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Top 5 ways cigarettes are killing your gains

Updated: Apr 9, 2023

By now everyone knows cigarettes are harmful to the body. But let's talking about the top five ways smoking tobacco is keeping you from packing on muscle. This list is coming from my own personal experience. So this is not speculation, this is real world experience with smoking almost a pack of cigarettes daily while engaged in strength and condition workouts. I’ve experienced first hand all 5 of the setbacks smoking cigarettes will have in the gym. So let’s talk about it.

Smoking will slow down recovery

If you have been a long time smoker, you may not realize how smoking has affected your recovery time. The nicotine in cigarettes has a profound affect on your bodies immune system. Nicotine causes the blood vessels to narrow and become less elastic. This means they can not expand to increase blood flow and deliver nutrients effectively. This drastically increases the amount of time needed to recover after a gym injury. Nicotine also extends the time muscles are sore after a workout. While smoking I found that a simple strained muscle would cause pain for days. After I quit smoking tobacco, the same type of injury would last no more than 24 hours. Muscle soreness after a workout was not as much of a problem after I stopped smoking cigarettes. If you quit smoking you will notice a difference in your recovery time in 30 days

Less of a gym Pump

As previously stated, nicotine has a negative affect on blood vessels. Nicotine damages the elasticity causing less expansion in blood vessels. This directly affects your ability to get a solid pump in the gym. You can perform 3 sets of 12 or 5 sets of 8, it wont make a difference if your muscles can’t get the blood they need to grow. Yes, getting a pump in the gym helps you build bigger muscles for the long term. Not only does getting a good “gym pump” help build muscle, it helps keep you motivated. Visualization is a big part of motivation when building muscle. Without adequate blood flow, the only pump you’ll be seeing is an asthma pump. Which bring us to number 3 on the list.

Lack of breath control

Long term smoking will decrease your lung capacity. When you inhale cigarette smoke it leaves residue and tar in your airways and on the alveoli. The alveoli are the small air sacks in your lungs. Smoking for an extended period of time will make it harder to take a deep breath. It will make it even harder to hold that breath. As the lunges get damaged breathing will become short and shallow. This can actually cause pain in the lower back as your diaphragm begins to fatigue. Having shallow breathing will make it difficult to perform in higher rep ranges. Higher rep ranges are good for hypertrophy which cause muscle growth. You will also find yourself having a harder time when it comes to heavy endurance activities such as running or swimming. I found that not smoking for 90 days increased endurance. Just 3 months of not smoking will not undo years of abuse to your lungs, but you will see a dramatic improvement in that time frame.

Cigarettes kill your appetite

Smoking cigarettes will suppress your appetite. If you are a long term smoker you may have noticed that you can go longer without eating if you have a cigarette or two. This is because nicotine found in tobacco tells your brain it in no longer hungry. If you are trying to lose weight this may sound great. For fitness enthusiast trying to build muscle this is horrible. A bulking stage will be very difficult while using tobacco. Eating a balanced diet broken down into 4 to 5 meals will be almost impossible while using tobacco. You will feel as if you are force feeding yourself because of a lack of appetite. Without a healthy appetite to maintain calorie intake you will lack the energy to workout. Building muscle in a caloric deficit is a slow process. You want your calorie intake at or slightly above maintenance level. Quit smoking and your appetite will return almost immediately.

Loss of focus

Last but not least, Smoking will lessen your focus in the gym. Your lack of focus will be a byproduct of lack of appetite, poor breath control, excessive muscle soreness, and lack of a gym pump. As time passes the affects of smoking become harder to over come mentally. As this happens you will find yourself less enthusiastic about your fitness and hitting the gym. Noticeable progress is a great motivator when it comes to building muscle. The more progress you see; the more progress you will want to make. Loss of focus is one of the biggest issues with smoking tobacco cigarettes. Not only does it make your workout harder, but you may find yourself thinking about rushing through the workout so you can smoke. If you have an addictive personality you may want to smoke every hour on the hour. This type of behavior is not ideal if you need to stay on task for an extended period of time. It can become difficult to establish a muscle mind connection that is apart of building muscle mass. Unfortunately, it takes 18 to 254 days to break a habit. Quitting smoking is the longest road when it comes seeing results.

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