throughout history, people have experimented with this substance to appease some of the pain symptoms associated with toothache. In terms of muscle recovery, Y A Taher and others suggest that clove oil might impact some symptoms of oedema (tissue swelling). This research also indicates that clove oil may possibly delay some of the natural processes involved in responding to pain signals, leading to you feeling less pain overall.

    Cannabis Sativa Leaf Extract (aka. CBD Extract)

    Now for the pièce de résistance - cannabidiol extract. CBD extract is a naturally oily substance that emerges from the leaves and flowers of hemp plants. As the name suggests, this extract is rich in CBD molecules. However, it may also contain other potentially helpful cannabinoids (such as CBG), terpenes, and even flavonoids (potential antioxidants). 

    For the remainder of this article, we’ll spend some time exploring the possible benefits of using CBD to influence your natural muscle recovery processes. We’ll also suggest two ways that you can put CBD gel to the test. 

    The Possible Benefits of Using CBD Gel For Muscle Recovery: What Does The Science Say?

    So far in this text, we’ve learned that CBD might impact your cell-signalling endocannabinoid system (or ECS) - potentially opening up a world of wellbeing possibilities. We’ve also appreciated the ease and convenience of consuming cannabidiol topically through products such as CBD gel. But before you experiment with CBD for post-workout care, let’s explore whether this supplement can pull its own weight.

    CBD May Impact Some Symptoms of Post-Workout Inflammation

    Short-term inflammation is a fairly typical response to exercise. Some personal trainers even recommend running shoes that are slightly too big because the impact of sports can cause your feet and ankles to swell up temporarily. During high-intensity workouts or weight training sessions, your muscles are subjected to stress and microscopic injuries that need to be repaired. As you may already know, swelling is a standard (and often painful) part of your body’s immune response. 

    While a protective surge of blood flow to overworked areas can help to cushion you from further injuries, it can also be incredibly sore and inconvenient. After a challenging workout, simple tasks like walking up a small flight of stairs can suddenly feel like climbing Mount Everest!

    Alongside the natural and short-term swelling that can occur after exercise, excess inflammation may be triggered by other factors. For example, if you’re making a triumphant return to the gym after recovering from knee surgery, you’ll probably find that your joints and muscles are more sensitive than they were before. You may even be someone who struggles with inflammation at a more chronic level, which may present further fitness and muscle recovery challenges. Can substances like CBD help you feel more comfortable?

    So far, emerging research suggests that CBD may potentially:

    • Affect the parts of the ECS that may impact your immune response (such as CB2 receptors)
    • Reduce some signs of swelling in your joints and muscles
    • Reduce some symptoms of inflammation-related pain

    As we wait for further evidence to emerge, many athletes are leaping at the opportunity to experiment with CBD for post-gym tenderness.

    CBD Might Influence Your Self-Perceived Muscle Recovery

    In 2020, A M Kasper and others invited 517 professional rugby players to comment on their CBD use (where applicable). As we know, rugby is a traditional British contact sport that essentially involves combat - as athletes from opposing teams forcefully tackle each other to the ground. Along these lines, it’s safe to assume that rugby players know a thing or two about pain and muscle recovery. 

    According to the study mentioned above, 80% of the athletes who used CBD were motivated by symptoms of pain and a desire to recovery quickly from muscular wear-and-tear. Interestingly, almost 70% of the men in the final sample group said they found the benefits they were seeking: including reduced muscle soreness. While these suggestions are far from conclusive, they do paint a potentially promising picture. 

    Other researchers have suggested that CBD may possibly affect your muscle recovery by:

  • Impacting exercise-induced muscle cramps
  • Influencing your natural muscle mobility

  • Now that we’ve explored how cannabidiol might impact symptoms of inflammation and tension, let’s consider some of the ways that CBD might affect your recovery and wellbeing in the long run.

    Can CBD Improve Your Sleep and Broader Wellbeing?

    Regardless of how often you exercise, sleep remains an essential function for all of us. As we close our eyes and drift off, our bodies begin to perform many fundamental growth and repair processes in the background. Sleep is nothing short of a phenomenon, and it plays a massive role in determining your overall health and self-perceived wellbeing. If you exercise regularly, it’s best to set yourself up for a good nights’ rest so that you can take advantage of the natural muscle restoration cycles that occur during sleep. 

