how does smoking affect muscle building and fat loss?

Of all the destructive habits one might pursue, cigarette smoking could, quite correctly, be considered one of the worst. Learn why and how it will kill you!

Of all the destructive habits one might pursue, cigarette smoking could, quite correctly, be considered one of the worst. Every bodily organ is deleteriously affected by the multitude of toxic compounds contained in tobacco smoke and this has prompted widespread anti-smoking campaigns and an increasing public intolerance.

The social ramifications of smoking are significant, with many employers now refusing to employ smokers, considering them a liability rather than an asset.

Smokers are also increasingly prohibited from engaging in their life-threatening pursuit, in places of employment and in public, on the grounds their habit will detrimentally effect others who are forced to smoke passively. Indeed, the damage smoking incurs, to both the smoker and those who are forced to smoke, includes: heart disease, cancer (of the cervix, pancreas, kidneys, stomach and lung) and digestive and respiratory problems.

Although the majority of deaths caused from smoking involve those who smoke directly, many thousands of innocent people are killed from side-stream smoke inhalation. In fact, second-hand smoke is ranked in the same harmful category as asbestos, radon, benzene (American Cancer Society, 2004). There are over 4000 chemicals and at least 40 known carcinogens (cancer causing substances) in cigarette smoke, and nicotine, the addictive drug contained in tobacco, leads to acute increases in heart rate and blood pressure.

Smokers are increasingly becoming ostracized, seemingly with good reason, as five-million individual smokers (BBC News, 2003) and thousands more passive-smokers (BBC News, 2004) deaths are attributed to smoking on a global scale per-year. These deaths seem extraordinary, given they are entirely preventable.

However, the anti-smoking message seems to have been ignored, and many are beginning this destructive habit, at an alarming rate.

Perhaps a greater focus on health from a holistic point-of-view would be useful in combating the upsurge in smoking. A multi-pronged attack on this scourge of society, encompassing health education and the encouragement of self-responsibility, might be the answer, when so many other methods have failed. However, even a wide-scale campaign focusing on all aspects of health and social responsibility is probably too simplistic.

Metabolism describes the physical and chemical processes that create and use energy within a living cell or organism. How our bodies break down the food we eat and convert it to energy is a function of metabolism. Metabolic rate describes how fast these processes occur. Approximately 60% to 75% of the calories we burn each day are used to keep our organs working properly.1

How Cigarette Smoking Affects Metabolism

Cigarette smoking increases a person’s metabolic rate slightly by forcing the heart to beat faster. Regular smoking increases the heart rate both in the short-term (up to 20 beats per minute) and throughout the day (average increase, seven beats per minute).2 This causes extra stress on the heart and plays a role in heart disease, the most common cause of smoking-related death.

When you stop smoking and your heart rate slows down, so does your metabolic rate. While shifts in metabolism, along with dietary changes, can signal a slight weight gain after you quit smoking,3 you can take steps to build your metabolic rate back up in ways that benefit your health.

If weight gain due to smoking cessation is something that worries you or is a reality you’re already struggling with, try these strategies. They can help you keep your weight stable as you recover from nicotine addiction.

Exercise to Boost Metabolism

Exercise is hugely beneficial when you are quitting smoking. It helps fight weight gain by burning calories and boosting metabolism for up to 24 hours after a workout. Exercise also breaks down fat and releases it into the bloodstream, which works to curb feelings of hunger.

Nicotine use triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness and satisfaction. Exercise also releases this same brain chemical, but in a healthy way that allows us to enjoy the pleasant effects of dopamine without risking our health to do it.

Increasing your level of daily activity provides other important benefits as well. Exercise has been shown to:4

  • Help control cholesterol levels and heart disease
  • Help control the effects of diabetes
  • Slow bone loss associated with advancing age
  • Lower the risk of certain cancers

What kind of exercise should you do? Anything you enjoy! Be sure to get your doctor’s approval before committing to a new exercise routine.


Swimming is a very low impact way to exercise your body and refresh yourself at the same time. If you don’t have a local club that offers public swims, check with area hotels. They often allow non-guests to use their pool/exercise facilities for a small fee.


Whether it’s in your living room to a piece of favorite music, or at a club with friends, dancing is a fun way to be active. You don’t have to be a good dancer to enjoy this form of exercise and burn lots of calories while you’re at it.


A good pair of walking shoes is the only equipment you need to get started with this form of exercise. Walk the neighborhood on sunny days, or, if the weather is bad, walk the circumference of the mall. Or use a treadmill to get your daily steps in indoors.


