Whether around the gym or in the nutrition store, you’ve likely heard about nitric oxide. Although the supplement may garner less attention than protein powders, you’re doing yourself a favor by understanding how nitric oxide can aid your fitness prowess.
Here’s our quick guide to nitric oxide supplements, including some recommendations for high-quality brands that deliver the most benefits for your buck.
Why does nitric oxide matter for fitness?
Nitric oxide is a gas that’s produced by almost every cell in the human body. This vasodilator is crucial to regulating your blood flow and keeping your blood vessels healthy. When nitric oxide communicates with your muscle cells, it causes them to relax and expand, increasing blood flow and lowering your blood pressure.
What are NO supplements?
Nitric oxide supplements, more commonly called NO supplements, don’t actually contain nitric oxide. Instead, they contain ingredients that prompt your body to produce more nitric oxide. These ingredients often include nitrate, L-arginine and L-citrulline. Arginine and citrulline are amino acids, the building blocks of our muscles, tissues and cells.
NO supplements are one of the most popular supplement categories. A quick trip to GNC’s website, for example, shows nearly 60 NO products. But what are the benefits of NO on your workout?
What are the benefits of NO supplements?
The idea behind taking this pre-workout supplement is that NO will help you work out longer and recover faster. Because NO increases blood flow, proponents say, the supplement can help your blood carry more oxygen to your muscles. And that’s crucial to the effectiveness of your workout and the ability of your muscle to recover, and build, over time. Recovery hinges upon the ability for your muscles to gain nutrients after a workout. Meanwhile, fatigue can occur when your muscles don’t get enough oxygen. You get the picture; blood flow matters.
Other less emphasized benefits of NO supplements include regulated body temperature, which has an impact on your workout energy levels; a more pronounced muscle pump; and the ability to work out longer, even in higher altitudes where oxygen would typically be scarce.
Some argue that more research is needed to understand the full benefits of NO as pre-workout fuel. But in one study that gave male cyclists arginine (one of the most common ingredients in NO supplements), the men who had arginine experienced a 16.7% increase in their anaerobic threshold within three weeks, when compared to the men who were given only a placebo.
In another study, researchers found that L-arginine caused cyclists to take glucose into the muscle cells faster with persistent exercise. This could have a small effect on your ability to use glucose and then burn fat tissue during a workout.
Does beetroot extract impact NO levels?
One emerging area of study is the impact of beetroot extract on the body’s NO levels. The nitrate in beetroot is converted into NO when you consume it. To date, a few studies have shown beetroot extract to boost endurance when used as an NO supplement. In one study, cyclists who took the extract for two weeks had increased power during moderate-to-intense cycling workouts.
Beet juice and watermelon juice, which contains the NO booster citrulline, are reportedly the workout drinks of choice for many athletes—thanks, in part, to their ability to reduce post-workout aches and pains.
NO supplement side effects
Because NO supplements typically contain amino acids, it’s important to follow correct dosages to avoid overdose. If you ingest too much arginine, for example, it could cause nausea or weakness—the opposite of what you want to be feeling prior to a workout or any other time, for that matter. If you already have low blood pressure, you will want to consult with a doctor before taking any NO supplement. The same goes if you are pregnant or have these other conditions.
NO supplements are sold as capsules, powders and even quick-dissolving strips. When taking a nitric oxide supplement in a powder form, mix it with liquid to ensure it is absorbed quickly into the body.
It’s no secret that the supplement industry is unregulated. But that doesn’t mean you have to take a supplement that you don’t trust. To get started, explore our list of top nitric oxide supplements, based on thorough research and testing. And once you’ve selected one of these high-quality NO supplements, contact your doctor to ensure you can achieve maximum results without side effects or other health issues.