What is Nitric Oxide?
December 10, 2012
Over the past seven years, nitric oxide boosting products have dominated the supplement market, and for good reason—they’re an effective way to build muscle without steroids.
However, to the bodybuilding newbie, nitric oxide might still be an obscure term without a lot of meaning attached.
Let’s examine what nitric oxide is, and how it can have a direct impact on building lean tissue, improving cardiovascular function, and leading to more effective workouts in the gym.
So What is Nitric Oxide, Exactly?
Nitric oxide, often abbreviated as N.O., is a gas naturally created in the body. It is composed of one nitrogen atom and one oxygen atom. N.O. has a very short half-life of just a few seconds so your body is constantly producing more. To create N.O., your body uses precursors such as the amino acids arginine and citrulline, as well as nitric oxide synthase (NOS) enzymes.
Nitric oxide synthase catalyzes a chemical reaction to convert arginine into N.O. and citrulline. Citrulline, with the help of aspartic acid, is then converted back into arginine so your body can produce even more N.O.
In this way, nitric oxide production is a continuous cycle. However, many athletes choose to supplement with certain amino acids to trigger even greater nitric oxide production because of the benefits involved.
What Does Nitric Oxide Do?
As a gas, nitric oxide can easily be transported throughout your body. Because of this, it can positively impact numerous systems. Nitric oxide:
- Acts as a neurotransmitter between nerve cells
- Regulates the cardiovascular system
- Lowers blood pressure
- Enhances nutrient and oxygen delivery
- Improves vasodilation
Because vasodilation is the reason for many of the muscle building effects of N.O., that’s what we’re going to focus on.
What’s vasodilation, you ask? Simply speaking, it widens blood vessels to allow for greater blood flow. That might not sound too important at first, but remember, blood is the body’s version of the public transportation system. It’s responsible for shuttling nutrients such as amino acids, glucose, and water to the muscles. These nutrients are necessary for energy production, muscle growth, and muscle recovery.
Furthermore, oxygen-rich blood flushes away lactic acid and carbon dioxide (the after-effects of energy metabolism), which normally fatigue the muscle and impede performance.
So while nitric oxide doesn’t directly build muscle, it provides a very real support to the process.
How Does Nitric Oxide Provide These Benefits?So now that you have an overview of what nitric oxide does, let’s go over what happens in the body when you increase nitric oxide levels.
To start with, the endothelial cells that line the inside of blood vessels regularly and naturally produce nitric oxide in the body. When these cells are stimulated via a muscle contraction, they receive the signal to produce and release more nitric oxide.
The additional N.O. moves from the endothelial cells and into the blood vessels’ smooth muscle tissue, which causes the blood vessels to expand. Once vasodilation occurs, blood flow increases.
How Does This Impact Your Workout?
How does this relate to working out? Here’s an example. Have you ever tried watering your lawn with a kink in the hose? It’s similar to a workout with little N.O. When you release the kink, or increase N.O. production, it immediately magnifies flow. Ultimately, this causes your muscles to be swollen with blood and creates the pump.
Starting to see the significance of increased blood flow while exercising? By simply increasing N.O. production, you can stall the inevitable decline in muscle function and performance during high intensity activity. This gives your muscles what they need in the way of oxygen and essential nutrients.
Are There Side Effects?
Now that we’ve covered the benefits, it’s time to go over the drawbacks. While nitric oxide boosters are definitely safer than using steroids, there’s still a question of safety.
The most common side effect of N.O.-boosting supplements is gastrointestinal distress. Because of the amino acids used to trigger increased nitric oxide production, you may experience nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea in the first few weeks of supplementation. If these reactions don’t subside in time, you may consider lowering your supplement dosage.
A second concern is low blood pressure. Because N.O. widens blood vessels, blood pressure drops. This may be a concern, especially if your blood pressure is already low to begin with. Low blood pressure means lightheadedness and dizziness, and—if your blood pressure gets low enough—you can faint. If you experience any of these symptoms with N.O. supplementation, be sure to talk to your doctor.
The best way to keep yourself healthy while taking nitric oxide supplements is to follow the manufacturers’ instructions completely. Taking a larger N.O. dosage won’t improve your results, but it will affect your health.
How to Amplify Nitric Oxide Production
The best way to take advantage of these benefits is by using an effective, well-reviewed nitric oxide supplement. As previously mentioned, most nitric oxide supplements use amino acids to trigger greater N.O. production. Generally, the best amino acids and other ingredients to use include:
Though directions vary from supplement to supplement, most advise you to take N.O. supplement doses 30 to 60 minutes before working out, preferably on an empty stomach. You can also take nitric oxide after your workout.
Time to Get Started!
It’s clear that an increase in N.O. production not only prolongs your strength and endurance during physical activity but significantly improves recovery time.
Try adding a nitric oxide boosting supplement to your workout program to take full advantage of your time at the gym.