Although it’s well-known that many elite cyclists back in the day like Belgian Eddy Merckx relied partly on cigarettes to calm their nerves and get them through grueling races, contemporary science has proven that cigarette smoking is a real danger more than anything else. Known to be an addictive habit that can severely impact well-being, smoking is often an issue that holds many people back from participating in cycling or fitness classes. But just how does smoking affect fitness? And how can smokers finally start their training?
Smoking’s Effects on Fitness and Cycling
For starters, it’s important to understand that smoking itself is not necessarily bad, but the toxins in cigarette smoke are. In every cigarette, experts estimate that there are about 25 highly toxic chemicals that get released. This is why doctors warn that second-hand smoke is just as dangerous. With prolonged exposure, organizations like SmokeFree state that smoking can harm vital organs like the heart and lungs. This increases the chance of developing heart conditions and cancers later on.
More immediately, though, smoking can also dramatically affect athletic performance. Because of the exposure to chemicals like carbon monoxide, smokers have “sticky” blood which makes blood and oxygen flow much harder. This makes it difficult for muscles to react and repair. On top of this, smoking also increases the resting heart rate, which means that the heart has to work harder to move. Lastly, since cigarettes coat the lungs in tar, the critical air sacs are less elastic which decreases the ability to utilize oxygen. For a cardiovascular sport like cycling, this means that smokers will face significantly tougher challenges and will reach exhaustion far easier.
How Smokers Can Start Their Training
While it may be more challenging for smokers to take part in exercises, it is doable. What’s important to remember, is that some considerations must be made to make up for some of the handicaps that smoking creates. First, regardless of whether you’re a current smoker or if you have just quit, your body is likely dependent on nicotine. This means that during training while you’re not smoking, withdrawal symptoms like headaches, irritability, or fatigue can crop up. To manage this, you obviously can’t light up another cigarette. Instead, try using approved nicotine replacements instead.
One discreet option that you can easily use while training are nicotine patches. Designed to resemble stickers, the CDC states that nicotine patches are FDA-approved medications that help smoking cessation. Available in a variety of strengths, patches are typically worn for 24 hours and can keep cravings at bay. Apart from patches, some other effective products you can use are nicotine pouches which have the added benefit of not slipping off if you get sweaty. Although they require you to place them under the upper lip, Prilla explains that nicotine pouches are easy to use in public. After all, pouches are tobacco- and smoke-free so there’s very little barring you from using them around other people. To dispose of them, all you have to do is wrap them in paper or tissue before throwing them in the trash. As an added bonus, nicotine pouches can come in different flavors like mint or coffee, which can have a revitalizing sensory effect during training.
Next, smokers who want to train will have to pay extra special attention to their nutrition and recovery. While this is obviously important across the board, nutrition and recovery (or the lack thereof) can have many pronounced effects on smokers. As a rule of thumb for proper hydration, it is good to plan for hydration before, during, and after training. Since the body can lose up to 2% of water during exercise, it’s important to replenish this with the right fluids. Some of the most electrolyte-rich drinks include hypertonic, isotonic, and hypotonic drinks. This can include water, fruit juices, or protein supplements. By regularly consuming the aforementioned liquids, you are preventing dehydration and reducing the risk of injury. Afterwards, always remember to nourish your body with whole foods like grains, proteins, and healthy fats that can help the body to repair. The last thing you want to do is smoke another cigarette right after training when your air sacs are still dilated and more susceptible to absorption.
In conclusion, while trying your hand at cycling can seem daunting for smokers, keep in mind that the pros outweigh the cons. Studies prove that regular exercise can strengthen the internal organs, and improve overall physical and mental health. With time, you may even find that the satisfaction and benefits exercise gives are worth replacing cigarettes with cycling.
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