Nucleoside analogs (NAs) are used to treat numerous viral infections and cancer. They compete with endogenous nucleotides (dNTP/NTP) for incorporation into nascent DNA/RNA and inhibit replication by preventing subsequent primer extension. To date, an integrated mathematical model that could allow the analysis of their mechanism of action, of the various resistance mechanisms, and their effect on viral fitness is still lacking. We present the first mechanistic mathematical model of polymerase inhibition by NAs that takes into account the reversibility of polymerase inhibition. Analytical solutions for the model point out the cellular- and kinetic aspects of inhibition. Our model correctly predicts for HIV-1 that resistance against nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) can be conferred by decreasing their incorporation rate, increasing their excision rate, or decreasing their affinity for the polymerase enzyme. For all analyzed NRTIs and their combinations, model-predicted macroscopic parameters (efficacy, fitness and toxicity) were consistent with observations. NRTI efficacy was found to greatly vary between distinct target cells. Surprisingly, target cells with low dNTP/NTP levels may not confer hyper-susceptibility to inhibition, whereas cells with high dNTP/NTP contents are likely to confer natural resistance. Our model also allows quantification of the selective advantage of mutations by integrating their effects on viral fitness and drug susceptibility. For zidovudine triphosphate (AZT-TP), we predict that this selective advantage, as well as the minimal concentration required to select thymidine-associated mutations (TAMs) are highly cell-dependent. The developed model allows studying various resistance mechanisms, inherent fitness effects, selection forces and epistasis based on microscopic kinetic data. It can readily be embedded in extended models of the complete HIV-1 reverse transcription process, or analogous processes in other viruses and help to guide drug development and improve our understanding of the mechanisms of resistance development during treatment.