You’ve probably heard your gym buddies talk about their N.O. and how well it works for them. You might be wondering what an N.O. is and what exactly it does. Well, N.O. stands for nitric oxide, and no, we aren’t talking about the gas. Nitric oxide boosters, in supplement form, are used by lifters and athletes alike to increase muscle strength and improve athletic performance. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty about nitric oxide supplements and the science behind their popularity.
What is nitric oxide and what does it do?
When you hear the words nitric oxide, you often think about a souped-up race car with flames coming out the back. Or, maybe you think of a gas that helps to alleviate pain. Nitric oxide is actually a messenger molecule in the body that allows intercellular communication throughout the entire body. It is comprised of one nitrogen atom connected to one oxygen atom.
The discovery of the importance of nitric oxide in our body won three scientists the Nobel Prize in 1998. This is a very important molecule that affects the cellular activity of every system in the body.
It helps the nervous system by helping transmit signals in the brain, improving memory and mood.
It regulates the circulatory system by dilating the arteries, allowing for better blow flow and decreased blood pressure.
It strengthens the immune system, fighting off germs and cancerous cells.
It helps the digestive system by keeping the muscles and nerves in the GI tract healthy and strong, ensuring for good movement of waste and uptake of nutrition.
The benefits of having a healthy supply of this molecule in the body are numerous. The discovery of these benefits has led to the production of supplements to increase your nitric oxide content in the body.
Nitric oxide supplements aren’t made from the molecule itself but are a combination of a few amino acids that the body uses to produce nitric oxide. These amino acids include L-citrulline, L-arginine, and nitrates. There are other substances that can help boost nitric oxide supply in the body including pine tree bark and polyphenols from certain fruits.
Athletes and bodybuilders are one of the biggest group of people who use these supplements and for good reason. Check out the benefits in the next section.
What are the benefits of nitric oxide?
As mentioned, nitric oxide levels in the body can have a direct effect on many of the systems in the body. It can make your body run like a well-oiled machine, giving you energy and vitality in more ways than one. Benefits of nitric oxide supplementation are as follows:
Because nitric oxide widens the vessels, it delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. With a boosted energy supply to the muscles, you can pump a bit heavier, run a bit longer, jump a little higher, and push yourself a little bit harder. You will also get that awesome increase in vascularity.
Granted these are incremental improvements but over time, this can lead to bigger muscles and greater overall agility. Arginine is the result of the synthesis of nitric oxide supplements in the body and this nutrient has been proven to double the growth hormone alone. You can increase those numbers to triple or even quadruple if you add in exercise.
It’s important to note that these supplements have been touted to be the “natural steroid” but that just isn’t true. Sure, during your workout, you might feel a little bit like the Hulk because of the muscle pumping effect that these supplements can have but this is just temporary.
You won’t have lasting muscle immediate muscle growth from these supplements. As I said before, one more set, one more rep, over time builds muscle and that’s what nitric oxide supplements can do, give you this edge.
Lower blood pressure
This benefit has been the most medically used reason for nitric oxide supplementation. Because it has been proven to lower blood pressure, improve endothelial function, and improve the blood vessels ability to expand and contract to help with blood pressure, nitric oxide supplementation is a common practice in people who are worried about their high blood pressure.
Certain types of nitric oxide supplements, l-citrulline in particular, are great for combating any delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.
This is a day or two after-effect of muscle soreness after you’ve really worked a set of muscles. Kinda like the day after leg day your legs feel like jello and you walk around like an old man.
This muscle soreness usually hits about 24-72 hours after you finish exercising. A study was done on 41 individuals who took L-citrulline supplementation before they worked out and they reported 40% less DOMS than those who did not use l-citrulline.
It could also be because l-citrulline elevates the supply of ornithine, another amino acid, in the blood. This amino acid has been proven to help alleviate DOMS.
Can help ED
Erectile dysfunction is a fear for many men. If you find that you may be headed that way, supplementing with nitric oxide boosters can help you avoid disappointing yourself or anyone else.
According to medical studies, most of the men who suffer from ED have low levels of L-arginine and/or L-citrulline, and “nitric oxide is a physiological signal essential to penile erection.”
If you can’t get an erection without nitric oxide, it makes sense that taking supplements that will increase your nitric oxide supply will help you get one.
If the idea of taking Viagra seems scary or embarrassing, a study showed that supplementing with L-citrulline can be a good substitute for Viagra for men with mild ED.
Could Help Those with Type 2 Diabetes- L-arginine, a popular nitric oxide supplement, has been proven to help those with Type 2 Diabetes take better control of their blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity.
