Nitric Oxide – Supplements for Muscle Pumps and Vascularity


Nitric oxide is one of the hottest ergogenic aids on the market today and it seems as though every supplement manufacturing company is climbing on board. Just walk into GNC or a health food store and there will be several nitric oxide products to choose from, all of which throwing around technical terms like: ‘nanomolecular vascular expanders for immediate vaso-muscular pumps’ and ‘maximum muscle fiber expansion for muscle growth while simultaneously burning fat’. So what the freak nasty does that mean and does it have anything to do with putting on muscle mass? To the lay person it sounds like the company did their research and knows what they are talking about, but to someone with a degree in exercise science and nutrition, it sounds like they are just trying to sell their product. It’s also very convincing when the products have a pro bodybuilder doing barbell curls with 200 pounds saying the product actually does work, which leads the reader to believe that he got as big as he did using that supplement. That’s their only alibi as most manufacturers don’t have any published research to back up their claims, despite what they say on their label.

So what is nitric oxide? It is derived from L-arginine and causes vasodilation in skeletal muscle blood vessels during exercise, which enhances the blood flow to muscles creating the desired “pump” which is important to strength athletes and bodybuilders. So it only makes sense to spend a ton of money on something that will help you gain muscle mass right? Well, not exactly! The body naturally produces nitric oxide and it won’t utilize any more than it needs, especially if it is taken in exogenously (from the outside in). Also, nitric oxide needs to be paired with nitric oxide synthase, which is the enzyme that converts arginine to nitric oxide and that only happens when the body produces it naturally. Judging from that statement, it basically renders these supplement products useless as the body will just pass it through the system without batting an eye….or sphincter in the body’s case!

I found a study that dealt with how arginine interacts with nitric oxide. It states, ‘even though arginine augments nitric oxide production, there is still no clear evidence that this synthesis of nitric oxide results in improvements in exercise performance in healthy individuals. It goes on to say that there is little evidence to support claims that arginine and nitric oxide enhance athletic performance.

Another article I found discussed the potential ergogenic effects of arginine. It states, ‘in a study examining a cohort of healthy young and elderly subjects, arginine failed to stimulate growth hormone secretion at rest or in association with a bout of resistance exercise. Similarly, ingestion of 15 g arginine daily for 14 days prior to a marathon did not alter insulin, ammonia, plasma creatine kinase activity or respiratory exchange ratio. This statement shows that arginine, which nitric oxide is derived from, doesn’t enhance athletic performance (obviously).

I know that there are gym rats out there that say nitric oxide works and they gained a lot of muscle mass while taking it, but I’ve taken nitric oxide too and to be honest, the pumps I got while I was taking it as opposed to not taking it were identical. Sometimes I didn’t feel a pump at all. I decided that spending $49.99 per jug of this stuff wasn’t worth it if I could achieve the same pump without it.

In conclusion, if you are taking nitric oxide currently and honestly believe that it does work, then keep taking it! If it serves as a motivator for you to work out harder, then it would probably be worth the money spent. However, there isn’t any substantial evidence to show that it really does work and I don’t believe any supplement actually does until it is proven scientifically (and I’m not talking about the claims they make on their product and what you see in the magazines. I mean actual research). The only sure-fire “supplement” that builds muscle mass is steroids, and I definitely don’t condone the use of those! So, believe what you want to believe, but I will continue to build muscle the old-fashioned way: through proper diet and weight training!

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About Author

Jeffrey Beck

I am a fitness model and bodybuilder originally from Cedar City, Utah and now reside in Salt Lake City. I received an Exercise Science degree with a Nutrition minor from the University of Utah and I'm a IFPA Certified Personal Trainer. See my profile page for more information!

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