Nitric oxide supplements hit the bodybuilding scene about a decade ago, and they hit the ground running.
The first one to make waves was called “NO2.”
It became an overnight bestseller, and was quickly followed by a pile of “me too” products, which only served to further ratchet up the nitric oxide hype.
People were saying it’s the next creatine. A natural and safe alternative to steroids, even.
It could help you gain muscle and strength faster, we were told, as well as significantly improve blood flow, which would give you bulging biceps and, uh, other bulgy things. 😉
How true is all of this, though?
Do nitric oxide supplements really work, or are they just a waste of money, like most bodybuilding supplements?
Well, you’re going to find out in this article.
We’re going to look at what nitric oxide is, what these supplements are comprised of, what science has to say about their effectiveness, and more.
Let’s start at the top.
(If you’d prefer to skip all of the scientific mumbo jumbo, though, and you just want to know which nitric oxide supplement you should take to reach your goals, no problem! Just take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know exactly what supplements are right for you. Click here to check it out.)
- What Is Nitric Oxide?
- What Is a Nitric Oxide Supplement?
- The Benefits of Nitric Oxide Supplements
- The Best Nitric Oxide Supplements
- The Bottom Line on Nitric Oxide Supplements
Table of Contents
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What Is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric oxide is a simple molecule made up of one nitrogen atom attached to one oxygen atom.
It’s gaseous, and its primary role in the body is helping cells communicate with one another.
This is now just a mundane fact, but it was a pretty big discovery (Nobel prize-winning big) because previously, nobody knew that cells could produce gasses and float them to one another.
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What Is a Nitric Oxide Supplement?
Despite the name, nitric oxide supplements don’t contain nitric oxide.
Instead, they contain natural ingredients that increase the production of nitric oxide in the body.
For example, one of the substances most often found in these supplements is the amino acid L-arginine, which is a good source of nitrogen and thus can influence nitric oxide production (nitrogen is needed to create nitric oxide, so the more that’s available to the body, the more NO it can produce).
The Benefits of Nitric Oxide Supplements
Most nitric oxide supplements are sold as muscle builders.
This is a powerful hook, and it’s not wholly unreasonable.
Research does show that raising nitric oxide levels in the body widens blood vessels and improves blood flow, and that this can improve exercise performance and may raise protein synthesis rates.
Furthermore, studies show that these supplements can increase the production of growth hormone in response to exercise, which is music to many gymgoers’ ears.
More growth hormone naturally means more muscle growth, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not how it plays out.
Unlike anabolic steroids, studies show that growth hormone doesn’t stimulate skeletal muscle growth, and doesn’t increase strength.
And this is especially true when we’re talking natural fluctuations of GH, as opposed to injecting large amounts of synthetic hormones.
If you want simple evidence of this, consider consider a study conducted by researchers at McMaster University.
Scientists had young, resistance-trained men lift weights 5 times per week for 12 weeks while following a standard bodybuilding diet (i.e. high-protein intake, post-workout nutrition, etc.).
What they found is that exercise did spike certain hormones, like testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF-1, but a) the spikes were rather small, and b) their magnitude had no effect on muscle and strength gains.
In other words, hormones didn’t change as much as expected, and the guys that experienced larger hormonal increases made or less the same gains as those that experienced smaller ones.
So, if that’s a summary of what nitric oxide supplements can’t do for you, what can they do?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, they widen blood vessels and improve blood flow and can improve blood vessel health.
This is why many people report experiencing bigger and better “pumps” in the gym when they take nitric oxide supplements (more blood flow = bigger pumps).
There’s also evidence that they can improve exercise performance, which can translate into greater strength and muscle gains over time (if you actually use them to push yourself harder in your workouts).
The Best Nitric Oxide Supplements
So far I’ve mentioned just one nitric oxide supplement: L-arginine.
I’ve also mentioned that it’s the most popular one on the market, but that’s not because it’s the best. In fact, research shows it’s rather unreliable, working well in some people and not at all in others.
This helps explain why one person will swear by one nitric oxide supplement or another while someone else will experience no effects or benefits whatsoever.
Luckily, there are other options, and the best is another amino acid called L-citrulline.
L-citrulline is converted into arginine in the kidneys, and results in longer and larger elevations of plasma (blood) arginine levels than supplementing with arginine itself. It also elevates plasma levels of another amino acid, ornithine, which reduces exercise-induced fatigue.