It can also help those suffering from this disease to have better kidney and heart function.
Nitric oxide in food
There are two different cellular pathways that produce nitric oxide in the body. One is through exercise and the conversion of L-arginine into nitric oxide. This is the called the nitric oxide synthase(NOS) pathway. This pathway gets weaker as we age.
The second is the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. This pathway involves eating foods that are rich in nitrates and never gets weaker but can continue to improve our nitric oxide levels if we keep eating these foods.
Foods that are high in nitrates include leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, beets and beet greens, arugula, celery, cress, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, swiss chard, mustard greens, and parsley.
There are many herbs that are rich in nitrates as well. These include cilantro, basil, and the algae spirulina.
It’s important to remember that meats high in nitrates are usually highly processed and these types of nitrates are not converted into nitric oxide by the body. Instead, they are proven to be converted into nitrosamines, which are harmful carcinogens.
One thing is essential in order to convert the nitrates from these foods into nitric oxide in the body. There are certain bacteria in the mouth that is needed to perform this conversion. If you use an antibacterial mouthwash, not only will it kill the bad bacteria but it has also been proven to kill this essential bacteria.
There are certain foods that naturally are high in the amino acids that help the NOS pathway as well. For example, walnuts are high in L-arginine. Turkey, chicken, pumpkin seeds, and pork loin are also good sources of l-arginine.
Watermelon, garlic, onions, chickpeas, peanuts, and liver have high levels of l-citrulline. This amino acid is one of those that is synthesized into nitric oxide by the body.
How to take nitric oxide?
Most NO boosters for athletes come in powder form and can have different flavors or serving size. It’s simple to supplement with these powders. Just take a scoop or two, whatever the product serving is, and add it to the recommended amount of liquid.
You may decide to use tablets or pills instead if you don’t like drinking powders. These products are usually more targeted and simpler, containing just the amino acid and nothing more.
It’s important to read the label well. Each product is different, but all have some similarities. Depending on each product, the amount of actual NO boosting ingredient per serving may vary. The clinically effective dosage is around 6 to 8 grams per serving.
These supplements are best taken on an empty stomach so that your body can begin to absorb it as quickly as possible.
There are several different types of nitric oxide supplements. L-arginine and L-citrulline are two of the most popular. AAKG(arginine alpha-ketoglutarate), L-norvaline, beetroot (also known as betaine) and NADH are a few more.
Usually, these ingredients are the main component of nitric oxide supplements but with a few added ingredients. Common ingredients that nitric oxide supplements would include are creatine because it works well with the nitric oxide for the extra volume of your muscles and to increase vascularity.
When to take nitric oxide?
In order to get the most benefit from nitric oxide supplements, its best to take it pre-workout. Most nitric oxide boosters last about an hour to an hour and a half, but it can take about 20-30 minutes for a powder nitric oxide supplement to get into your bloodstream and longer for a pill or tablet.
To be safe, take the recommended dosage of your nitric oxide powder supplement of choice about 15-20 minutes before your workout and if you are taking a pill form of the supplement take it 30-45 minutes before you work out.
Nitric oxide side effects and risks
The main side effect of these supplements is the lowering of blood pressure. This is because of the vasodilation of the blood vessels. If you have low blood pressure problems already, you probably shouldn’t be taking these supplements.
From low blood pressure, you can get lightheaded, nauseous, have headaches and more. You might also notice some changes in your digestive system like cramping and bloating. If you take these supplements with food, you can reduce these symptoms. Some people don’t feel these symptoms at all.
If you have liver or kidney issues, nitric oxide supplements might affect your electrolyte levels so it’s important to talk to your doctor before using these supplements.
What to look for when buying nitric oxide supplements?
When deciding which nitric oxide supplement to buy you should be looking for certain qualifications.
As always, you should be making sure that these supplements contain clinical dosages of the nitric oxide boosting ingredients. To review, these are l-arginine, l-citrulline, citrulline malate, AAKG, l-norvaline, betaine, and NADH. It should have one of more of these ingredients.
You should always check for purity of ingredients with as little additives and fillers as possible. These fillers just add weight to the product and reduce efficiency, while you pay for a full product.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but just don’t forget what you are looking for. If nitric oxide production is what you are looking for, don’t lose focus with a bunch of extra ingredients.
Added creatine as an ingredient can help boost your athletic performance and should never be considered as tainting of the product. Neither should glutathione as an ingredient be considered a bad thing. This antioxidant protects your body from the harmful effects of exercise.