Bicycling is a wonderful way to work your body while enjoying the benefits of being outdoors. Pack a water bottle and a light snack, and head out on your bike to explore your surroundings.

Strength Training

Especially important for those of us who are getting older, strength training builds muscle mass and slows bone loss while boosting metabolic rate.


Yoga improves balance while strengthening the body. It also benefits mood by helping us let go of the stress that we often unconsciously carry along with us day to day. If you’ve never tried yoga, consider taking a beginner’s class. Or experiment with free online videos.


Try to schedule a time for sports a few times a week as you move through the process of recovery from nicotine addiction. If you don’t have a favorite sport, now would be a good time to start something new.

Add More Activity to Daily Tasks

Aside from time dedicated to purposeful exercise, you can also add activity to your life in other ways. Everything counts.

  • Take five.The next time you feel tense or have the urge to smoke, head out for a brisk 5-minute walk. It works wonders for snapping you out of a bad mood and gets your heart pumping too.
  • Park at the back of the lot.Don’t patrol the parking lot looking for the space that is closest to the entrance of the building. Head for the back of the lot and take advantage of the opportunity to add a few more steps to your day.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.Even if you climb the stairs every other time you need to move from one level to another, you’re benefiting your health and helping your waistline.
  • Get your hands dirty.Otherwise known as gardening, digging in the dirt is good for the spirit. And it burns calories too.
  • Embrace your yard work.Everything from mowing the lawn to raking leaves counts as exercise, and potentially a significant amount.
  • Use housework as a tool.While this may not be the way you’d prefer to get your exercise, housework is a part of daily life for just about all of us. Make the most of yours by doing your household chores at a strong, steady pace. You’ll burn more calories than you might imagine, and you’re multitasking.

Bodybuilding As A Quit-Smoking Method?

A mandatory gym program, as absurd as it may sound to some, might just provide part of the answer for one who is oblivious to, or lacks the motivation, to quit smoking. Through a sustained weight-training regime, one would begin to take greater pride in their physical appearance and performance levels.

This might force them to confront the realization that smoking is detrimental to their health. They will feel tobaccos negative effects in a more pronounced way, as their performance suffers and their results are not as forthcoming as they otherwise should be. Indeed, the average non-exercising smoker does not have such a bench mark to which they can compare the before and after effects of smoking.


For example, when demand for oxygen is elevated, such as during exercise, this increased resistance is more noticeable. Reduced lung capacity can cause a smaller volume of oxygen to reach the alveoli, resulting in impaired gas exchange and less oxygen in the blood. A heavy set of squat, for example, will completely frustrate the bodybuilding aspirant who chooses to smoke. Ultimately a decision will need to be made and, if this person chooses to continue with training, smoking cessation will necessarily need to take place.

One has the feeling that smokers are not entirely conscious of exactly what their habit is doing to them. Becoming knowledgeable in the areas of human physiology and health, through extensive study, or simply joining a gym and taking a vested interest in what many take for granted (their health), could be a realistic first step.

Bodybuilders, by virtue of their commitment to physical excellence, typically do not smoke (at least as far as my observations are, and much anecdotal evidence is, concerned). Smoking not only reduces ones capacity to perform the work required to obtain a great physique, it also directly prevents cellular growth and restricts oxygen and nutrient uptake (to mention but two limiting factors).

Therefore, as one, more pronouncedly, notices the restricting effects of tobacco, the desire to quit would conceivably be stronger. At the very least, a greater appreciation for ones health will be obtained and a strengthened mind-set which inevitably would result in a more logical outlook, and the possible cessation of smoking.

How Tobacco Affects Training Progress

Over the years I have personally trained, and advised, a large number of smokers, and have found the biggest determining factor in their decision to quit is the impact tobacco has on their performance. With bodybuilding, a reduction in performance means a more tangible result in the form of an inferior physique. This reduction in performance is compounded by the fact that tobacco directly destroys all of the body’s cells. This includes muscle cells folks.

Tobacco Has The Following Impact On Performance:

  • Smoking reduces fitness levels through irreversible respiratory-system damage: This means that one cannot train as long, and the quality of training they do engage in is compromised. Smoking has an immediate effect on respiration, increasing airway resistance and therefore reducing the amount of oxygen absorbed into the blood.

Often the determining factor, that allows one to succeed in bodybuilding, is whether they can complete that all important final rep, or that extra half-an-hour of cardio. Smoking significantly reduces the likelihood of either of these things. Smoking slows down lung function and reduces lung growth, leaving the smoker literally gasping for air when they need it most.

