If you’re a regular reader of bodybuilding or men’s fitness magazines, then you likely ran into an ad or two for a nitric oxide (NO) supplement. NO became a huge thing in the supplement industry in the early 2000s. Supplement makers capitalized on the fervor by releasing their own versions of NO boosters at insane prices. What exactly is the connection between nitric oxide and bodybuilding? Do such supplements actually build rock-hard muscle as advertised?
The Emergence of Nitric Oxide
Scientists weren’t even sure of the significance of nitric oxide as a chemical messenger in mammals until the late 1980s. It was later proclaimed the “molecule of the year” in 1992 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In 1998, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize when they determined NO to be a vital molecule for healthy blood vessel function. This, in turn, led to discoveries of NO for reducing hypertension and boosting heart health.
It would take an entire article to explain the inner workings of NO. To learn how it works and benefits the body, see our introductory post on nitric oxide. This post is solely about the relationship between these two. In short, it’s for the gym rats and muscle heads.
Does Nitric Oxide Increase Muscular Performance?
Okay, so is NO the real deal when it comes to building muscle, or are all those NO ads in bodybuilding mags a load of crap? While we believe the majority of supplements out there is junk, there are a few legitimate ones. Creatine monohydrate is an example of a proven performance enhancer. NO also happens to be legit based on the dozens of studies we reviewed.
Let’s have a look at the research. A 2000 study showed that NO not only facilitated muscle repair but also activated muscle satellite cells. The latter is an essential component for skeletal muscle regeneration.
Another study found that NO deficiency may impair skeletal muscle performance and growth. Aside from enhanced physical performance and recovery, a separate study showed that NO not only induced skeletal muscle growth but may also facilitate the loss of white fat. This is the visceral fat that forms around your midsection, thighs, below the upper arm, and under the chin. The same study also shows that NO increases brown fat. This is the beneficial fat that actually burns calories by inducing thermogenesis.
Bodybuilding isn’t just about building muscle and getting as big and freaky as possible. It’s also about losing fat in order to create that vascular look. This is another area NO is proven beneficial. See our post on ways to improve vascularity. Striated veins are a must for bodybuilders competing on the big stage.
The Science Behind The Relationship Between Bodybuilding and Nitric Oxide
We presented the studies that validate the role of NO as a muscle-performing enhancer. Now let’s explore what actually takes place at the molecular level.
NO is a gas that the body produces naturally. Its prime role is increasing vasodilation. With a widening of the blood vessels means more blood flow, which translates to more oxygen and nutrient transport to your depleted muscles.
We must point out that NO supplements don’t actually contain nitric oxide gas inside the capsules. They contain ingredients proven to promote NO production in the body. Two of the best proven NO promoters include the amino acids L-arginine and L-citrulline. Arginine has been shown in studies to stimulate the endothelial cells where NO is produced. Yet another NO inducer is vitamin C. A study published in the American Heart Association Journal showed that vitamin C increases nitric oxide synthase activity.
Other Ways NO Induces Muscle Growth
You may also benefit in more indirect ways by consuming NO-stimulating foods and supplements. L-arginine, aside from creating more NO, has also been linked to increased growth hormone production, both at rest and during exercise, according to research.
Another compound is garlic extract. Garlic contains an antioxidant called quercetin. Among its many benefits, quercetin raises nitric oxide levels. Another study also suggests quercetin may reduce the testosterone-killing hormone cortisol.
As you can see, most NO-enhancing compounds also benefit the body in other ways that also induce muscle growth.
Choosing a NO Booster for Bodybuilding
NO is one of the few performance-enhancing supplements we recommend. However, much like the equally viable creatine, there are also a lot of hyped NO products out there. In order to one-up the competition, supplement manufacturers are releasing their own NO products with special proprietary blends. These are often given patented names to exude an aura of extreme potency. Without singling out the brands, some of these patented trademarks include sophisticated names like: NO3-T, B-NOX, Power Pump Complex, and NO Blast Complex. Often, the ingredients that make up the blend aren’t disclosed. Do they promote muscle gain? Who Knows.
Stick with a NO supplement with all-natural ingredients where every item is listed on the label.
Bodybuilding and Nitric Oxide Are Appropriately Linked
NO works; that much is clear. However, you have to navigate past the hype because there are a lot of overpriced NO boosters with glorified proprietary blends. Our own Redwood does not hide behind such gimmicks. All ingredients are from natural and proven sources.
If your goal is building muscle, nitric oxide from natural compounds will aid you in the journey. You don’t need fancy and over-marketed NO blends with unproven claims.