That’s why L-citrulline is getting more and more popular, and why you find it in many pre-workout supplements.
If you want to try L-citrulline for yourself, check out my 100% natural pre-workout supplement PULSE.
It contains a clinically effective dose of 8 grams of citrulline malate in every serving, along with effective dosages of 5 other ingredients proven to increase physical and mental performance:
Caffeine does more than jolt you awake in the morning: it also increases muscle endurance and strength.
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that boosts exercise performance and may aid in muscle building.
Betaine is a substance found in plants and beets, and it can improve muscle endurance and increase strength.
Ornithine is an amino acid that reduces fatigue in prolonged exercise and promotes fat burning while exercising.
Theanine is an amino acid found mainly in tea that reduces the effects of mental and physical stress, increases the production of nitric oxide, and improves alertness, focus, attention, memory, mental task performance, and mood.
Equally important to what’s in PULSE is what’s not in it.
Namely, it contains…
- No artificial sweeteners or flavors.
- No artificial food dyes.
- No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.
The bottom line is if you want to feel focused, tireless, and powerful in your workouts…and if you want to say goodbye to the pre-workout jitters, upset stomachs, and crashes for good…then you want to try PULSE.
Oh, and if you aren’t sure if PULSE is right for you or if another supplement might be a better fit for your budget, circumstances, and goals, then take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz! In less than a minute, it’ll tell you exactly what supplements are right for you. Click here to check it out.
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The Bottom Line on Nitric Oxide Supplements
If you have a budget for “non-essential” supplements, then a good nitric oxide supplement is worth considering.
And especially if you want to do everything you can to get the most from your training.
It’s not going to supercharge your strength or muscle building, but research clearly shows that raising plasma nitric oxide levels can improve your workout performance.
If you take advantage of that and push yourself harder than you otherwise could, that can mean better progress over time.
I also have to admit that big pumps are kind of cool, too. 🙂
What’s your take on nitric oxide supplements? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
- West, D. W. D., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Associations of exercise-induced hormone profiles and gains in strength and hypertrophy in a large cohort after weight training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(7), 2693–2702. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-2246-z
- Liu, H., Bravata, D. M., Olkin, I., Friedlander, A., Liu, V., Roberts, B., Bendavid, E., Saynina, O., Salpeter, S. R., Garber, A. M., & Hoffman, A. R. (2008). Systematic review: The effects of growth hormone on athletic performance. In Annals of Internal Medicine (Vol. 148, Issue 10, pp. 747–758). American College of Physicians. https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-148-10-200805200-00215
- Doessing, S., Heinemeier, K. M., Holm, L., Mackey, A. L., Schjerling, P., Rennie, M., Smith, K., Reitelseder, S., Kappelgaard, A. M., Rasmussen, M. H., Flyvbjerg, A., & Kjaer, M. (2010). Growth hormone stimulates the collagen synthesis in human tendon and skeletal muscle without affecting myofibrillar protein synthesis. Journal of Physiology, 588(2), 341–351. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2009.179325
- Kanaley, J. A. (2008). Growth hormone, arginine and exercise. In Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care (Vol. 11, Issue 1, pp. 50–54). Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e3282f2b0ad
- Biolo, G., Maggi, S. P., Williams, B. D., Tipton, K. D., & Wolfe, R. R. (1995). Increased rates of muscle protein turnover and amino acid transport after resistance exercise in humans. American Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism, 268(3 31-3). https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.1995.268.3.e514
- Bednarz, B., Wolk, R., Chamiec, T., Herbaczynska-Cedro, K., Winek, D., & Ceremuzynski, L. (2000). Effects of oral L-arginine supplementation on exercise-induced QT dispersion and exercise tolerance in stable angina pectoris. International Journal of Cardiology, 75(2–3), 205–210. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0167-5273(00)00324-7
- Paddon-Jones, D., Børsheim, E., & Wolfe, R. R. (2004). Potential ergogenic effects of arginine and creatine supplementation. Journal of Nutrition, 134(10 SUPPL.). https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/134.10.2888s
- Álvares, T. S., Meirelles, C. M., Bhambhani, Y. N., Paschoalin, V. M. F., & Gomes, P. S. C. (2011). L-arginine as a potential ergogenic aid in healthy subjects. In Sports Medicine (Vol. 41, Issue 3, pp. 233–248). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.2165/11538590-000000000-00000