As his own athlete-focused brand launches in the UK this month, former professional rugby player James Percival reveals how CBD has helped him come off the painkillers for good.
Launching as lockdown restrictions ease to allow gyms to reopen, Huge Gorilla will produce broad spectrum CBD products with the addition of terpenes.
The company was founded by brothers, James and Oliver Percival and is inspired by the former’s journey as a professional athlete.
James was a professional rugby player from the age of 16, and by the time he was 21 he was representing England.
As he approached the end of his career almost two decades later, he says he took time to reflect on how his career has affected his physical health.
“As a professional player, you’re given supplements all the time and told, ‘take this’ and you don’t really know why,” he says.
“Taking 10 tablets at one time, then throwing dairy protein shakes down your neck and eating a 42-ounce steak – it’s not good for us.
“But when you’re a rugby player, you think you’re invincible. You think you’ll never get injured, you think ‘nothing’s going to happen to me’.
He adds: “Now at 37, I’m looking back and I’m thinking how I could have done this differently.”
As a young athlete playing for Northampton Saints, James broke his neck, rupturing every ligament off the back of his spine and was told he would never play rugby again.
Fortunately, thanks to the help of one of the country’s leading surgeons his neck healed after several months and he was able to continue playing rugby professionally for another 15 years.
But along the way, he dealt with a ruptured knee, a ruptured bicep and a broken ankle, amongst many other injuries.
Throughout his professional career, like many other athletes, James handled the pain with anti-inflammatories and prescription drugs.
After one particularly bad injury, he says he was almost “living” on painkillers.
“In rugby and sport in general, you would be given anti-inflammatories all the time and obviously, the effects of those on the stomach can be severe,” he says.
“I know high-level players who have had to stop playing because of stomach ulcers from taking so many anti-inflammatories.”
James’ most recent injury was at age of 37, when he was required to have a new disc inserted into his spine.
Having discovered CBD in the “twilight” of his career, following a recommendation from a fellow pro-rugby player, he is now using the supplement to aid his recovery instead of anti-inflammatories.
“Since I learned about CBD, over the last few years I’ve been able to stop taking painkillers and anti-inflammatories,” he says.
“There is definitely a tendency in rugby to be over-reliant on those and had CBD been an option back then it would have given me the choice of taking the natural option.”
Huge Gorilla is launching with two types of CBD, a plant-based protein shake and a biodegradable protein shaker. Aimed at professional and amateur athletes, the specific formula is designed to aid sleep and recovery and James and Oliver intend to develop the product range slowly as the company expands.
The brothers are also backed by a team of ambassadors, made up of amateur and professional athletes – from stuntmen to free runners – who James and Oliver have met on their journey.
“Being part of a team my whole career, it’s been really important to keep building that team ethic, which works by everyone being in it together and not as individuals,” says James.
“These are all athletes which we know and trust to use the products and give honest reviews.”
But Huge Gorilla – which was inspired by the gorilla’s dominating exterior, but inner protectiveness towards his troop – promotes positive mental, as well as physical health, among athletes, with a nutritionist and a psychologist on board.
“All of our athletes have suffered with their mental well-being,” James continues.
“You can look good on the outside but often people who seem big and strong are insecure about themselves or have got mental health issues going on.”
He adds: “We don’t just want to sell products and make profit, it’s about building things. Huge Gorilla is about real people and real values, and through that we want to show that these are real products.”
Hear more about James’ story
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