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The Effects of Smoking on Bodybuilding

author image Betty Holt
Betty Holt began writing professionally in 1966 as co-editor of a summer mimeographed newspaper, "The Galax News." She has written for "Grit," "Mountain Living," "Atlanta Weekly" and others. Holt received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Master of Education from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her articles specialize in health, fitness, nutrition and mental health.
The Effects of Smoking on Bodybuilding
A man is smoking a cigarette. Photo Credit Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images

It is nearly impossible to live in today's world and not know the detrimental health effects of smoking. Because of its influence on heart rate, respiration and blood pressure, smoking also affects athletic performance. Bodybuilding is an area where these effects are noticeable. Sometimes, bodybuilding can indirectly assist with stopping smoking because people wanting to improve their physical performance and appearance realize smoking is holding them back from reaching their goals.

Smoking and Bodybuilding

Because respiration is immediately affected by smoking, there is an increase in airway resistance and a decrease in the amount of oxygen absorbed by the blood. The heartbeat of a smoker is 30 percent faster than a non-smoker. The increase in heart rate and blood pressure causes reduced blood flow from your vessels, reducing performance. Important in bodybuilding is the push of the final repetitions or extra half-hour of cardio. Since smoking decreases lung function, you are breathless when you require air the most. Because smokers produce more phlegm, this phlegm partially blocks airways, reducing proper respiration. There is less oxygen available to muscles and higher levels of carbon monoxide, which binds with hemoglobin rather than oxygen. Tar interferes with the cleansing system of the lungs, allowing pollutants to settle there. Smoking reduces maximum oxygen intake by 10 percent and can damage testes cells, which produce testosterone.

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Immediate Effects of Smoking

While few would dispute the long-term damage to the body done by smoking, there is now evidence that smoking has immediate effects on the brain, cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, immune and metabolic systems. Contrary to popular belief, smoking increases stress and alters brain chemistry, specifically the neurotransmitter, dopamine. It causes bronchospasm, increases phlegm production, causes persistent coughing and decreases physical performance, including the ability to exercise and lift weights. It hastens atherosclerosis, and the nicotine in as few as five cigarettes per day increases bad fats. Smoking constricts blood vessels and increases heart rate and blood pressure. Mucous production in the stomach is inhibited, leaving you more at risk for peptic ulcers. Smoking can cause sinusitis, rhinitis and pneumonia. It interferes with absorption of micronutrients, especially vitamins C, E and folic acid, leading to deficiencies which cause disease. All of these may affect a competitive bodybuilder as he pushes his body through exercise, dehydration and diet.

Long-term Effects of Smoking

There is hardly a part of the body that is not affected by the chemicals in cigarette smoke. Bodybuilders should take note of the effect smoking and a reduced level of oxygen has on their ability to lift weights. In addition, lack of oxygen and narrowed blood vessels can cause strokes. Smoking can cause gum disease, tooth decay and bad breath. Mucus secretion in the lungs in reduced, leading to chronic coughing. Nicotine raises blood pressure and causes the blood to clot more easily. High blood pressure from smoking can damage the kidneys. Carbon monoxide robs oxygen from the blood and leads to cholesterol deposits on artery walls. Smokers are at risk for cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat and pancreas and ten times more likely to get lung cancer and emphysema as nonsmokers. Forty percent of male heavy smokers will die before retirement, compared to 18 percent of nonsmokers.

Other Effects

When the body is involved in fairly strenuous exercise, such as running, swimming or playing competitive sports, it needs more oxygen to be delivered to the muscles it is using. Both bronchospasm and increased phlegm production cause airway obstruction, decreasing overall lung function, which then leads to poor physical performance. Smoking has been shown to stunt lung development in teen-aged girls, which limits their adult breathing capacity. In addition to affecting your present fitness state, smoking can limit your future physical potential when done at a young age.

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