T Nation

Nicotine Patch as Performance Enhancer/Ergogenic Aid?

What do you make of some athletes using nicotine patches to enhance performance?
I wanna know,as two days ago,I quit smoking (again!) and started using them.I feel energised and pumped,and broke some personal bests (even from before when I didn’t smoke) but then that is probably caused by the extra oxygen in my lungs/blood from quitting cigarettes,I guess.

'Nicotine probably isn’t the first substance you’d think of as being popular among cyclists, but according to researchers at Birmingham University, wearing a nicotine patch before and during exercise may significantly increase endurance performance.

It has long been known that nicotine improves co-ordination and cognitive performance, but its effects on endurance hadn’t been previously studied. The Birmingham researchers had 12 moderately-trained, non-smoking individuals, cycle to exhaustion wearing either a regular 7mg transdermal nicotine patch for eight hours before and during exercise, or a replica placebo.

To their surprise, the scientists found that 10 out of the 12 subjects cycled for longer with the nicotine patch on, resulting, on average, in a huge 17% improvement in time to exhaustion.

Because they could find no difference in other physiological markers, such as perceived exertion, heart rate, concentrations of plasma glucose, lactate or circulating fatty acids, they concluded that the improvement must be down to the nicotine sending a message to the brain rather than any boost to the muscles or cardiovascular system.

“The results are similar to those who have looked at the effects of caffeine on exercise who also found similar improvements,” says Dr. Matt Bridge, one of the main researchers on the study. “Both nicotine and caffeine are well known to be central stimulants and to provide a ‘kick’ that leads to exercise feeling more pleasurable and a subsequent increase in effort and performance.”

You don’t have to be a smoker trying to kick the habit to benefit. Dr. Bridge insists that there are no inherent dangers in using nicotine patches, though he suggests that cyclists consult their doctor first.’

Cy Wilson’s take (From Cy-Borg #7 on T-Nation)

: I’ve never really heard of this method nor would I ever advise anyone to use it. Caffeine can provide significant CNS stimulation as well, yet isn’t anywhere near as addictive as nicotine. This isn’t to say that nicotine has absolutely no medicinal value but for a “pre-workout stimulant” it’s really not worth using as there are other viable alternatives available. Aside from that, nicotine may indirectly cause cancers.

I suppose that nicotine may be slightly more advantageous in terms of increasing strength prior to a workout due to its binding to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, allowing for stronger muscle contractions. However, even if you’re able to “kick” the nicotine addiction, you’re more likely to experience a bout of depression thereafter.

Not only that, but it’s possible that nicotine can cause desensitization and/or persistent inactivation of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. That means it’s possible you could actually lose strength after continued use of the drug.

It’s also been shown that while caffeine doesn’t increase cortisol levels to a significant extent, nicotine does, so that’s just one more reason not to use it for such a purpose. In short, using nicotine as a “pre-workout stimulant” is a bad idea. (49-56)

Martin D. Schechter and P.G. Cook,
Department of Pharmacology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia 3052


Rats were administered 0.8 mg/kg nicotine (as base) i.p. 2 or 3 times a day for 5 weeks, and their mean body weights were observed to be significantly lower than those of control groups administered 0.9% saline on a similar regimen. The reduction in body weight after chronic nicotine administration proved highly replicable and was produced in the absence of a significant decrease in food consumption.

Upon cessation of nicotine administration, the mean body weights of the rats returned to control group levels. Administration of phenylbenzoquinone, an agent that stimulated sensory pain receptors, failed to produce a similar decrease in body weight. Likewise, pretreatment with cholinergic blocking drugs, mecamylamine and hexamethonium, did not antagonize the nicotine-induced decrease in body weight. Application of these results to the human smoking habit and possible mechanisms of action are discussed.

From Pubmed-

Acute thermogenic effects of nicotine and alcohol in healthy male and female smokers.
Perkins KA, Sexton JE, DiMarco A.

Western Psychiatric Institute Clinic, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, PA 15213, USA.

