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Smokers vs. Soda Drinkers

Carefully measuring the CO2 in soda.
Carefully measuring the CO2 in soda.

I truly believe that most of the people who become personal trainers do so because they want to help people. I know that many of them (like me) share their excitement with the world by writing articles, books, blogs and posting fitness tips on social network sites. But to stand out, they sometimes say things that are a bit misguided.

I'd like to share one of those posts that was forwarded to me and then set the record straight.

When asked if she'd rather train a smoker or a soda drinker, one trainer said she'd choose the smoker. She said the effervescence in soda (carbon dioxide or CO2) would enter the bloodstream and cut potential gains in half. Let's analyze that statement.

There are lots of reasons why you shouldn't drink soda. Let's start with weight gain. Diet soft drinks, even though they're calorie-free, tend to stimulate the appetite. Your body tastes the sweet and prepares for calories. When none arrives, your blood sugar drops and you're more tired and hungry than when you started. Constant appetite stimulation leads to overeating and obesity.

If weight gain isn't scary enough, then consider this. Drinking just two regular sodas a week can raise your risk of pancreatic cancer by 87% over people who don't drink soda.

But can the carbon dioxide in soda cut your muscle gains in half? Nope, that's not true. Here are the facts.

Carbon Dioxide and Your Body

Our bodies produce carbon dioxide naturally when we digest fats, sugars and amino acids with the oxygen we breathe. It's called cellular respiration. Carbon dioxide waste then travels through the blood to the lungs where it's exhaled. That process goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When you drink a soda, your body absorbs that carbon dioxide at a much lower rate than what you typically produce in cells. It's less than your body makes after eating a 100 calorie snack. The little bit you get from soda is far too small to make a difference in muscular development or growth.

Smoking and Your Body

How about that smoker? Smoking is a lung irritant that makes it more difficult to breathe. Over time smokers can develop conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. Both of those conditions greatly reduce your lungs ability to breathe in oxygen and clear out the carbon dioxide, leading to a condition known as hypercapnia.

What is hypercapnia you ask? That's a serious condition of elevated carbon dioxide levels in the blood, the very thing that drinking soda doesn't cause but that smokers are susceptible to.

Hypercapnia can raise your blood pressure, increase your cardiac output and make you more prone to arrhythmias. In severe cases, it can cause hyperventilation, convulsions and eventually death. So much for cigarettes being a better choice than soda.

Smoking and drinking soda can BOTH present potentially serious problems for someone trying to get in better shape. Rather than picking one over the other because of imaginary reasons, the best answer from the trainer should have been to explain what's wrong with either choice. If she didn't have enough room to elaborate, then she should have offered, "I'll train one and my associate will train the other. They're both going to need better guidance."

Trust But Verify

Any time trainers tell you something unusual, ask for proof. Want to prove what I've said?

The definition of Hypercapnia came from "Stedman's Medical Dictionary."

To determine how much carbon dioxide is in a typical serving of soda, I repeated an experiment published by "The Science House" called "How Much Carbon Dioxide is in a Bottle of Soda?" (The experiment has been moved, but the original link is below.)

I then compared the carbon dioxide in a regular soda (2.2 grams) to the amount a typical person produces in a day as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency website (2.3 pounds.) (The EPA information link has been moved, but the original link is below.)

After that, the math is pretty easy. Just keep in mind these two facts:

1 Gram = 0.03527396195 Ounces
1 Pound = 16 Ounces

Four average sodas contain less than 1% of the carbon dioxide you produce in a day! That's not going to affect muscle growth in any significant way.

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