By Wendy Morley

Bodybuilding and smoking are not often spoken of in the same breath. Exercise, lifting weights, and eating healthful foods do not lend themselves to the association.

But the negative reputation of smoking does not necessarily spread to smoking marijuana — a.k.a. weed, pot, grass, ganja, MJ, or one of dozens of other names. A look at any bodybuilding forum will quickly tell you that plenty of lifters smoke weed on a regular basis. Sometimes they smoke post-workout, sometimes pre-workout, sometimes for recreational purposes, and often pre-contest.

Yes, there are also many bodybuilders who think using it is crazy, but why is smoking weed, which is currently illegal, somewhat accepted in bodybuilding circles — and often much more than the practice of drinking alcohol, which is legal?

Smoking Before Training

For those who don’t smoke marijuana regularly, the idea of smoking before training seems insane. Wouldn’t you be likely to suffer an injury? At the very least, wouldn’t you lose the aggression and inspiration necessary for an incredible workout?

But many bodybuilders and trainers do smoke before their workouts. Some claim smoking makes their workouts more intense, and that it improves motivation and focus. One anonymous workout enthusiast says, “[When I smoke] I can tune everything out and focus on my music and mind-muscle connection. I can definitely say those are some of my best workouts.”

Paul Roney has been bodybuilding for 15 years and has been a personal trainer for 10 years. Although an injury has kept him out of competition recently, he has competed a number of times, winning four first-place trophies. And Paul smokes weed every day, often before training. “I do smoke weed before training,” he says. “It’s cool if I’m doing small body parts like shoulders and arms. It puts me in the zone with some good house music.”

But Paul doesn’t smoke before working his large body parts. “If I do squats or bent-over rows, I find I get gassed pretty quick,” he says. “It screws up my breathing.”

Smoking After Training

Smoking after your workout makes a lot more sense to most people — at least anecdotally. You have a good workout, you relax, smoke, and then eat. Paul agrees. “Oh yes, I always smoke after. It’s great after a gruelling workout. Eat some food, then a blunt. So relaxing.”

Many others reverse that order and smoke before eating. Building muscle takes a lot of food: many body- builders eat up to 5,000 calories per day or even more. Eating that many calories is not easy, especially if you’re eating the food you should be, healthful sources that feed your muscles and workouts as opposed to greasy, fatty foods with simple carbs and little nutrition. “The munchies” are an infamous reaction to smoking marijuana, and wise bodybuilders who smoke have learned to make use of this reaction, timing their smoking with mealtimes, making sure to have plenty of the foods they’re supposed to be eating on hand so they’re not tempted to go off their diet.

Marijuana may even help bodybuilders gain. They often find that smoking helps them sleep, and sleep is when muscle growth occurs. As another bonus, smoking helps relieve or at least dull the pain from a tough workout, making it easier to relax and allow muscle growth to occur. “I don’t think it hinders my recovery in any way,” says Paul, “but it makes the muscle pain of whatever body part I trained feel not so bad, even though I’m hurting.”

Smoking During Dieting and Pre-Contest

It’s no secret that alcohol contains a lot of calories. And those calories are more likely than most to settle right where you don’t want them — around your abdomen as fat. This has led many a bodybuilder to choose weed as their recreational drug. “I think weed is better [than alcohol],” says Paul. “Not only is it calorie-free, but there is no hangover.”

An anonymous female physique competitor agrees. “As I was prepping for my first competition, weed was really the only thing that kept me sane,” she says. “I love my wine, and while I’ve always been a fan of pot, it definitely filled the void that alcohol left during the months leading up to my time on stage.”

But what about the munchies? Dieting is hard enough, especially in the final couple of weeks before a contest. The female competitor answers: “I didn’t have an issue with ‘the munchies’ at all, but I was freaked out when, at the athlete’s meeting the day prior to the show, I heard they would be doing random drug testing! It’s obvious to me now that they were looking for steroids, but it gave me a scare nonetheless.”

Paul is of the same mind. “I always smoked weed during pre-contest dieting. It was the only thing making the food taste better!”

The Negatives

These are the reasons some bodybuilders and other fitness enthusiasts do smoke marijuana. But there are plenty of reasons others do not. Where some may find smoking makes them focused during their workouts, others say they can’t imagine working out after smoking. Mike Williams, a non-competitive bodybuilder and personal trainer, says there is no way he would be able to smoke and train. “Are you kidding me?” he says. “Not only do you put yourself at greater risk of injury if you smoke before training, I don’t care what anybody says, if you feel you’re getting a better workout, it’s only because you’re high.” Mike points out something else to consider. “Weed is also a phytoestrogen. You are increasing your estrogen levels by smoking, and that’s going to have a negative effect on your physique. Period.”

And then there are other health consequences. Smoke of any kind contains toxins and chemicals that are detrimental to your health, and smoke from marijuana is no exception. Research by the American Chemical Society shows that smoke from marijuana contains ammonia concentrations 20 times higher than tobacco smoke, with other chemicals including hydrogen cyanide and nitric oxide occurring at three to five times the levels in tobacco smoke. It’s true that even if you smoke a lot of marijuana you are ingesting far smaller quantities than you would be if you smoked cigarettes, but you are still choosing to breathe those chemicals into your lungs.

And then there’s the pesky fact that marijuana is still illegal. While that has changed in a couple of US states recently, in Canada the laws are still intact.

So, should you smoke weed if you’re a bodybuilder? Plenty of bodybuilders smoke regularly, although few would go on record for this article. Plenty more would never touch the stuff. You’ll have to be the judge of whether or not to smoke, based on your own reaction to the drug, your own goals, your own habits, and your own beliefs and morals. Whichever way you choose, rest assured there are plenty of others who have come to the same conclusion.

Jocks With Joints

These all-stars prove that a passion for pot can’t hold back greatness.

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously said, “Marijuana is not a drug … it’s a leaf,” and lit up in his bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron.

2. Record-breaking Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was photographed using a bong at a house party in South Carolina.

3. Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati lost his Olympic gold medal after traces of marijuana were found in his system.

4. Basketball legend LeBron James admitted to enjoying weed with his teammates during his junior year of high school.

5. Over the course of his NFL career Ricky Williams was busted for having pot in his system on four different occasions.

6. After a routine traffic stop in 2009, pro pitcher Tim Lincecum was cited on misdemeanor marijuana charges.