Bodybuilders and athletes are sometimes told to take nitric oxide to pump up their muscles and build endurance, but do they really work?
“They won’t pump up your muscles — their main claim, but ‘nitric oxide’ supplements may help you exercise intensely a little longer,” says ConsumerLab.com President, Tod Cooperman, M.D.
Nitric oxide is a gas naturally produced in your body, but the supplements sold as nitric oxide don’t actually provide nitric oxide. Typically, they contain L-arginine. L-arginine can in some cases increase nitric oxide, which potentially expands blood flow to organs and muscles.
But, ConsumerLab.com’s reviews of clinical studies of nitric oxide supplements did not show a significant increase in muscle size due to these supplements.
Nitric oxide tablets that contain L-arginine may boost intense exercise stamina in recreational or older athletes, however. Trained athletes will not see much effect from them. They may be helpful for people who suffer from cardiovascular disorders such as atherosclerosis or angina. It’s important to see your doctor to make sure you are taking the correct form and dosage of nitric oxide due to potential side effects.
The Mayo Clinic has done studies indicating that supplementation with L-arginine for the purpose of increasing nitric oxide in the bloodstream is probably safe when taken according to the manufacturer’s instructions for up to six months. However, toxicity has been seen in people and may result in serious adverse reactions. Always follow a doctor’s recommendations and never give arginine supplementation to those under 18 because there have not be enough scientific studies done to support its safety.
There have been numerous studies done to see what the effects of L-arginine is on the body, in addition to those looking for muscle-building results. One such study revealed that it may be effective in lowering blood pressure.
In one study published in 2005 in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers studies 30 male endurance athletes. One group was given high levels of arginine and aspartate (a different amino acid), one group was low levels of both amino acids, and a third group was given a placebo. All the groups were given cycling tests. In testing for human growth hormone, there were no differences in endurance levels or in the blood levels of human growth hormone in any of the groups.
In another study, released in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2006, found that exercise alone release greater levels of human growth hormone than did supplementing with oral arginine.
Arginine proved effective in one study, but not on its own. It was only when combined with other amino acids and branched-chain amino acids and glutamine. The Journal of Nutrition reported that a study compared elite rugby players given the combined supplements for 90 days did show enhancement in the oxygen-carrying capacity of their blood cells.
Janet Walberg Rankin, a professor in the department of human nutrition, foods & exercise at Virginia Tech in Blacksbur states that people think that providing dietary arginine will increase synthesis of nitric oxide. Although arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide, our own bodies will degrade the increase before they have a chance to use it.
It is dubious that supplementing with nitric oxide tablets will help athletes at all. If someone has a deficiency in the diet, supplementation may help. But arginine deficiency is unknown. People want easy solutions. They don’t do their homework and take claims at face value. Those claims are legitimately questionable and have improbable benefits.
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