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The Fitness News #11: Nicotine Training, Beetroot Gains & NHS Health Quiz


Below is a quick summary of the podcast. If you want to embrace the chaos that is 'Chat Sh*t Get Fit' we'd highly recommend listening above!

Table of Contents

Nicotine Training

When the word nicotine is mentioned, most people immediately think of cigarettes. The question is, however, whether nicotine is actually beneficial when taken alone?

If you were unaware, nicotine is an addictive stimulant similar to caffeine in that it increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and heart muscle contractility. As we will discuss later, one difference between nicotine and caffeine is their half-life.

In relation to nicotine, there are two potential benefits: cognitive improvement and increased athletic performance.

The main effects of nicotine on the brain are mediated by nicotine binding to the alpha4beta2 receptor. Essentially, as a result of nicotine, dopamine is released. In turn, this increases feelings of wellness, alertness, etc.

Picture of head with puzzle pieces and woman performing a bicep curl

Nicotine Cognitive Improvement

In terms of cognitive enhancement, some would call it a 'super nootropic'. In theory, this makes sense, however, when analyzing data it can be challenging.

There is a great deal of information on nicotine when consumed in conjunction with tobacco products, which we do not recommend at all. On its own, it appears to be beneficial for older adults who suffer from cognitive impairments.

It is therefore difficult to determine whether nicotine would have a significant impact on a person operating normally cognitively. Even then, what is the desired outcome? More focus? Being more alert? In order to be able to anticipate these outcomes, we need to be able to define them clearly.

In addition, we must be cautious when it comes to its addictive properties and its potential to be a gateway to things like smoking if one isn't already a smoker. Does it even make sense to pursue potential outcomes?

Elderly lady performing cognitive exercise with a younger lady helping
It is often the case that cognitive enhancers show promise in elderly patients with pre-existing impairments. There is a tendency for this to be blown out of proportion as a cognitive enhancer for all demographics.

Nicotine Gym Performance

In terms of nicotine and gym performance this is where things get interesting.

Sixteen male athletes took part in a double-blind, acute crossover study comparing the effects of a 5mg nicotine sublingual strip versus a placebo on two 30-second Wingate tests with three minutes rest between bouts. [1]

Here are some key takeaways from this paper on nicotine and gym performance.

  • Peak and average power output were significantly increased following nicotine compared to placebo.

  • Nicotine administration was also associated with a higher heart rate and blood pressure than placebo administration

  • A potential mechanism for this is the release of dopamine. As a result of dopamine activity in the reward center of the brain, perceptions of discomfort due to exercise are reduced.

If you are going to experiment with nicotine, which I wouldn’t advise at this stage, either chew 2mg nicotine gum 20 minutes prior to training, or dissolve 5mg of nicotine in the form of sublingual strips prior to training while carefully avoiding the ingestion of your own saliva

Eric Helms

In light of this, proceeding with caution is recommended, even though there are some interesting developments. We explored this topic because of the stigma surrounding nicotine and the fact that it is not often considered a performance enhancer.

Scientist testing a subjects physical performance using the wingate test

Beetroot Gains

This year (Jan 23), a research paper was published regarding 'beetroot gains' which sought to determine where dietary nitrates are active, in order to provide clues as to their mechanism of action. [2]

By putting performance outcomes aside, we will be able to see what occurs physiologically when drinking beetroot juice. Based on the results of this paper, it is clear that something is actually taking place.

They found that skeletal muscle rapidly takes up dietary NO3 (nitrate) and then declines during exercise. This is thought to be the mechanism behind the increasing muscle force in other studies.

glass bottles of beetroot juice with straws inside ready for drinking
As a supplement, beetroot juice is often sold in 70ml shots with the instruction to take one each day.

There are also two papers that examine the effects of beetroot juice consumption on bench press power and strength endurance [3] [4].

In the later study (Williams et al 2020) , 70ml shots (400mg of nitrate) were administered and compared to a placebo. The results indicated that supplementation with beetroot juice allowed for a few more repetitions.

As a result, there could be some applications for supplementation in resistance training, particularly in competitive environments.

man performing bench press exercise in the gym
Despite the fact that we are seeing improved performance outcomes in the bench press, it would be great if more exercises were tested and with a wider range of populations.

When it comes to beetroot supplementation in cardio based activity such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) and SIT (single interval training) the outcomes are different.

A 2021 systematic review & meta-analysis looked at The Effect of Beetroot Ingestion on High-Intensity Interval Training [5]

17 studies were included, 7 being acute (taken before activity) and 10 chronic (taken over a long period of time)

A summary of the participants’ characteristics

The 17 included studies included 319 participants–19.4% (n = 62) females, 80.6% (n = 257) males. The largest sample size was 52 [33], and the smallest was 7 [52]. The mean age range of participants was from 20.7 ± 1.3 to 31.0 ± 15.0 years. The participants consisted of healthy adults (n = 7), recreational exercisers (n = 156), competitive/trained individuals (n = 147) and elite athletes (n = 9).

Doses varies from one 70ml shot (400mg nitrate) up to 4-500ml of beetroot juice.

In general, the body of literature regarding beetroot juice isn't large, especially compared to things like creatine, and there is clearly a disproportionate amount of research on men.

According to the findings of this study, beetroot juice supplementation did not significantly impact performance. They do not claim that it does nothing, just that it is not significant in this context.

In an elite high performance environment, supplementation might be appropriate, but it appears most appropriate in the context of resistance training based on power and strength endurance.

Beet It Sport beetroot drink supplement
It is common to see beetroot juice sold in 70ml shots, and this seems to be an appropriate dose based on the data.

NHS Health Quiz

This new NHS health quiz aims to provide you with guidance on how to lead a healthier lifestyle. The question is, and as the Daily Mail put it, "how unhealthy are you according to the BRUTAL NHS health quiz?" (It isn't brutal)

We both go through this NHS health quiz in the podcast above (39:07 to be exact), so if you want to hear what we think as we navigate each section, take a listen!

NHS health quiz first page asking how are you and asking you to start the quiz
This NHS health quiz emphasizes throughout that it is a guide and not a medical assessment with dos and don'ts.

As a whole, it appears that the vast majority of these efforts have sought to move away from weight-related concerns. The focus has been on examining your physical activity and nutritional habits, as well as lifestyle factors like smoking and drinking, which, to be fair, is a positive step.

We have evidence to show that, when we consider overall health in terms of a physical sense, we will be more successful if we pursue approach-based goals here with regard to improving our health, such as moving more or recommending more fruit or fiber, vegetables, etc., rather than avoiding goals.

It's interesting, they kind of opted for a weight neutral approach to this, for the most part. However, some of the questions in the questionnaire are very ambiguous. For example, when it says on a scale of 1 to 100 how chirpy you are compared to not being chirpy at all.

Compared to other tests it's not bad at all and some of the recommendations at the end could help you so we'd suggest exploring the test for yourself.


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