Nicotine & Weightlifting

Personal trainers sometimes recommend having a coffee before a workout to give you an energy boost, so you may wonder whether nicotine can also help your lifts. The effect that nicotine has on your weightlifting routine depends on how you take nicotine. While nicotine by itself increases your blood flow, taking nicotine from cigarettes has many negative effects on your body that limit your physical fitness.

A woman in a bikini smokes on a beach. (Image: tekinturkdogan/iStock/Getty Images)

Background

Nicotine is a stimulant drug that affects your body and mind. When you ingest nicotine, your brain releases more of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes you feel more focused and happy. Nicotine also increases your heart rate, blood pressure and blood flow. If you obtain nicotine from cigarettes, you also take in carbon monoxide, which decreases the amount of oxygen that your blood is able to deliver to parts of your body such as your muscles.

Benefits

Nicotine may improve your weight lifting by increasing you blood flow. Good circulation is crucial to building muscle. Your blood sends oxygen to your muscles to allow them to contract when you lift weights. Lifting weights also tears the muscle fibers in the body parts you work out. Your blood then delivers essential nutrients to these muscles to repair them and make them stronger for your next workout. Better blood flow means that your body can deliver more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.

Limitations

While nicotine by itself may improve blood flow, obtaining nicotine from cigarettes vastly limits your body's ability to take in and distribute oxygen to your muscles. Cigarettes limit your oxygen intake by damaging your lungs as well as introducing carbon monoxide into your body which replaces oxygen in your blood. These lower amounts of oxygen make it more difficult for you to do your best when lifting weights.

Appetite

Nicotine suppresses your appetite, which may limit your progress with weightlifting. You need to increase your caloric intake when weightlifting, to give your body enough nutrients to repair and build muscle tissue. So taking nicotine may slow your muscle building by making you eat less. Also consider that your appetite increases when you quit nicotine. The increase in your appetite after quitting nicotine may make it easier for you to eat enough to meet or exceed your weightlifting goals.

Cessation

Your exercise routine may help you quit nicotine. People who exercise while quitting smoking may experience fewer withdrawal symptoms, according to a Kristen Schneider and colleagues in a 2007 study published in the journal "Psychology of Addictive Behaviors." Weight lifting may also be a powerful motivator to quit nicotine -- knowing that taking nicotine limits your weight lifting progress may motivate you to stay off it for good.

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