    Unfortunately, no amount of healthy foods, sports drinks, or daytime naps can ever compensate for a persistent lack of sleep. Issues such as insomnia are relatively common in today’s world, and factors such as stress, pain, and anxiety can present significant obstacles. However, CBD might just help you to feel well-rested within all the chaos. 

    Preliminary studies indicate that cannabidiol may potentially affect your sleep by:

  • Reducing some symptoms of insomnia
  • Decreasing some signs of stress and anxiety (which can impact sleep)
  • Helping you feel more satisfied with your rest

  • According to a 2020 sports review, CBD might offer some biochemical, physical, and psychological benefits that may be particularly relevant for athletes’ wellbeing. As research into the effects of CBD continues to expand, we hope to have more insights to share in the future.

    As we enter the home stretch, let’s appreciate two straightforward ways that you can incorporate CBD gel into your muscle recovery routine.

    Two Quick Ways You Can Put CBD Gel To The Test 

    Once you’ve ensured that your CBD gel comes from a reputable brand with a lab-verified Certificate of Analysis (COA), you can experiment with adding it to your wellness routine. It’s normal to find yourself asking the question: How much CBD should I take? In truth, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to CBD dosage. When you’re applying your CBD gel, you should follow the instructions provided by the manufacturers for the best possible results. 

    Add CBD Gel To Your Post Workout ‘Cool Down’ Ritual

    While warming up helps to prepare your body and mind for the demands of physical activity, cooling down is an equally important process that allows you to enter into ‘rest mode’ smoothly. At the tail end of a gruelling workout, you may be tempted to screech to a halt. However, this type of freefalling is not always a good idea. Taking a few minutes to stretch and unwind can impact the amount of acid stored in your muscles - which influences how sore and stiff they might feel in the hours and even days that follow. 

    The VAAY way: If you’re feeling tense in one particular area, why not apply a modest layer of CBD gel to your skin as part of your cool down ritual? As you gently move around, the cooling sensation of menthol may help to override some of the deeper aches - potentially helping you to ‘open up’ your stretches. In time, you may even notice some possible effects of CBD.

    Treat Your Sore Muscles to a CBD-Infused Massage

    It’s no secret that massage is a beneficial way to show your hard-working body some extra care. If you’re experiencing post-workout soreness, a sports massage might feel a bit uncomfortable, to begin with - especially if your muscles are tight or knotted. 

    Alongside addressing your targeted mobility challenges, massage can influence muscle tension, nerve relaxation and increase the production of endorphins (natural feel-good chemicals) in your system. Some specialists also suggest that having a massage after exercise may help to clear some of the metabolic waste fluids, acids and toxins in your body- and these potential benefits are tenfold with CBD gel in the mix! As with exercise, it’s essential to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water after a massage. 

    The VAAY way: If you see a sports therapist, why not take some CBD gel or massage oil with you to your next appointment? This way, you can place your hemp-themed topical in more experienced hands. You can also explore CBD massage as a DIY self-care tool, or a more sensual activity to try with your partner. Check out our CBD massage oil ritual for inspiration.

    Conclusion: Can CBD Gel Help Your Muscles Make A Comeback?

    Hemp-infused skincare is a straightforward way to consume CBD without the need to ingest it as a food supplement. If you apply cannabidiol topically, it may take roughly 45 minutes for any potential CBD absorption to occur. However, products such as CBD gel might help you to enjoy some instant benefits, such as a relaxing aroma and the cooling sensations of alcohol, menthol, and clove. Since gel particles are notably small, your skin membranes may be able to process them more rapidly. 

    All in all, we’ve learned that premium CBD is a potentially promising substance that complies with UK anti-doping regulations in its pure, THC-free form. Furthermore, it might be of particular value to muscle recovery due to its purported effects on some symptoms of inflammation, muscle soreness, and sleep-related struggles. As part of a more comprehensive diet and exercise regime, CBD might just help you to rest and inspire you to flex!

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