BioPerine is a supplement ingredient that is added to help your body absorb the effective ingredients in the supplement. It’s a good ingredient to have in any supplement.
Of course, like with any product you buy, you want to buy from a reputable company and be thrifty, so don’t buy a product that is extremely expensive when you can get a similar product for cheaper.
10 Best nitric oxide supplements in 2021
Below we put together a list of top 10 nitric oxide supplements based on a collaborative effort between ourselves and reviews from fitness experts and enthusiasts.
If you would like to ensure you’re getting the most out of your workouts, nitric oxide supplements are an excellent and convenient choice that can help you crush your goals at the gym.
This product is a straightforward nitric oxide booster that delivers. In fact, it is the #1 best seller on Amazon because of its simple but effective ingredient list. It includes 4 grams of L-arginine, 4 grams of AAKG, 4 grams of L-citrulline and a gram of beetroot powder. This pretty much covers all your nitric oxide boosting bases. This product is made in capsule form and its two capsules per serving, so it’s an easy product to take. There are months worth of capsules per bottle.
2. N.O. XT
This product contains 1.5 grams L-citrulline per serving along with 500 mg of Nitrosigine, a form of arginine bonded to silicon for a longer lasting nitric oxide boost and a quicker kick in. This product also has two important added ingredients. One is Bioperine, the black pepper fruit extract that helps the body to absorb the effective ingredients. The other is glutathione, an antioxidant that helps the body to recoup and also works with L-citrulline for nitric oxide production. This bottle comes with 90 capsules and three capsules to a serving make a month worth of supplements.
This is another product that covers all the bases, although with a lot less of each ingredient. It contains 1.2 grams of l-arginine and AAKG and 610 mg of citrulline malate which is the best kind of l-citrulline. It also contains 160 mg of beet root powder for nitrates. Aside from these ingredients, this product contains little else besides the outer casing of the capsule itself. Each bottle contains 120 capsules and each serving is 4 capsules.
It’s hard to find a product with pine bark extract but this one has it. The best thing about it is that it didn’t replace any of the other ingredients normally included in a nitric oxide supplement but added to it. It still contains 1.2 grams of L-arginine, L-citrulline, and AAKG along with 50 grams of beetroot powder. Each serving is 4 capsules and each bottle contains 120 capsules.
This product takes a little different approach to nitric oxide supplementation. It is more geared to helping the male sexual organs but it still helps you in the gym. It contains 300 mg of Vaso6, a green tea oligomer that has been proven to increase vasodilation by 50% which is a much higher number than L-arginine has shown. It also contains horny goat weed, maca, and yohimbine. All three of these other ingredients can help with drive and energy, while also supporting male health. This bottle comes with 30 servings.
Another product by Nutra Champs for nitric oxide production. This one has a bit different of a formula. It still has the trifecta of l-arginine, AAKG, and citrulline malate but with a smaller dose of 500 mg each. It also contains 50 mg of grape seed extract and 30 mg of cayenne pepper. Each serving is 2 capsules and there are 30 servings per bottle.
This product has a 3-gram proprietary blend, which I usually shy away from because you don’t ever know the dosage of each ingredient so it’s hard to know the effectiveness of the product. This blend contains l-citrulline and three different types of l-arginine; the original, l-arginine HCL, and AAKG. There’s not much more to this product other than some additives and preservatives. Each bottle contains 60 capsules or 20 servings.
This product is a powder supplement. It is unflavored so you can easily add it to your pre-workout smoothie. The ingredients include 1.5 grams of HydroMax, a hydrating concentrated glycerol monostearate, and 1 gram of NO3-T Betaine. Both are nitric oxide producers. It also includes vitamins C and D. This product has 30 servings per tub.
This product is more than just a nitric oxide booster, it is an all around pre-workout supplement with Nitrosigine included. It also contains hawthorn extract and pomegranate extract, two ingredients that have antioxidants that enhance the nitric oxide pathway. It also has ingredients like niacin, beta-alanine, choline bitartrate, and Rhodiola extract. It will not only give you pumps but will also increase your energy and focus. It has plenty of unnecessary extra ingredients as well. This bottle comes with 120 caplets, 4 caplets to a serving.
This product contains 2 grams of nitric oxide boosting ingredients all together but again, they use a mystery proprietary blend that doesn’t list the actual dosage of all the ingredients. These ingredients include NO3-T arginine, Nitrosigine, citrulline malate, and grape seed extract. Besides those ingredients, there is vitamin C and calcium included. There are a fair number of additives as well. This bottle contains 90 capsules with three capsules per serving.