Nitric Oxide and Your Workout

September 09 2014

What is nitric oxide?

Nitric Oxide is a naturally-occurring gas that improves blood flow throughout the body. It improves the distribution of oxygen through the system, including to muscles. Because of its dilatory effects on blood vessels—one of the main ways it performs its function of improving blood flow—it is sometimes given to patients suffering from heart disease, either as a pill or as a shot. It also helps lower blood pressure, by the same mechanism. 

But its effects aren’t just for people with heart disease. It’s also a powerful supplement for bodybuilders and athletes. There are a few reasons for this.


How does it work in training?

Nitric oxide does a variety of different things. It’s actually primarily used to communicate information between the cells in the body, but it has so many other effects that it’s rarely used for just that.

Firstly, it increases blood flow, as we’ve already seen. This means that the blood can carry more nutrients and glucose to the cells: this is great for muscle regeneration. Secondly, it improves the release of hormones and adrenalin that can lead to much better workouts. For example, a study conducted at the University of California Los Angeles found that among cyclists between the ages of 50 and 75, three weeks of taking nitric oxide supplements increased their anaerobic threshold, the point at which lactic acid started accumulating in the muscles and slowing them down (that’s that burn feeling), by over 16%. That’s at least a 16% better workout for you. The effect is much more pronounced among older men.


One Interesting Side Benefit…

All that increased blood flow from your nitric oxide supplements improves sexual performance and libido. So aside from that libido boost you’re getting from your high-intensity workouts—increasing testosterone levels among men and athletic performance ability for women—you’ll also enjoy easier and more powerful erections and orgasms. This effect (not the erections part) holds true for women, as well, since arousal is primarily a function of blood flow to the genitals.


Supplements for Nitric Oxide boost

First things first: you don’t ‘take’ nitric oxide. What you take is an enzyme—or several—that stimulate the natural production of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a gas, first of all, and that makes it rather difficult to make it into a pill. Secondly, it wouldn’t pass through your digestive system at all. The enzyme, however, will, and when it hits your bloodstream your body will make all the NO you could possibly need to boost performance. There are three:

  • Arginine
  • Citrulline
  • Pycnogenol


The Doctor’s Opinion

A study examining the effects of arginine on the body’s ability to pump the blood found that arginine supplements given approximately 30 minutes before a workout improved blood flow within the tested area by more than 100%. Now, that isn’t in every case, of course, but you can expect serious improvements in your blood’s ability to distribute oxygen and nutrients from arginine. This means a harder workout and faster muscle regeneration. 

A study conducted at Baylor University in Texas at the Exercise and Sports Nutrition Lab tested nitric oxide supplements against a placebo (a sugar pill with no physiological effect). Thirty-five men who worked out regularly were randomly given either four grams of a supplement or a placebo three times a day. Body mass index did not change over the eight weeks of the study, but they did uncover a significant change in strength.

The men given the supplement were, on average, able to add 13 more pounds to their bench press than the men given the supplement.


Natural Sources

 Don’t spill the juice on your clothes, but regularly adding beets to your diet can improve your body’s natural ability to produce nitric oxide as it needs it. Get it canned or fresh; the effects remain the same. Aerobic bacteria in beets lose their oxygen content when they are picked, and these oxygen-carrying bacteria lead to increased nitric oxide production once their components reach the bloodstream.  Studies have repeatedly shown that people who added beets to their diet improved both their strength and endurance consistently (considering the results of the nitric oxide studies above, that’s not surprising!).


What does this mean: bottom line?

Take nitric oxide supplements—whether in pill or powder form, or just in a giant bowl of beets (yum?)—and you can definitely expect to see an improvement in your overall workout performance. While the effects are not as widespread or as dramatic as the effects of, say, creatine, if you are already taking many other supplements and are looking for something to boost your edge a little bit further, then nitric oxide supplements may be just what you’ve been looking for.