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Can Nitric Oxide Supplements Boost Performance? What You Need to Know

Can Nitric Oxide Supplements Boost Performance? What You Need to Know

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By: Spencer Brooks

Nitric oxide supplements have been hugely popular in the bodybuilding community for more than two decades. You can feel them working — increased blood flow, a better “pump” in your muscles while you lift, and faster recovery all make nitric oxide a valuable addition to your pre-workout routine.

Nitric oxide has benefits in the bedroom, too. Increased blood flow can make a big difference in sexual performance.

Here’s everything you need to know about nitric oxide: what it is, how it benefits you, and the best ways to boost it for better performance.

Related: Upgrade Your Energy, Optimize Your Supplements

Nitric oxide is a vasodilator — it increases blood flow by relaxing the muscles along the inside wall of your blood vessels, allowing the vessels to widen.

Blood carries nutrients and oxygen, so increased blood flow often provides your cells with precious raw materials and improves performance. Nearly every cell in your body can produce nitric oxide. Your muscles, heart, and penis (if you have one) are all particularly sensitive to nitric oxide, and derive a lot of benefit from increased blood flow.

Increasing nitric oxide can give you a boost in the gym, help your muscle recover faster, normalize blood pressure, and make sex more enjoyable. Here’s a closer look at each of the benefits of nitric oxide.

There’s a reason nitric oxide supplements have been popular with bodybuilders for more than 20 years — they’re some of the few workout supplements that actually work. Boosting nitric oxide carries more oxygen to your muscles, increasing their ability to make ATP (energy) and giving you more physical endurance[1][2]. Nitric oxide is good for  both aerobic training like running[3]and brief, intense exercise like weight lifting or sprinting[4][5].

Nitric oxide also speeds up recovery and prevents muscle soreness. People who took L-citrulline, a compound that increases nitric oxide production, saw a 40 percent decrease in muscle soreness after an intense weight-training session, compared to people who took placebo[6]. You’ll read more about L-citrulline below; it’s one of the best supplements to increase nitric oxide.

Low nitric oxide can be a cause of hypertension (high blood pressure)[7] — without enough nitric oxide, your blood vessels stay more constricted, which increases pressure inside the vessels (the same way narrowing a hose increases water pressure).

Boosting your nitric oxide levels relaxes your blood vessels and allows them to widen, which can bring your blood pressure back to normal[8][9][10].  

If you’re a guy, boosting nitric oxide can improve your erection quality. In fact, Viagra and Cialis, the two most popular erectile dysfunction medications, both work by stimulating nitric oxide pathways in the penis, relaxing blood vessel muscles so more blood can flow through.

Good news: if you have occasional trouble in the bedroom, you don’t need a prescription to get a stronger erection. A lot of men with erectile dysfunction have low L-arginine or L-citrulline, two amino acids that increase nitric oxide production[11]. Supplementing with either one (or both) can improve erection quality and duration[12][13]. You may also be able to get firmer erections by eating more foods that contain L-citrulline or L-arginine[14]. Good options are listed below.

There are a lot of different ways to increase nitric oxide levels in your blood. Beets are rich in nitrates (precursors to nitric oxide), and beetroot juice is one of the most popular choices to increase nitric oxide. But beets contain a high amount of sugar, so they’re classified as a “suspect” food on the Bulletproof Diet. You’re better off choosing one of these options instead.

Direct sunlight on your skin triggers bodywide nitric oxide production[15]. Spend 15-30 minutes in the sun with as much skin exposed as possible. Make sure you stop before you burn; the right amount of sunlight is amazing for you in all kinds of ways, but if you push it to the point where you get a sunburn, you increase your risk of skin cancer by a lot.

L-citrulline is an amino acid (a building block of proteins) that increases blood nitric oxide levels. Studies have looked specifically at using L-citrulline to increase erection firmness[16] and muscle recovery[17], with excellent results for both. Take 1000-2000 mg of L-citrulline for erectile dysfunction, or 3000-5000 mg of L-citrulline for enhanced exercise performance and recovery.

This is another amino acid that may increase nitric oxide. Note that results are mixed when it comes to L-arginine — while many studies say it does increase nitric oxide levels[18][19], a few studies have found no effect[20], or that L-citrulline works better[21]. Most studies suggest 2000-3000 mg of L-arginine, taken two to three times a day.

Pycnogenol is an extract from pine trees that increases nitric oxide levels[22][23]. It also improves attention and overall mental performance[24]. Studies use a dose of 100-200 mg, taken twice daily.

Nitrate is a precursor to nitric oxide, and eating foods high in nitrates can increase nitric oxide levels throughout the body[25][26]. A lot of vegetables are rich in nitrate. Some of the best sources are celery, spinach, chard, arugula, and cabbage[27]. Cured meats are also a good source of nitrates, although you always want to get nitrates alongside antioxidants, because nitrates can degrade into carcinogens called N-nitroso compounds[28]. Fortunately, vegetables are high in antioxidants, so if you get your nitrates from vegetables, you’re fine. If you eat cured meats, get some veggies alongside them.

Increasing nitric oxide is a powerful way to get more out of your workouts and recover faster, and to enhance your sex life. Give it a try and see how you feel.

Read next: 6 Workout Supplements That Actually Work

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About Spencer Brooks

Spencer Brooks is a science writer with a background in psychopharmacology and nutrition. When he’s not writing, he’s cooking, studying winemaking, competing in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and rocking out to the greatest hits of the ’80s.

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