Does Vaping Impact Athletic Performance?

Does Vaping Impact Athletic Performance?
You don’t usually associate athletes with cigarettes, or bad health habits. But that is a modern presumption. Do a quick Google search of “tour de France smoking cyclists." Do you see the black and white photos of cyclists helping each other light up their Gauloises?
There are contemporary examples as well that prove the exception instead of the rule. Jordan and Barkley loved cigars. Alex Rodriguez always had a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth. And nowadays, a lot of athletes from MMA fighters to soccer stars, are vaping.
So while we may believe that top-tier athletes would never succumb to something as nasty as smoking, the evidence proves us wrong. But is there another reason why athletes continue to smoke despite all the harm it does? Is there something they know that we don’t?
One theory as to why athletes smoke or chew tobacco or vape is because of the nicotine. The stimulant has long been rumored to have positive effects on athletic performance. And given that athletes don’t smoke, but ingest nicotine in many ways, suggests that it is the nicotine effect they are after. 
The Nicotine Boost
Every sport takes nicotine differently. Baseball players - everyone in baseball, really - are known to be chewers. You can even spot the telltale bulges in the mouths of players posing for baseball cards.
But nicotine use among athletes, in the form of snuff, snus, and e-cig (see nicotine-free e cigs at, has become prevalent in other sports as well. One study found that athletes involved in team sports (baseball, ice hockey, American football) and strength-training (weight-lifting, wrestling) were the most regular users of some form of nicotine.
Winter sports athletes were also found to be regular nicotine ingesters. Scandinavian athletes, considered the best practitioners of winter sports, showed a particular affinity for snus, a smokeless tobacco product. 
Snus is taken orally, dissolved underneath the tongue. An Italian study showed that there was some slight improvement in aerobic performance in athletes who used snus just before exercising.
The authors noted something unique, though. They realized that athletes used snus not as a performance-enhancer. But as a way to stave off nicotine withdrawal symptoms during their workouts.
Nicotine-addicted athletes, conscious of the fact that they can’t go for smoke breaks during their four-plus hour training sessions, took snus to relieve cravings. Sucking on snus allowed them greater focus and concentration.
The physical and mental effects of nicotine may explain the attraction athletes have toward the stimulant. Athletes are not shy about admitting it either. They say nicotine helps suppress appetite (and therefore help control weight), relieve dry mouth, and also helps them relax.
Not Prohibited Yet
The World Anti-Doping Agency, responsible for keeping performance-enhancing drugs out of competitive sports, monitors nicotine use among athletes. But the agency has stopped short of banning it outright.
The fact that the World Anti-Doping Agency hasn’t yet prohibited nicotine is due to the lack of evidence showing it significantly improves physical performance. Out of ten studies that looked at nicotine’s effect on athlete performance, only two showed some improvement in athletic ability.
The two studies looked at athletes using nicotine patches and gums, which are known to release low-doses of nicotine throughout a twelve or fourteen-hour period. Researchers observed more endurance (using a stationary bike) among those who had a nicotine patch on their skin, than those subjects who used a placebo.
Snuff, snus, and electronic cigarettes release higher concentrations of nicotine, and faster. So those methods of nicotine ingestion have yet to be proven either beneficial or detrimental. The other studies found the same: nicotine’s effect on athletic performance was neither good nor bad.
Nicotine consumption having no impact on athletic performance may also be why many athletes feel comfortable smoking, vaping or using snus. They can take advantage of nicotine’s stimulating effect without jeopardizing their athletic prowess.
More Questions than Answers
The potential long-term health effects of vaping are also in dispute. Health experts around the world continue to debate the possible risks vaping may or may not carry.
Public Health England famously cited e-cigarettes being 95% safer than regular cigarettes. But other studies point to heart and respiratory problems arising from sustained e-cigarette use, all of which would be a significant blow to any athlete vapers.
The heart seems to be particularly impacted by vaping. One study found that a 30-minute vaping session had the same adverse effect on the aorta as smoking for five minutes.
But other researchers took issue with the study’s methodology. The first glaring oversight was that the survey assumed half an hour was the “normal” length of a vaping session.
One of the authors of the Public Health England study said that a five-minute vaping session - which is closer to the norm - had none of the signs of “aortic stiffness” found in the sessions lasting thirty minutes.
It’s hard to imagine any dedicated athlete vaping for a straight half an hour, especially if nicotine’s positive effects on athletic performance are minimal at best. The study that showed nicotine only slightly to increase endurance during an exercise involved a nicotine patch.
The subdermal method forestalls having to inhale anything, so the risk to other critical bodily systems is non-existent. So if athletes are looking to gain any advantage from nicotine, patches might be the best way. 
Dirty Secret
A “smoking athlete” may seem like a contradiction in terms, but they do exist. Elite athletes, however, know better than to smoke to get their nicotine fix.
Other ways to ingest nicotine - patches, chewing tobacco, and snus - remain popular among athletes for their reduced impact on the rest of the body. Evidence shows a growing preference for smokeless tobacco use, epitomized by e-cig vaporizers, among American high-school athletes. 
Athletes are very body aware. They know what’s good for them and what’s not. And if some sports stars feel comfortable taking even a little hit of nicotine once in a while, it’s because they know they can without suffering too many consequences.
About the Author: Phyllis Baker is the professional journalist and blogger specializing in health issues. Currently, she manages public relations for the quitting smoking community.