If you’ve been training for a little while, a time inevitably comes when progress does not come as rapidly as it used to. This is normal, as progression does not follow a perfectly linear path, so what can you do to help keep the wheels moving forward?
This is the time when well timed supplements can make a big difference to your bottom line. Most bodybuilders and other athletes usually turn to creatine first, which is a good idea, but what if there is another supplement category that you can use which effectively makes everything else work better?
That category, would have to belong to nitric oxide boosters.
What Is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric oxide is a gaseous molecule that is produced naturally in the body via the breakdown of the amino acid arginine. It possesses several important functions, many of them not specific to fitness. However, being a hard-working athlete, we will limit the scope of this discussion to the benefits that can help benefit you directly.
Why Use Nitric Oxide Supplements?
1. Intense Muscle Pumps
Surprisingly, many people have never truly experienced a muscle pump, as this is quite different from the standard burn you feel after hitting failure in a muscle group. A muscle pump, tends to occur just after you’ve completed a working set, as the contracted muscle group relaxes and a flood of blood saturates it.
Since nitric oxide itself promotes relaxation of blood vessels, what this means is that a larger volume of blood primes the muscle and delivers oxygen and nutrients. Subsequently, your muscles appear fuller and are more capable of handling the stressors placed on it during your next working set.
2. Accelerated Recovery
It is important to realize that true recovery does not occur in the gym, but rather during sleep and throughout the day as you supply nutrients needed for the process. Nothing is worse than enduring severe muscle pain for days on end following an intense workout, even though a degree of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is inevitable.
Supplements that promote the synthesis of nitric oxide accelerate recovery by making available copious amounts of nutrients to muscles after your workout, and also facilitate the exchange (removal) of metabolic by-products afterwards[i] (especially lactate).
What this means is that you will notice a marked improvement in your recovery time after a workout session, lending itself to you fitting in more workouts in the same timeframe (for example, four workouts per week instead of three).
3. Enhances Glucose Utilization
In order to function at peak capacity, your muscle cells need to be able to make use of the glucose it has access to. Supplements that can boost nitric oxide levels, especially L-arginine, have this exact benefit.
A study conducted by the American journey of endocrinology and metabolism found that trained male cyclists improved their performance over the course of a 120 minute training session. It was noted that a higher degree of free glucose was observed in blood, along with more rapid rates of disappearance[ii].
This meant that more glucose is being made available, and simultaneously used up to fuel performance. Subsequently, the increased presence of free-form fatty acids are also found in blood, which means that enhanced rates of fat burning occurred as well.
Thus, regardless of your current body composition, enhancing nitric oxide production in your body is likely to equate to improved fuel utilization (be that glucose or fat).
4. Increased Growth Hormone Production
Growth hormone is naturally produced in pulsatile rhythms throughout the day, but most significantly during sleep. This hormone is an important part in cellular recovery and regeneration, making it considerably anabolic.
Supplements that enhance nitric oxide levels are also generally associated with improved growth hormone responses, especially if consumed before bed. A combination of exercise and arginine, for example, can help increase growth hormone levels by 200% over baseline[iii], which translates to superior muscle growth.
Growth hormone also possesses a lipotropic action, which makes it favourable for bringing about body recomposition.
Other Benefits Of Increasing Nitric Oxide Levels
Nitric oxide can be considered one of the body’s most important biological molecules, as it also helps regulate blood pressure, take the load off of the heart, decrease the likelihood of developing diabetes or improving blood sugar management, and can even help to exert an antiaging effect by virtue of growth hormone.
Best Supplements To Boost Nitric Oxide Levels
However, newer ones have since eclipsed arginine as better alternatives, as is particularly the case with citrulline. Citrulline converts to arginine at a very efficient rate, but does not suffer the breakdown associated with consuming straight supplemental arginine. This makes it much better at elevating nitric oxide production.
L-norvaline, while not directly lending itself to nitric oxide production, helps to inhibit the enzyme arginase[iv] which breaks down arginine and makes it less capable of converting to nitric oxide. This makes it ideal in combination with a primary nitric oxide booster such as citrulline or arginine.
As an athlete, working to improve nitric oxide production can go a far way in helping you achieve your goals. Supplements designed to do so are no longer specialty, but rather essential parts of an effective arsenal of tools at your disposal.
If you must choose one supplement alone, we recommend you go with citrulline; although many of the most effective ingredients come packaged together to help you get maximum bang for your buck.
[i] Mor A, Yilmaz Ak, Acar K, Birinci Mc, Ipekoglu G. Does Nitric Oxide Intake Affect Post-Exercise Recovery in Athletes? A Study on Cocoa, Caffeine and Nitric Oxide Supplement. Progr Nutr [Internet]. 2019Jul.18
[ii] Laura Sardon Puig, Nicolas J. Pillon et al.Influence of obesity, weight loss, and free fatty acids on skeletal muscle clock gene expression American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism 2020 318:1, E1-E10
[iv] Pokrovskiy MV, Korokin MV, Tsepeleva SA, et al. Arginase inhibitor in the pharmacological correction of endothelial dysfunction. Int J Hypertens. 2011;2011:515047. doi:10.4061/2011/515047