Editor's Spotlight: Startup Focus

Athlete-turned-startup founder discusses the frustrating perception of CBD in sport

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Athlete-turned-startup founder discusses the frustrating perception of CBD in sport

Related tags Startup company Cbd Regulation

“Imagine the scenario - we're playing in the semi-final of the Euros, we’re in the lobby of the hotel the night before the biggest game of our lives, and there's a doctor there handing out paracetamol and sleeping tablets, and all the players are desperate for them. It’s a real problem in sports.”

These were the words of Simon Church, footballer turned CBD supplement brand co-founder, when he spoke at NutraIngredients' Active Nutrition Summit last week (Oct 9-11) providing insights into the perception of CBD in the elite sports realm.

Now a passionate entrepreneur heading up the brand 'CBD Performance', Church once played football internationally but was tormented by a hip injury throughout his career.

“From the age of 22, I felt a hip injury and I started to rely on sleeping tablets and pain killers and I’d live every day and get through my training and matches using those medicines. 

“But it was having such an adverse effect on my body I started looking for natural alternatives.”

This happened to transpire in 2018 - the same year that CBD came off the WADA doping list.

“I did my research into CBD and I started to build up my use of it over 6 months so that I could wean myself off the drugs. I was feeling better and more with it and was feeling like there was something in this.”

When he retired, due to the hip issues, at the age of 29, he started to discuss CBD as a business opportunity with his friend and co-founder, a footballer-turned-fitness model Russell Short.

Their aim was to create a CBD brand that appealed to health conscious consumers and pro-athletes.

They concentrated on creating all-natural, highly bioavailable, 0% THC, vegan products that looked and felt just like other sports nutrition products on the market.

“At that time, all you could get were tinctures with a cannabis leaf on the packaging.

“We wanted to make a brand that was attractive as a sports nutrition supplement that friends and other athletes would be happy to take.

“Especially now, in professional sport, players don’t want to be reliant on pain killers and sleeping tablets, they want something more natural.”

However, he revealed during his fireside chat with NutraIngredients US Editor-in-Chief Stephen Daniells at the ANS that the governing bodies in sports are very nervous of these products.

“Unfortunately most clubs only want products that are Informed Sport certified and they don’t want to certify these products while there’s so much regulatory uncertainty. That’s quite a big barrier.

“In the industry there’s been a lot of cowboys and a lot of bad claims. There’s been companies saying they have a certain level of CBD and when it’s tested the products have none. It’s created a bad name for the industry.”

“We do have elite athletes taking our products but they don’t want to endorse it publicly because they’re worried about how it might look.

"They're under a lot of pressure and they get enough negative comments on social media and media attention so I can understand that from an athlete's point of view.”

Conversely, Daniells pointed out that CBD is not legal according to the FDA for use within dietary supplement, although some states have their own legislation, yet elite athletes are still investing in and endorsing these products quite openly across the states.

"Charlotte's Web became the official CBD product of major league football and I thought that would be hugely impactful for the industry, yet it didn’t move the conversation."

Church agreed adding: “In the US, the NFL is creating funding to research this and the effect on players. In the UK, I try speaking with governing bodies but you might as well talk to the wall.

“The Informed Sport thing is quite a big barrier but ultimately I think it will take a huge partnership [like that with Charlotte’s Web] to really change perceptions.”

He added that he would like to see the governing bodies of the football and rugby associations become more open to helping develop the science in this space.

Although he noted that the rugby association is more open to it, likely thanks to the influence of the FourFive CBD founders, who are former pro- rugby players with continued close ties to the sport.

CBD Performance

The CBD Performance range includes: night spray oils with added magnesium; multi-vitamin oil with added Vitamin D3, Vitamin A & Turmeric; protein powder in chocolate or vanilla flavour; orange and mixed berry flavour ‘hydration additive’ powders with added BCAA, electrolytes & vitamin B6; and a CBD muscle gel.

The range also includes a ‘Pro Series’ of CBD Isodrop oils produced to ensure that athletes and anyone else subject to doping tests can use the entire range with complete peace of mind as they contain only 100% CBD and no other cannabinoids.

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