Professional Athletes and Nicotine
Surprisingly, nicotine is not a rare sight in the world of professional sport. Many athletes have been known to use this drug, in multiple forms. Bradley Wiggins, ex-pro cyclist and Tour De France winner, was outed in the papers for being seen to spark up a cigarette on holiday in 2012, and now openly displays his smoking habit on his Instagram! Further, snus, the tobacco-containing alternative to nicotine pouches, has been seen in the upper lips of numerous football players including Jamie Vardy, Victor Lindelof, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to name a few. The use of nicotine pouches in lower-level football teams is said to be rife but kept quiet, because of the negative connotations of nicotine concerning health.
Why do Athletes use Nicotine?
Smoking and partaking in any level of sport is a big no. But what about nicotine itself? The opinion on using nicotine in other forms, such as snus or nicotine pouches is mixed. Nicotine is a stimulant that when consumed, has a range of effects on the body which you can see in our ‘Nicotine – The Science’ post here. Previous studies have found that the rationale for nicotine use in athletes is to prevent a dry mouth, control weight, relax, and for desirable arousal-attention (stimulation) (1).
Can Nicotine Enhance Performance in Sport?
The effects mentioned as part of the athlete nicotine use rationale could be considered as performance-enhancing, however, these effects are not as game-changing as those of anabolic steroids used in bodybuilding, sprinting, or combat sports to boost strength and body weight, or erythropoietin (EPO) used in endurance sport to increase stamina and efficiency by a huge amount. Previous research has investigated nicotine as a performance-enhancing drug (PED), and the findings were somewhat mixed. Studies assessing the effect of nicotine on various parameters of exercise performance have found largely no effect, with performance remaining unchanged (2). However, a previous study did find some performance-enhancing benefit to endurance, with a 17% increase in time to exhaustion, compared to the placebo group (3). Furthermore, in a study looking into anaerobic performance, nicotine was found to increase strength and reduce time to fatigue (4).
Can I Still Be Fit and Use Nicotine Pouches?
Without many studies directly assessing the effect of nicotine pouches on fitness, perhaps because of their recent release, this is a difficult question to answer. However, through the understanding of the effects of nicotine on exercise, the answer could be yes. Many of the studies featured in this article found little effect on performance or some performance enhancement. This could be interpreted as the following – Nicotine does not improve fitness but also does not reduce it. So, with that said, you should not expect to get ‘fitter’ by use of nicotine, although this could occur rarely, but rather expect little to no change in your fitness.
The Take-Home Message
This article should not be used as a reason to start using nicotine pouches in the hope of increased health or fitness. Nicotine has been found to have largely no effect on sports performance, with exception to a few studies. It is also well documented that nicotine can damage health and is addictive.