Effects of Nicotine on Athletes

Nicotine is a stimulating drug that produces physical and mood-altering effects on the brain and body. Athletes using any form of nicotine may short-term performance benefits, but have the potential to develop long-term health complications. MayoClinic.com notes that use of nicotine by smoking leads to a host of diseases such as lung cancer, circulatory problems and respiratory infections. Use of nicotine patches, gum or sprays also causes considerable harm to the body.

Nicotine causes increased adrenaline initially, however, long-term use leads to heart and breathing complications.

Short-Term Stimulation

Nicotine interacts with a similar chemical produced in the body referred to as nicotinic acetylcholine. According to BiomedCentral, this chemical is a receptor in the brain that mediates a process called neurotransmission, which is the communication of nerve impulses between chemical pathways. The significance of this in athletics is the stimulating effects that are activated when synthetic nicotine binds to naturally occurring nicotinic receptors in the body. The Body Building Tips Guide explains that adrenaline is released after nicotine enters the body, which can cause an immediate burst of energy.

Body Fat Reduction

Nicotine binds to the brain chemical dopamine, responsible for rewards and appetite suppression. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that the dopamine reward system further links to additional brain chemicals operating on glutamate, which plays a role in fat burning. Use of nicotine patches, gum or sprays can result in fat reduction, but other weight loss methods, such as a low-fat and high-protein diet, offer results without the long-term harmful effects of using nicotine.


Use of nicotine through smoking has detrimental effects on an athlete's long-term endurance by causing shortness of breath. ActNowBC notes that smoked nicotine reduces the amount of oxygen available in the lungs for normal breathing. Smoking also decreases the amount of oxygen-rich blood received by the muscles for use in endurance sports such as running, cycling or body building. Use of nicotine long-term reduces the length of time an athlete may engage in a sport, due to shortness of breath, which consequently reduces overall athletic performance. The energy boosting effects of nicotine from initial use quickly resolves leading to lethargy or need for more nicotine.

Heart Rate

The American Heart Association indicates that nicotine causes an increase in blood pressure, spikes in heart rate and narrowing of the arteries that bring blood to and from the different organs in the body. Blood vessel narrowing is possible with use of nicotine overtime, which contributes to the development of heart disease. Engaging in athletics requires stamina from a healthy pumping heart. Use of nicotine may quickly increase heart rate, but forced increase significantly impairs the role of the heart in maintaining regular function of the body.

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