Go on have a drag it won’t hurt you!

Were the old Tour De France racers onto something when they lit up during the race?

New Zealand cross-country mountain bike champion Stuart Houltham is helping researchers at Massey University to determine whether nicotine can improve athletic performance.

By using nicotine patches and chewing gum research has already established that nicotine can improve endurance.

“But much more research is needed,” says Dr Mündel, lecturer at the Massey university. “Anyone can buy nicotine and it is far more potent than caffeine, so we need to determine not just whether it affects performance but also how much harm it may cause. It is, after all, a toxic substance.” He says.

Nicotine is a powerful stimulant that raises blood pressure and heart rate, potentially pushing more blood to the muscles. “It could make an athlete more alert later in a race so they could make better tactical decisions,” says Mündel.

Houltham knows how important this research is. “Every racer is looking for an edge, but it’s important that anything you put in your body is both legal and safe.” He says.

However, nicotine also has the potential to push an athlete over the edge. The body could work too hard and overheat or put too much stress on the heart.

The results of the research should be available soon and will be forwarded to sporting governing bodies and the World Anti-doping Agency

But before you reach for that packet of Marlboro remember its not just nicotine your inhaling!


By Shaun Horrocks





This is not the first time that having a ciggie has been promoted to help breathing and increase endurance. Back in 1922 on the first British Everest expeditions, climbers reported that smoking even as high as 7000m aided them in breathing.

Captain GJ Finch, who took part in the expedition, spoke at a meeting on November 21, 1922 to the Royal Geographical Society, London, said “He and two other members of the expedition camped at 25,000ft for over 26 hours and all that time they used no oxygen.”

About half an hour after arrival at high camp he noticed that unless he kept his mind on the question of breathing, making it a voluntary process instead of an involuntary one, he suffered from lack of air. As a measure of desperation he lit a cigarette.

After deeply inhaling the smoke he and his companions found they could take their mind off the question of breathing altogether. “The effect of a cigarette lasted at least three hours, which enabled them to have their first sleep at this great altitude.” He continued.

So the old boys may have been onto something?