  • The heart-beat of a smoker is 30% faster, on average, than that of a non-smoker: This forces the body of the smoker to expend more energy (in the form of heart-beats) to keep up with their non-smoking counterparts. This faster heart-beat is due to the stimulating effect of nicotine. The resulting increase in heart-rate, and blood pressure, paradoxically, decreases the flow of blood through the blood vessels, and this, in turn, reduces performance.
  • Those who smoke produce phlegm more than twice as often as non-smokers: Phlegm builds up in the airway and prohibits correct respiration (breathing). This is because smoking causes chronic swelling of the mucus membranes.
  • Tobacco significantly reduces oxygen availability to the muscles during exercise: Carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke has a higher affinity to haemoglobin (an oxygen carrying molecule in the blood) than does oxygen. Smoking, therefore, encourages the replacement of oxygen with carbon monoxide and, resultantly, causes oxygen depletion and a corresponding reduction in performance.

Carbon monoxide has a two-fold negative effect, in that it reduces the amount of oxygen absorbed into the blood from the lungs, and the amount that is absorbed into the muscles from the blood. Oxygen is important for the functioning of all energy systems in the body, so any mechanism which interferes with oxygen transport and uptake interferes with energy production, and therefore, athletic performance.

  • The tar in cigarette smoke adds to airways resistance. This tar coats the lungs, reducing the elasticity of the air sacs and resulting in the absorption of less oxygen into the bloodstream.
  • Tar also affects the cleansing mechanism of the lungs, allowing pollutants to remain in the bronchial tubes and lungs. Increased phlegm and coughing, and damage to the cilia (the hair-like projections which “sweep” pollutants out of the airways) are the result.
  • Decrease in maximal oxygen intake… Although exercising can increase maximal oxygen uptake by up to 20%, smoking can reduce this effect by up to 10%.

Just What Are You Inhaling?

The effect smoking has on performance can be attributed to the synergistic effect of over 4000 chemicals and 40 known carcinogens. The following are just some of these.

First, Some Of The Cancer Causing Agents: (carcinogens)

  • 4-amino biphenyl
  • Acrylonitrile
  • Nitrosamines
  • Crysenes
  • Aluminium
  • Acetaldehyde
  • Arsenic
  • Chromium
  • N-nitrosocotinine
  • N-nitrosoanatabine
  • N-nitroso anabasine
  • 1,3-butadiene
  • Benzene
  • Tar
  • Cadmium
  • Formaldehyde
  • Benzo (a) pyrene
  • Polonium 210
  • Nickel
  • Silicon
  • P.A.H.s
  • Diberiz Acidine
  • B-Napthylamine
  • Urethane
  • N. Nitrosonornicotene
  • Toluidine

Now, The Metals:

  • Lead
  • Sliver
  • Gold
  • Magnesium
  • Aluminum
  • Mercury
  • Silicon
  • Silver
  • Copper
  • Titanium

Oh yes, and these; just some of the 4000:

  • Acetaldehyde
  • Acetic Acid
  • Acetone
  • Acetylene
  • Acrolein
  • Acrylonitrile
  • Aluminum
  • Aminobiphenyl
  • Ammonia
  • Anabasine
  • Anatabine
  • Aniline
  • Anthracenes
  • Argon
  • Arsenic
  • Benz(a)anthracene
  • Benzene
  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • Benzo(b)fluoranthene
  • Benzo(j)fluoranthene
  • Butadiene
  • Butane
  • Cadmium
  • Campesterol
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Carbon Sulfide
  • Catechol
  • Chromium
  • Chrysene
  • Crotonaldehyde
  • Cyclotenes
  • DDT/Dieldrin
  • Dibenz(a,h)acridine
  • Dibenz(a,h)anthracene
  • Dibenz(a,j)acridine
  • Dibenzo(a,l)pyrene
  • Dibenzo(c,g)carbazole
  • Dimenthylhydrazine
  • Ethanol
  • Ethylcarbamate
  • Fluoranthenes
  • Fluorenes
  • Formaldehyde
  • Formic Acid
  • Furan
  • Glycerol
  • Hexamine
  • Hydrazine
  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Hydrogen sulphide
  • Indeno(1,2,3-c,d)pyrene
  • Indole
  • Isoprene
  • Limonine
  • Linoleic Acid
  • Linolenic Acid
  • Magnesium
  • Methane
  • Methanol
  • Methyl formate
  • Methylamineethylchrysene
  • Methylamine
  • Methylnitrosamino
  • Methylpyrrolidine

You Are Hurting Yourself & Others:

