One of the highest grossing categories of dietary supplements is Nitric Oxide boosters, or vasodilation enhancers to name one of the other names they might go by. This article will tell you what NO Boosters do and which ones you should buy
The primary ingredients in these products – whether you swallow it in capsule or liquid form – have been included to induce a vasodilation effect in the user.
This effect has been studied for many years for several different reasons, though the predominant areas of marketable interest are:
- Ergogenic supplements – provide the user with some level of physical performance enhancement in terms of muscular growth, strength, endurance or power development
- Sexual performance aids – allow more blood to flow for those that suffer from conditions such as erectile dysfunction
- Nootropic products – give the user a cognitive edge by increasing blood flow to brain
For the purposes of this article, we will concentrate on the first of those areas; ergogenic supplements.
These are the products which can be found in stores such as GNC, bodybuilding.com and any of the brand websites themselves.
Vasodilation has been clinically proven to enhance exercise performance, specifically for people engaging in resistance training using weights and machines at the gym.
What is Vasodilation?
This is the physiological mechanism of the widening of blood vessels due to the relaxation of smooth muscle tissue that they are connected to.
These muscles actually control both vasoconstriction (narrowing of the same blood vessels) and vasodilation according to changes in physical exertion, body temperature and any number of other variables.
Nitric Oxide – Vasodilation – Improved Workout
Vasodilation allows a higher volume of blood to flow through the vessels that have widened, providing the muscles with more oxygen and nutrients.
A more common term for this effect is ‘the pump’ and even more recently, the word ‘swole’ is being used as slang for being pumped during and after a workout.
More oxygen and nutrients directly increases the working muscle’s capability of being stressed for longer and more intensively, thereby eliciting a deeper overcompensation response from the tissue in the post-workout recovery period.
Further to this, many of the Nitric Oxide (NO) boosters that are used in modern ergogenic supplements have secondary effects such as the reduction of lactic acid and ammonia.
Both have an impact on the recovery speed of the subjected muscles and the intra-workout anaerobic stamina.
Nitric Oxide boosters should be taken as part of the pre-workout supplementation.
Other Uses of Nitric Oxide Boosters
Sometimes vasodilators are added to medication for erectile dysfunction, and indeed, a supplement which has both testoserone boosters and/or libido boosters in the blend will benefit from the inclusion of a nitric oxide booster as well.
The user will then (when required) be able to maintain an erection for longer due to the increased blood flow and concomitant heightened sex drive.
Nootropics were also mentioned earlier as being very relevant in the current market.
Nootropics are otherwise known as smart drugs and contain compounds which can increase cognitive function, working memory, mental drive and focus etc.
By adding a vasodilator to the mix, the supplement essentially works for the brain in a similar way to the products targeted toward the muscle-building market; more oxygen and nutrients are shuttled to the brain, allowing it to function at higher output and utilize the other components in the formula at a faster turnover.
Of course, increasing the output of any system will require more input: fuel.
Vasodilation, while improving many aspects of performance, also increases the expenditure of the raw materials i.e. nutrition and oxygen.
Oxygen demands can be covered by our natural instinct to breathe deeper when we are engaged in intensive physical exertion.
Nutrient intake, however, is a conscious action – and a requirement, if the true benefits of getting pumped is to be realized.
Pre-workout, intra-workout and post-workout supplementation is advised, especially if the session is to be longer than 60 to 90 minutes.
The intra-workout drink should be a mix of carbohydrates (medium to high glycemic index depending on exercise intensity) and some protein (BCAA on a 2:1:1 ratio or whey isolate that you can stomach while exercising).
Start with about 30-40 grams of maltodextrin (or similar carb) and 10 grams of protein (5g if BCAAs – too much can upset the stomach).
Also add some electrolytes, whether from a branded product or coconut water / lemon juice or similar. Mix with water and sip.
Drink plain water to make up the general hydration requirements.
Products – Nitric Oxide Boosters
There are a lot of these products at the moment, so we narrowed it down to what we considered the Top 3 at the moment.
This article looks at a few of the most used nitric-oxide (NO) boosters on the market today.
- Nitrosigine – new trademarked type of Arginine Silicate.
- Arginine AKG
- Citrulline Malate
- Agmatine Sulphate
- Niacin (flush-form)
Nitric Oxide boosters – or Vasodilators, as they are also known – are becoming more and more prevalent within the supplement industry.
Not only are these ingredients regarded as pre-workout favourites now but they are even making their way into post-workout supplements for the purpose of aiding recovery.
The ‘Pump’ effect is often synonymous with Nitric-Oxide boosters, as they enhance the naturally engorged and enlarged appearance of the working muscles during a session involving resistance weight training.
As the muscles contract during a set of several repetitions, they squeeze some the blood vessels which would normally transport the blood away, thereby trapping some in the muscle.
The arteries continue to bring blood to the muscle, effectively filling the fluid spaces between the cells and muscle fibres with plasma.
After the set is finished, this pressure build up releases – a lot like taking a tourniquet off – and blood rushes into the muscle.
That physical appearance of swollen muscles post-set is ‘The Pump’.
If blood getting to the working muscle is key for the transportation of oxygen and nutrients then surely bigger transport vessels would be an advantage.
It’s true that widening the blood vessels helps the working muscles push harder and go for longer. Supplement companies know this, vasodilation-inducing products were born.
The main mechanism to result in a massive ‘pump’ is vasodilation but the trigger is usually an increase in Nitric-Oxide.
