To prepare for a championship run, an athlete undergoes a regime of extreme discipline. They eliminate unhealthy food from their diet, cut out all alcohol intake, and craft their body through strength and endurance training. And then, if their obsessive quest for perfection nets them the glory of a championship, they get to indulge in a few luxuries. Champagne and cigars are two things you frequently see at victory parades.
But what about athletes who habitually smoke cigars? What if they smoke one a month? A week? A day? Decades of research confirms that cigar smoking increases the risk of mouth and throat cancers, but what is the immediate impact of smoking cigars on athletic performance?
HFR founder Samir Becic decided to conduct an experiment to see what happens when you turn the occasional victory cigar into a more frequent indulgence. While the test wouldn’t hold up to scientific rigor, it did prove an enlightening case study on Samir’s athletic performance.
Over the past year, Samir went through three intervals of cigar smoking. For two months, he would smoke one cigar or a week. Then, he took a two month break where he did not smoke any cigars. After that, he smoked 2-3 cigars a week for 2 months. He followed this with a 2 month break from cigars. Finally, he went through a 2 month period where he would smoke one cigar every day during the weekday, and followed it by a two month break afterword. The experiment took place from April 2015 to April 2016.
Stage 1: 1 Cigar a Week
- Increased congestion and vulnerability to allergies
- No noticeable decrease in strength
- No noticeable decrease in cardiovascular endurance
- Slight headache the day after smoking
- Dry mouth
During the two months break all the symptoms disappeared even if he periodically went to the cigar bar and was exposed to second-hand smoke.
Stage 2: 2-3 Cigars Per Week
- Measurable decrease in cardio ability, with 20% loss in cardiovascular endurance and speed
- No decrease in 1 rep maximum for weight lifting
- Decrease strength endurance in number of repetitions
- Stiffness in the body
- Delayed recovery
- Decrease in quality of sleep
- Slight anxiety
- Increase in allergic reactions
- Stiffness of the body
- Less energy and increased lethargy
- Much more noticeable dryness of the mouth
During the two month break all the symptoms disappeared, but it took much longer to recover to return to normal cardiovascular endurance, strength, and overall wellness than after 1 cigar a day.
Stage 3: 5 Cigars a Week
- Significant decrease in energy
- 35-40% decrease in cardiovascular endurance and speed
- Over 30% decrease in strength endurance and noticeable decrease in strength
- Skin reactions included allergic rashes and jaundiced color
- Significant decrease in quality of sleep including trouble falling asleep, restlessness, and nervousness
- Anxiety and negative thought patterns
- Stiffness in joints and body
Took 6 weeks of recovery to peak athletic performance and physical wellness, 4 times longer than smoking one cigar a week.
According to Samir’s experiment, an athlete cannot smoke a cigar a day without experiencing a significant decrease in athletic performance. Of course, this experiment was based only on one person’s experiences, and as such cannot be recognized as scientific study. But it is in line with medical research that shows negative athletic impacts of regular cigar consumption.
The latest research on the negative health consequences of tobacco suggests that smoking cigars may carry several similar risks to that of smoking cigarettes. A 1997 study conducted by the British Medical Journal found that cigar smokers have about half the incidence of lung cancer, lung disease, and coronary heart disease when compared to cigarette smokers, but are still more than 50% more likely to die from those diseases than those who do not use any form of tobacco.
However, just because most cigar smokers do not inhale cigar smoke, does not mean their lips, mouth, tongue, throat, larynx, are excluded from contacting the harmful smoke and its carcinogenic compounds. As the saliva containing these chemicals is swallowed, the esophagus becomes exposed as well. This exposure explains why both cigar and cigarette smokers have similar risks for oral and esophageal cancers.
While Samir’s experiment was anecdotal evidence relating to one athlete, scientific research confirms that there are many health consequences for professional athletes. And the more frequently you expose your body to tobacco, the greater the damage to your body. So it is definitely the best for your athletic performance to save the cigar for the once in a blue moon victory celebration.