Nicotine intake is associated with lower body weight in both women and men. Despite its energy content, alcohol consumption is also associated with lower body weight in women but not in men. Each drug may reduce weight by acutely increasing thermogenesis. During four sessions, nicotine (20 micrograms/kg per dosing) or placebo was given to male and female smokers (n = 9 each) via measured-dose nasal spray every 30 min for 2 h after consumption of diet tonic water with or without alcohol (0.5 g/kg).

Each nicotine/placebo dosing was followed by assessment of energy expenditure by indirect calorimetry. Alcohol alone induced no significant effect in men or women, whereas nicotine alone and combined with alcohol induced a significant thermogenic effect in men but not women.

These results are consistent with other research suggesting a reduced thermogenic responsiveness to drugs in women and indicate that nicotine must act via appetite suppression to reduce body weight in women. Similarly, these findings do not support the notion that alcohol is inversely related to body weight in women because of excessive acute thermogenesis.

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As an ex-smoker who values every day after quitting (2-3 years) i would never ever recommend a non-smoker use a nicotine patch for any performance enhancement they may get. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances out there - from personal experience of all the most addictive.

I would much MUCH prefer a normal performance and no risk of addiction to the patches/cigs than for even a 17% increase. i would honestly use EPO first (as we are talking endurance performance).

It doesn’t come as a surprise however, it IS a stimulant - it is just that most regular users of the drug have a tolerance so do not notice this so much.


I just found this-From the T-Nation article’Roundtable-Stimulants’

Shugart: What’s this I hear about nicotine being a great brain booster/stimulant? I know the Japanese have even added it to energy drinks…

Roberts: Well, my theory on this is that the Japanese have added it to energy drinks for other reasons…

Look, it’s like this, I don’t smoke, but I couldn’t care less if someone in a bar is smoking, alright? But now, you can’t do that in New Jersey, where I’m from. So what’s being done is that the bars are now carrying those “energy drinks.” And a lot of major energy drink manufacturers are adding nicotine to their formulas and promoting them as mixers with Vodka or whatever.

But yeah, nicotine is a pretty potent cognitive enhancer. The Nicotinic systems in the hippocampus play important roles in memory function, and in fact, a reduced nicotinic receptor concentration is associated with severe cognitive impairment, like that seen with schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Nicotine and nicotinic agonists are strongly and positively correlated with improved memory function, and even have a strong anti-depressant effect.

I work with a very good figure competitor who’s training to qualify for nationals. At about 12 weeks out, when her carbs were lowered severely, we added in some Spike to her supplement protocol.

At about four weeks out, during severe carbohydrate and caloric depletion, we added in a transdermal nicotine product for its localized anti-estrogenic and fat-burning effects, but also for its ability to help her focus at her job during the day.

Willson: Well, I won’t debate the idea that nicotine could be used for those purposes, but I think it’s really a poor choice.

Nicotine is a very addictive substance, which upon cessation of use can potentially cause a bout of depression. Furthermore, it can significantly increase cortisol levels, which you certainly don’t want on a chronic basis. Another potential concern for bodybuilders and athletes it that it’s been shown to decrease total sleep time and sleep efficiency as well as prolong sleep latency and decrease REM sleep in humans.

Last but not least, it may also contribute to the formation of cancer. I think people seem to make the mistake of thinking that because they’re not using a tobacco product and simply the nicotine, that carcinogenic effects aren’t an issue.

By the way,I’m not necessarilly making a case for it,I’m just trying to pull together a few bits and pieces of info and post it here,to open up a debate,I feel many people will read this or a similiar article,or just see that some BB/athlete guy or gal uses it and will either dismiss it totally as a fad,or rush out and buy some.

I gave up smoking last week so I’m using them anyway,but the benefits are interesting,and I don’t think they can be dismissed,so even when I come off the patches,I may consider keeping a stash of low/medium/high strength patches to get through a plateau.Cycling on/off may be an option.

I think it is more valid for soeone who has smoked in the past,as that part of the brain which was stimulated by smoking still ‘remembers’ your addiction on a subconcious level (I’m using layman’s terms,but I can get technical on that if you want) so could it not be argued the effects may be more valid,as the patches are simply restimulating an area of the brain that has been dulled by the removal of this stimulus,rather than it being a totally new stimulus?