This compound sets of a chain of effects which ultimately leads to the relaxation of smooth muscle tissue which runs along the blood vessels.
This relaxing effect allows the blood vessels to widen – i.e. dilate.
NO Boosting Ingredients
The following ingredients in some way elevate the user’s levels of nitric-oxide, thereby causing a vasodilation effect.
This is a newly patented form of arginine-silicate.
Arginine is the main pre-cursor for nitric-oxide in the body and has probably been used as the industry leading vasodilator for the longest.
Nitrosigine claims to be the better compound arginine form bonded with silicon. Silicon has been demonstrated to be necessary for arterial wall strength and flexibility, which can further increase blood flow.
According to the clinical study, Nitrosigine’s effects can start within 30 minutes of taking it and continue for 3 hours after.
This is similar to most NO pre-cursors though.
Supplements containing Nitrosigine will likely be expensive for quite a while until it becomes more widely used. Initial market spread looks good with a lot of pre-workouts adapting their blends to accommodate it.
Arginine Silicate Supplementation Decreases Markers of Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolic Dysfunction and Increases Markers of Vasodilation and Cardiovascular Health in Healthy Adult Males Komorowski, Rood-Ojalvo, El-Sohemy
A clinical evaluation to determine the safety, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of an inositol-stabilized arginine silicate dietary supplement in healthy adult males. (LB418) Kalman, Feldman, Samson, Krieger
Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate (AAKG)
This form of Arginine, bonded with alpha-ketoglutarate (a glutamine pre-cursor) appears to be a more effective variant than straight-up arginine.
More research is needed to determine the true effectiveness as many scientific studies don’t seem to back up what a lot of people using it say, which is that it works.
It’s only one of countless conflicts within the supplement industry.
However, there was one study involving 6g of arginine with 6g of AKG for a total of 12g.
That’s a little on the weighty side of things if you consider this ingredient often shows up in supplements in quantities less than a single gram.
Another study combined Creatine with A-AKG and yielded positive results also.
There’s some good signs there but the studies on A-AKG may not take off if other newer NO boosters jump on the bandwagon.
Pharmacokinetics, safety, and effects on exercise performance of L-arginine alpha-ketoglutarate in trained adult men Campbell et al
Creatine, arginine alpha-ketoglutarate, amino acids, and medium-chain triglycerides and endurance and performance Little et al
This is a pre-cursor to Arginine, but what you will often hear is that it is better at boosting NO than arginine, and the science backs it up.
Clinical trials have looked for upper body and lower body muscle group exercise improvement with CM supplementation and they found it.
They used 8g of Citrulline Malate in the lower-body exercise trial, but again, most supplement manufacturers will never include this amount because of the cost to them.
The most we’ve ever seen is in a pre-workout made by Jim Stoppani’s company. it’s called Pre-JYM and contains 6g of CM.
Upper Body Study
Effects of Supplemental Citrulline-Malate Ingestion on Blood Lactate, Cardiovascular Dynamics, and Resistance Exercise Performance in Trained Males Wax et al
Lower Body Study
Effects of supplemental citrulline malate ingestion during repeated bouts of lower-body exercise in advanced weightlifters Wax et al
This a non-essential amino-acid that seems to bring ‘the pump’ by inhibiting the inhibitor. Basically, the enzyme arginase which is responsible for wasting arginine can be blocked by L-Norvaline.
The oddity here is that it seems only very beneficial to those people with conditions that cause a higher than desired ratio of arginase to arginine.
In healthy people with ordinary arginine production etc. the NO levels are not greatly affected.
There is even a case for saying that large supplemental doses of L-Norvaline might be detrimental.
After all, arginase has its purpose, one of which is purging the waste products of the nitrogen cycle from cells. Inhibit it and it might not go so well. The likelihood of a supplement containing large doses is not high though.
Inhibition of S6K1 accounts partially for the anti-inflammatory effects of the arginase inhibitor L-norvaline Xiu-Fen Ming et al
Agmatine Sulfate (Sulphate): Agmatine is a metabolite of Arginine, which is to say it modulates nitric oxide production even after Arginine has been broken down to its constituent parts.
Agmatine has many claims behind it including: anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, nootropic, pain relief, insulin and kidney function. It’s up to you how enthusiastically you accept any one of these promises.
A promising area is Agmatine’s novel behaviour as a neurotransmitter, which might support more powerful muscle contractions and dial in your mind-muscle connection during a beastie workout.
There’s even a suggestion that it can boost your Testosterone but we’ll need a few more studies on something with two legs and clothes, because let’s be honest, rats get their leg up on a light breeze.
The supplement companies are putting it in pre-workouts to help you get pumped up. You might find something around 500mg works for you.
Niacin (Flush Form)
Niacin is Vitamin B3. Big cheese, right! However, the flush form of Niacin might just be a potent vasodilator.
Its name comes from the flushing or reddening of the skin from the vasodilatory effect and thus the increased blood flow.
The medical world seems hell-bent on reducing the flushing effect because patients who are using the vitamin to prevent cardio-vascular problems don’t like the side-effect.
Bodybuilders, however, want it.
The mechanism and mitigation of niacin-induced flushing V S Kamanna et al
NItric Oxide boosters are mainly found in pre-workouts, although the value of them in the post-workout time frame is starting to be given credence.
The transportation of nutrients and oxygen to the parts of the body that need them is not only important during a workout.
Indeed, as long as you are providing the fuel then vasodilation is rarely a bad thing. And, recovery and growth is why we do this to ourselves in the first place.