How smoking can affect your sporting performance

High sports performance depends on a whole range of factors: fitness, training, determination, skill, and physical capability such as lung capacity and muscle strength.

It’s well known that smoking impairs lung function, so why do some sports men and women still smoke and how does it affect their performance?

During the 2012 Olympic Games in London, newspapers delighted in catching golden boy Bradley Wiggins sneaking a cheeky cigarette while on holiday. Elite athletes, such as Wiggins, who have super-efficient lung functions, shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Although their lungs may clear smoke more quickly, traditional cigarettes still reduce potential performance as Professor Stephen Spiro, deputy chairman of the British Lung Foundation explains:

“It’s wrong to assume that if you’re an athlete and have super lung function, smoking doesn’t matter,” he said. “You’re making such demands on your lungs that any impairment will affect performance. These guys work at 120 per cent of normal, so a few percentage points off their lung function could be the difference between a gold and a bronze.”

That’s all very well, but most of us aren’t professional competitive sportspeople, so surely smoking doesn’t matter that much in terms of our everyday fitness? Numerous studies have shown that during exercise smokers get fatigued before non-smokers, and that smokers may experience a number of limits on their physical capability. They may get less benefit from a training session, have less muscle strength and flexibility, and get short of breath quickly. Here’s the ‘science bit’ – the blood pumping around your body needs to be chock-full of oxygen in order for you to function properly. Sporting performance is lessened if oxygen levels are reduced because carbon monoxide from tobacco is readily absorbed into the bloodstream. You simply can’t do as much, or as well.

On top of this, smokers are more likely to get injured while playing sport and then take longer to recover. This is because smoking does not just affect your lungs, it also has a negative impact on bones and joints. Furthermore, sleep patterns are also affected by smoking. A study published in the Daily Mail found that smoking disrupts the body clock in the lungs and brain, preventing restful sleep – a cycle which in turn, could lead to mood disorders, depression and anxiety.

E-cigarettes and eliquid are an alternative, and an increasingly popular one with stockists such as Phoenix eliquid offering a range of different flavours and models. These types of devices are healthier than traditional tobacco, as detailed in the information on the EL Science website.

In conclusion, smoking may not stop you taking part in sport, but it’ll feel harder, you’ll achieve less and if you get injured you’ll take longer to recover. For professional sportsmen and women, smoking is an absolute no-no and for committed amateurs, at least consider quitting or trying alternatives.

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