Smoking is a habit that nearly 14% of US adults engage in, and that includes various athletes. One arena we see smoking a lot in is the mixed martial arts space. It’s a mystery to some why such intense athletes would resort to smoking cigarettes when they need to be performing at their best.
Does smoking have a place in MMA? Should fighters give it up? Should it be banned in all arenas and training spaces? In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at smoking and MMA fighters and why smoking cigarettes is holding them back from peak performance.
Why Do People Smoke In MMA?
This is more of a personal preference than anything else. While smoking and athleticism don’t exactly go hand-in-hand, it’s possible that many MMA fighters simply were hooked on nicotine before they ever started fighting. Some fighters have opted to leave the habit behind for good, noting that it completely eliminates the possibility of reaching their full potential.
Some alternatives like Black Buffalo have served as a viable replacement for smoking or chewing tobacco. Tobacco-free products don’t suffer from the same concoction of chemicals present in cigarettes.
Smoking’s Nasty Side-Effects
While everyone knows that smoking is bad for you, not enough people understand the true extent of the damage the habit can inflict on both the mind and body. Smoking is often linked to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, but its effects on the heart and lungs are what make it truly deadly.
Smoking immediately affects the lungs, which inhale fresh air and complete a gas exchange with red blood cells. As blood is circulated through the lungs via pulmonary arteries/veins, oxygen is exchanged with carbon dioxide, a waste product created by cellular respiration. The fresh oxygen attaches to red blood cells and is delivered to organs and tissue, and carbon dioxide is exhaled as a waste product.
This is a necessary function in keeping the blood vessels and organs/tissue healthy and running smoothly. When you smoke, your lungs are coated in tar and the tiny air sacs called alveoli begin to shrivel and become less effective at filling up with air. This makes the breathing process more difficult, causing a drop in oxygen throughout the body.
But it doesn’t stop there. Carbon monoxide is a harmful gas present in cigarettes that attaches to the hemoglobin in red blood cells, making the oxygen exchange even more difficult.
Next, your heart is affected. It has to work harder to keep delivering oxygen throughout the body, which results in hypertension. This can damage blood vessels, increasing the risk of a rupture. Smoking also has a thickening effect on the blood, which increases the likelihood of a stroke, heart attack, or other blockage.
Athletes aspire to perform at their peak, and that’s often what is required in order to succeed in MMA or any sport, for that matter. Peak performance means that your muscles are getting the oxygen they need and your lungs and heart are functioning properly. That’s impossible if you’re a smoker.
It’s also dangerous. Overworking the heart can lead to heart failure, and if your heart is already overworking itself due to smoking complications, you’re setting yourself up for disaster by training hard. Overexertion can severely damage cardiac muscles and blood vessels, perhaps even permanently.
The bottom line? You can’t be a great MMA fighter and a smoker; the two are simply incompatible with one another. If you want to succeed in your sport, it’s time to leave behind tobacco forever and begin healing the damage that’s already been done.
How To Quit
So, how do you quit smoking for good? What’s the best route to take? Many people choose alternative products like tobaccoless chew, nicotine gum, or even CBD oils. While these are all viable options, you don’t have to replace your habit. You can simply get rid of it.
Luckily, there are support groups available for smokers and ex-smokers. Here, you can join forces with someone who’s already accomplished your goal and get their take on quitting. Or, you can download one of the many cessation apps available on both Apple and Google app stores.
You’ll be doing your body, your mental health, and your career as an athlete a favor by quitting for good. And, your loved ones will be appreciative of the fact that they’ll be able to spend more time with you since you won’t be actively killing yourself with tobacco.
Smoking isn’t a habit you want to engage in as an athlete, or even a non-athletic person. It’s safe to say that smoking is declining worldwide, but that doesn’t mean it’ll just go away forever. Tobacco companies work hard to downplay the health effects of smoking and ensure their products continue to turn a profit.