  • Smoking is an addiction. Tobacco smoke contains nicotine, a drug that is addictive and can make it very hard, but not impossible, to quit.
  • More than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. each year are from smoking-related illnesses. Smoking greatly increases your risk for lung cancer and many other cancers.
  • Among infants to 18 months of age, secondhand smoke is associated with as many as 300,000 cases of bronchitis and pneumonia each year.
  • If both parents smoke, a teenager is more than twice as likely to smoke than a young person whose parents are both nonsmokers. In households where only one parent smokes, young people are also more likely to start smoking.
  • Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to deliver babies whose weights are too low for the babies’ good health. If all women quit smoking during pregnancy, about 4,000 new babies would not die each year.

Why Quit:

  • Quitting smoking makes a difference right away-you can taste and smell food better. Your breath smells better. Your cough goes away. This happens for men and women of all ages, even those who are older. It happens for healthy people as well as those who already have a disease or condition caused by smoking.
  • Quitting smoking cuts the risk of lung cancer, many other cancers, heart disease, stroke, other lung diseases, and other respiratory illnesses.
  • Ex-smokers have better health than current smokers. Ex-smokers have fewer days of illness, fewer health complaints, and less bronchitis and pneumonia than current smokers.
  • Quitting smoking saves money. A pack-a-day smoker, who pays $2 per pack, can expect to save more than $700 per year. It appears that the price of cigarettes will continue to rise in coming years, as will the financial rewards of quitting.

Getting Ready To Quit:

  • Set a date for quitting. If possible, have a friend quit smoking with you.
  • Notice when and why you smoke. Try to find the things in your daily life that you often do while smoking (such as drinking your morning cup of coffee or driving a car).
  • Change your smoking routines: Keep your cigarettes in a different place. Smoke with your other hand. Don’t do anything else when smoking. Think about how you feel when you smoke.
  • Smoke only in certain places, such as outdoors.
  • When you want a cigarette, wait a few minutes. Try to think of something to do instead of smoking; you might chew gum or drink a glass of water.
  • Buy one pack of cigarettes at a time. Switch to a brand of cigarettes you don’t like.

The Day You Quit:

  • Get rid of all your cigarettes. Put away your ashtrays.
  • Change your morning routine. When you eat breakfast, don’t sit in the same place at the kitchen table. Stay busy.
  • When you get the urge to smoke, do something else instead.
  • Carry other things to put in your mouth, such as gum, hard candy, or a toothpick.
  • Reward yourself at the end of the day for not smoking. See a movie or go out and enjoy your favorite meal.

Staying Quit:

  • Don’t worry if you are sleepier or more short-tempered than usual; these feelings will pass.
  • Try to exercise-take walks or ride a bike.
  • Consider the positive things about quitting, such as how much you like yourself as a non-smoker, health benefits for you and your family, and the example you set for others around you. A positive attitude will help you through the tough times.
  • When you feel tense, try to keep busy, think about ways to solve the problem, tell yourself that smoking won’t make it any better, and go do something else.
  • Eat regular meals. Feeling hungry is sometimes mistaken for the desire to smoke.
  • Start a money jar with the money you save by not buying cigarettes.
  • Let others know that you have quit smoking-most people will support you. Many of your smoking friends may want to know how you quit. It’s good to talk to others about your quitting.
  • If you slip and smoke, don’t be discouraged. Many former smokers tried to stop several times before they finally succeeded. Quit again.

For more information about quitting, call 1-800-4-CANCER, the National Cancer Institute’s toll-free Cancer Information Service, or 1-800-ACS-2345, the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Response System, or look in your local phone directory for smoking cessation resources that may be available in your area.


Smoking is clearly a destructive habit, which kills millions of people annually. Despite this fact, however, an increasing number of people are becoming addicted. This moves one to ask the question: why would one purposefully, and voluntarily, subject themselves to such a poisonous substance.

The addictiveness of tobacco is such, that quitting is immensely hard and any excuse is often used to justify the continued poisoning of oneself, and others. A greater focus on physical fitness and appearance might compel one to quit smoking for good.

The discipline and bodily appreciation, developed through a sustained bodybuilding program, will likely encourage a greater awareness of ones fallibility, and promote a healthier lifestyle overall.


  • American Heart. (2004). The Effects of Smoking.
  • American Cancer Society. (2004). Scientists Confirm Cancer risk from Second Hand Smoke.
  • Arizona Smokers Quit-line.(2004). What’s in cigarette smoke?
  • BBC Health. (2003). Smoking.
  • National Center For Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (1996).


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