Nicotine and muscle growth – Is it helpful?

nicotine

Nicotine can negatively impact muscle growth by decreasing protein synthesis. It is an excellent stimulant and can help fuel your workouts in the gym, but this energy comes at a cost. You could be giving up possible gains in muscle mass. 

One thing to keep in mind as you read this article is that most of the studies are studies using smokers, and because of this, nicotine has not been singled out as the only possible cause in the studies. Please keep that in mind when we talk about nicotine’s benefits and side effects. Other ingredients contained within cigarettes could be playing a role in the benefits or the side effects noted in the studies.

What is Nicotine?

Nicotine is a substance found naturally in plants that belong to the nightshade family of plants, specifically in high quantities in the tobacco plant. Its name originates from the tobacco plant name of Nicotiana tabacum. It was first discovered in Germany in 1828 and was first thought to be a poison. It is prevalent in cigarettes, and when smoked, its addictive properties are heightened, making it much easier to become addicted or dependent.[1] smoking became the main form of nicotine consumption in the late 1500s when it was brought to France and was touted as good for health and prevention of the plague. Since that time, it has only gained in popularity and consumption.

Functions

When you ingest nicotine, it stimulates the release of adrenaline (epinephrine) from the adrenal glands and puts you into the flight or fight response. This response makes you feel energized and awake. The release of adrenaline will also cause an increase in the following:

  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased stroke volume
  • increased blood flow to the muscles
  • increased pupil size or dilation
  • increased perspiration
  • increased blood sugar levels

In addition to the release of adrenaline, it will cause the release of the feel-good brain chemical known as dopamine. When dopamine levels are elevated, you get a feeling of euphoria and a sense of wellbeing. Dopamine also affects the sensation of pleasure and pain as well as emotions and movements. Basically, if your brain’s dopamine levels rise, the feeling of contentment is higher. 

The ability to increase dopamine is one of the reasons it is so addictive. Dopamine is the reason drugs like heroin and cocaine are addictive.

Is nicotine good for muscle growth?

Nicotine is not suitable for stimulating muscle growth and can slow or hinder your muscle-building efforts. studies show that nicotine consumption can decrease protein synthesis in a dose-dependent manner.[2] A large portion of the studies showing a negative correlation between nicotine and protein synthesis is done with smokers. This fact muddies the waters a bit because there are many harmful substances in cigarettes, so it is difficult to say that nicotine is the sole factor impacting protein synthesis. 

It has long been known that smokers have a higher prevalence of sarcopenia than non-smokers. Scapopenia is a progressive disorder that results in the loss of muscle mass. This loss of muscle leads to loss of function accompanied by an increase in adverse outcomes, such as falls, functional decline, frailty, and mortality. Numerous studies have looked at this phenomenon to see why this happens. They found that smoking and, most likely, nicotine negatively impact protein synthesis in the body.[3] One study also noted that it can even upregulate myostatin’s expression, which is an inhibitor of muscle growth.[4] The degree to which smoking and nicotine can decrease protein synthesis was approximately 40 percent![5] That almost cuts your protein synthesis in half. This level of suppression of the process of building muscle could be devastating to your efforts to build muscle.

Does nicotine affect testosterone?

Nicotine does negatively affect testosterone. Studies show that nicotine in a dose-dependent manner will lower testosterone levels in men.[6] Some studies done with smoking show an increase in testosterone, but the problem with these studies is that we cannot single out nicotine as the cause; it could be one of the other ingredients. One study demonstrated a 15 percent increase in testosterone in men who smoked.[7] Another possible way that nicotine can affect testosterone is by inhibiting the conversion of testosterone into estrogen. One study showed that it had anti-aromatase properties.[8] The body will increase testosterone production as a compensatory mechanism. When the body detects low testosterone levels, it upregulates estrogen production, hoping that more of the increased estrogen gets converted into new testosterone.

Even with some conflicting studies and uncertainty, it might be wise to air on the side of caution and health and say that smoking to get nicotine and perhaps a 15 percent bump in testosterone is not worth it. Why risk known health risks from smoking for the possible small benefit that has yet to be proven.

toxicity

This drug is not one to take lightly. Even though it is very prevalent in our society and easily obtainable, it should be treated with respect and caution as it can be deadly in small doses.

When nicotine products cause toxicity, it is called nicotine poisoning. Historically, toxicity has been relatively rare. Recently, it has become more prevalent. This increase in toxicity is due to the introduction of new nicotine products. The most popular of these include electronic cigarettes (vaping) and pure liquid nicotine. Some studies show that as little as 30 to 60mg of nicotine can be fatal for an adult. This dose translates into as little as 5 cigarettes now; if someone has been using it for years, their tolerance will be higher, requiring higher doses to reach a toxic level.

Summary

The data we have collected and presented in this article paints a pretty overwhelming case for not taking nicotine. It does not present any substantial benefit for muscle growth, and the risk profile is very high and well documented. If you are a smoker and are trying to gain muscle, you might want to seriously look at trying to quit smoking, not just for the health benefits but for the fact that it is severely impacting your ability to gain muscle mass.

Frequently asked question

Does nicotine increase testosterone?

Studies on nicotine show it does not increase testosterone levels and actually lowers levels.[9] However, some studies on smokers have shown an increase in testosterone levels,[10] so there is conflicting data on this.

Does nicotine decrease testosterone?

Nicotine can dramatically lower testosterone levels in men. [11]