It's likely you have come across nitric oxide supplements, particularly if you work out and like taking pre workout supplements. You may want to know more about how nitric oxide supplements can benefit your workouts and health.
If you haven't heard of them but want to learn more about them and their benefits, then you have come to the right place.
For those who don't know, nitric oxide is on of the most important molecules for the health of your blood vessels. It is produced by nearly every type of cell in the body. It relaxes the inner muscles of your blood vessels which causes them to widen, thus increasing blood flow and lowering blood pressure.
Nitric Oxide (NO) supplements role is to increase the amount of nitric oxide in the body and by increasing blood flow, improving muscle pumps in the gym, speeding up recovery and improving your endurance.
These supplements do not contain nitric oxide but rather contain ingredients your body can use to produce more nitric oxide.
Improving nitric oxide levels in the body have been shown to have many benefits and not just related to those looking for gains in the gym.
Below are 5 health benefits you can expect from taking NO supplements.
1. Boosts Exercise Performance
Boosting exercise performance is probably the number one reason people choose to take NO supplements.
Nitric oxide widens blood vessels increasing blood flow, oxygen and the amount of nutrients delivered to muscles during exercise - so by giving your body a helping hand in producing it you are going to improve your workout performance.
Supplements usually have several ingredients that help enhance nitric oxide production. The most common are l-arginine and l-citrulline. These can be quite common in pre workout supplements too.
L-citrulline, on the other hand, HAS been shown to improve exercise performance (3).
One study had resistance-trained men supplement with 8 grams of l-citrulline before their chest workouts. By taking l-citrulline, they were able to increase the number reps thay could od by 52% (4).
Another showed that 6 grams of l-citrulline a day increased cellular energy production during exercise by 54%. This increases you ability to handle intensity and physical output.
This could potentially be because l-arginine is broken down by the body before it gets a chance to reach the bloodstream. L-citrulline, on the other hand, doesn't get used up in this way.
Consuming beetroots for their nitrates to boost NO has also been shown to improve exercise performance in runners, cyclists and other sports. (You can find an article on this here).
As a result beetroot supplement have become very popular over the last few years. You may have heard of beetroot shots you can take before a race or workout.
2. May Reduce Muscle Soreness
The other benefit you may have heard is that boosting nitric oxide can help decrease muscle soreness. The supplement ingredient you want for this is l-citrulline.
No one likes doing a workout and feeling very sore the next day or even a few days later. It can be painful and interfere with everyday life.
One study had participants either take a placebo or citrulline malate one hour before a workout in where they had to complete as many repetitions as possible using a flat barbell bench. Those who took the citrulline malate reported experiencing 40% less muscle soreness after 24 hours and after 48 hours from when they did the exercise, compared to those who took the placebo (5).
However, another study found that citrulline malate did not improve muscle soreness (6). In this study participants had 6 grams of citrulline (rather than 8 grams like in the previous study). This implies that dosage may be important in determining the effectiveness of l--citrulline.
3. Helps Manage Diabetes
Nitric oxide production has been shown to be reduce in people with type 2 diabetes (7).
As stated before, low nitric oxide production results in poor blood vessel health which can lead to a whole host of issues like high blood pressure or heart disease.
One study looked at the effects of l-arginine supplementation on delaying or preventing the progress of type 2 diabetes (8). It looked at supplementation over an 18 month period. The results showed that l-arginine did not reduce the incidence of diabetes but did increase insulin sensitivity and thus improved blood sugar control.
Another study looked at supplementing people with type 2 diabetes with l-arginine to boost nitric oxide production. They found that l-arginine did boost production and this in turn led to increases insulin sensitivity, allowing paitents to better control their blood sugar levels (9).
4. Can Help Treat Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction is when you lose the ability to get an erection or maintaining one firm enough for sex is not possible.
A decrease in nitric oxide production is one common cause of this. Nitric oxide is needed to help relax the muscles in the penis and increase it's blood flow. Sexual arousal usually signals the release of nitric oxide.
Our bodies require various nutrients and precursors in order to produce nitric oxide. You may have heard of nitrates found in beetroot being used as a supplement to boost NO. As well as food, we can also get nitric oxide from an enzyme called nitric oxide synathase (NOS). The function of NOS is also enhanced by sufficient levels of testosterone.
The reason I mention NOS is because NOS converts l'arginine into nitric oxide. L'arginine is an amino acid that helps make proteins but also becomes nitrix oxide as explained.
L-arginine has been studies a lot and results are promising. It is often combine with other supplements which can make the treatment for erectile dysfunction more successful.
A plant extract from pine trees called Pycnogenol has been combines with L-arginine to successfully treat erectile dysfunction (ED). The combination has been shown to signnificantly improve sexual function in men with ED (10, 11).
Yohimbine is another substance that has also been combines with l-arginine for ED treatment. A 2010 study showed that that the combination was promising but only in mild to moderate cases (12).
Another amino acid used to boost NO is l-citrulline. In one study l-citrulline was found to improve erection hardness in men suffering with mild ED (13).
5. Lowers Blood Pressure
Many people suffer from high blood pressure and this has been linked with an impaired ability to use nitric oxide in their bodies (14).
High blood pressure means the pressure in your arteries is higher than it should be. This can lead to all sorts of health issues over time.
Nitrtates are found in beetroots and dark leafy greens. Nitrates are converted into nitric oxide by the body.
One review looked at the effects of nitrtate supplements on blood pressure. It analyzed 13 studies and found 6 showed significant reducrtions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure when patients took nitrate supplements (17).
This was not the only review of nitrate supplementation. Another review looked at 43 studies and found systolic and diastolic blood pressure decreased by an average of 3.55 and 1.32mm Hg, after patients took nitrate supplements (18).
Nitrtates are not the only substance that can help improve blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide.
Flavonoids have also been shown to improve blood pressure. Flavonoids increase the production of nitric oxide but they go a step further. They also decrease its breakdown and therefore support higher levels.
Flavonoids have less research than nitrtates for their ability to lower blood pressure. However there are some studies that have been done. supporting their ability to help lower blood pressure but there are some studies (19).
Quercetin a flavonoid found in berries, and apples, has been shown to be the most consistent flavonoid for lowering blood pressure (20).
Side Effects & Safety Of Nitric Oxide Supplementation
Side effects will depend on what is in the supplement. If you opt for beetroot juice supplements then the only side effect you will experience is red urine. This is completely harmless and nothing to be worried about - it is just the color of the beetroot.
The most common ingredient used is l-arginine. This can cause stomach upset and diarrhoea (21).
Nitric oxide is important for blood vessel health and not just to boost your performance in the gym.
Supplements can help provide benefits to not only exercise performance but also to your health. They may be worth exploring if you want to help improve your performance in the gym or improve your body's ability to produce nitric oxide.
Of course though, they are only one tool that can be utilized and there are many more to explore.