You’ve probably seen Nitric Oxide or NO floating around bodybuilding and weightlifting forums, or maybe even saw a few bottles on store shelves. This supplement is becoming increasingly popular, mainly because of its claims of being able to improve performance and increase gains.
Is this just another workout fad, or is there to more to Nitric Oxide than meets the eye? If you’re curious about taking this supplement, here’s everything you need to know.
What’s Nitric Oxide?
Nitric Oxide, also called NO, actually stands for Nitric Monoxide and is a molecule that your body produces naturally. This molecule allows your cells to communicate with one another, which is essential to your brain function. It aids both your blood circulation and immune system.
That’s just the general overview, though. Here the more in-depth benefits that Nitric Oxide has to offer.
Every workout you do produces lactic acid inside of your muscles. If you’ve ever felt a burning sensation after a round of reps or felt sore after a rigorous workout, lactic acid is to blame.
Nitric oxide helps to remove that acid from inside of your muscles, allowing oxygenated blood to flow back inside. This helps your muscles to recover faster than they normally would on their own. The main benefits here are reducing the pain felt after running or lifting and helping you get back to the gym sooner.
As a vasodilator, nitric oxide opens your blood vessels and helps healthy, oxygen-rich blood to flow more easily. The easier your blood flows, the faster nutrients can make their way back into your muscles. This helps to give you more strength, allowing you to push yourself to the next level and pump out those last few reps.
Gym rats and veteran bodybuilders alike call it the “pump.” It’s the energetic feeling you experience after a workout when your blood vessels are fully expanded, sending a ton of oxygen and nutrients into your muscles. At the same time, it’s the look of your muscles being enlarged and your veins jutting through your skin.
Since nitric oxide is a vasodilator, your muscles and veins will be as large as possible post-workout. In essence, you will look and feel “pumped” for a longer period.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Your body does not naturally create enough nitric oxide to cause any side effects, but that also means you won’t notice NO’s effects when leaving your body to its own resources. While that makes nitric oxide supplements appealing, a high enough concentration can become toxic. Here are some side effects commonly experienced when overdosing.
One of the first symptoms you might notice is stomach discomfort. This usually manifests as nausea, but can also come in the form of stomach cramps and frequent, unpleasant bathroom breaks. Taking these supplements on an empty stomach is an all-around bad idea.
However, you don’t want to eat right before a workout. So, what are you supposed to do? Ideally, eat a few hours before and take your supplement just before working out. This should give you enough food in your stomach to curb this side effect.
Low Blood pressure
Since nitric oxide is a vasodilator, you need to consider blood pressure. Your veins are fully expanded, which means your blood can flow more freely without any constricting pressure. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can cause complications.
You may experience headaches, lightheadedness, or even added nausea and a loss of balance. This can quickly turn any workout into a living nightmare, but it can be especially dangerous for those who already have low blood pressure.
Less Blood Clotting
Expanding your blood vessels also means that your blood will not clot as easily as it usually would. While that might not be a problem when running or lifting weights, it’s something you should consider if you’re taking NO while playing contact sports. Those taking blood-thinning medication like aspirin or warfarin shouldn’t take nitric oxide supplements for this reason.
Pain or Discomfort
Remember the “pump” we talked about earlier? Well, being too pumped up can be dangerous. The rush of blood and oxygen to your muscles can be painful if it happens to fast or in too large of an amount.
In combination with blood thinners, blood pressure medication, or any other blood-related prescription, this pain can become unbearable. You may just experience slight discomfort, but some reported excruciating pain.
While your blood vessels are dilated, your electrolytes are taken for a wild ride. NO can increase electrolytes like potassium, chloride, and creatine, but can also diminish your sodium and phosphate levels.
Too much NO can cause a severe imbalance in your body that can lead to kidney and liver issues in the future. If you already have kidney or liver disorders, then you’ll need to be extremely cautious when taking these supplements. Talk to our doctor first to make sure your body can handle it and to find out what amount you can take.
How Much Should I Take?
In reality, you shouldn’t take nitric oxide at all. Your body naturally produces the right amount of NO in your system to handle your workouts, and inhaling this molecule in its gaseous form can be incredibly dangerous. There are, however, natural NO boosters on the market that offer a safe alternative.
The supplements you’ve seen on store shelves do not contain NO, but instead, provide your body with all-natural ingredients that can help boost NO levels. They encourage your body to produce more on its own in a safe way.
Choosing to take a nitric oxide booster also helps you avoid the side effects mentioned above. They don’t force your body to regulate more NO than it needs to, keeping the levels in your bloodstream safe. However, those with medical conditions should still get a professional opinion before taking anything that effects their electrolytes or NO levels.
Even without any medical conditions, you should still monitor how you feel after taking these kinds of supplements. Don’t damage your body just to see faster gains or increased performance. The long-term effects simply aren’t worth the instant gratification.
So, What Natural Boosters Are There?
One of the top performers is L-arginine, which you should see listed as the main ingredient in any NO booster. Your body already creates nitric oxide from L-arginine, so adding a little more into the mix is a safe way to increase your body’s natural production.
Arginine also helps your wounds to heal faster, your kidneys to remove waste more efficiently and gives your immune system a boost. Many experts think that it also decreases your risk for coronary artery disease. While more research is needed to understand the full benefits of this naturally occurring substance, everyone agrees that it is heart healthy.
You can also get a NO boost from a variety of foods, including:
- Arugula and iceberg lettuce
- Collard greens
- And radishes
Vitamin C and Garlic can offer a NO boost when combined, as can grape seed extract. Citrulline, specifically L-citrulline, and pycnogenol also have a similar effect. Other supplements to take include ginseng, quercetin, and coenzyme Q10.
There are also natural processes that signal your body to produce nitric oxide. Exercising, of course, instantly starts production, but that isn’t the only thing. Did you know that watching your favorite comedian can help?
Just laughing can help increase your body’s natural NO production. So, you might want to watch a good comedy special before or after your workout. Getting enough sunlight is another major factor.
As you soak in the sunshine, your body creates a surplus of vitamin D, but it also relaxes your blood vessels by producing nitric oxide. If you’re a runner, then this is excellent news since you can take a supplement like L-arginine and exercise in the sun at the same time.
Here are a few other supplements worth taking to boost your NO levels:
- Raw cacao
- The caffeine from a small cup of coffee
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Resveratrol (found in grapes and red wines)
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Remember that increasing your body’s ability to make nitric oxide isn’t the same as boosting your protein levels before or after a workout. Taking these supplements, eating these foods, and getting plenty of sunlight on a regular basis helps your body to boost NO levels naturally, creating more as time goes on while still keeping the molecule at a safe level.
The goal isn’t to pump up your NO levels during a set of reps or before a sport, but rather to make lifestyle changes that allow your body to do so all the time. Combined, these changes can help you find the gains and reach the peak performance you’re looking for.