Would you like to have more energy for your workouts? How about better performance and less recovery time? Believe it or not, the answer to all of these may be as simple as boosting your nitric oxide levels.
Yes, turns out, nitric oxide is actually one of the most important naturally occurring molecules in the human body, and more so if you're an athlete.
It plays a key role in muscle function and can improve performance. Understanding how nitric oxide works and how to optimize its production is essential for any athlete. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of nitric oxide for athletes and discuss how you can increase your body's production of this vital molecule.
What Exactly Is Nitric Oxide Anyway?
Outside of the body, nitric oxide is a gas. However, when it's inside the body, it functions as a signaling molecule. That means it helps to relay messages between cells.
It is synthesized in the body from the amino acid L-arginine and is produced in large amounts in the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels.
Once it's been synthesized, nitric oxide diffuses out of these endothelial cells and into the smooth muscle cells that surround the blood vessels.
When nitric oxide binds to receptors on these smooth muscle cells, it causes them to relax. This relaxation results in the widening of the blood vessels, a process known as vasodilation.
It was only in the 1970s that nitric oxide's benefit in the body became evident when researchers studying a medication used to treat angina observed that the drug was broken down in the nitric oxide molecule.
Today, it is known to be more than just a signaling molecule, as it can even be considered a neurotransmitter, extending its impressive list of benefits in the body.
Benefits of Nitric Oxide
There are an absurd number of nitric oxide benefits, so to keep things moving along nicely, we will focus on the ones that are most noteworthy.
There are many benefits of improving circulation by itself. In terms of enhancing your athletic performance, better circulation means more oxygen and nutrients are being delivered to your muscles.
All of these things are music to any athlete's ears.
The reason nitric oxide is so effective at improving circulation is that it causes vasodilation or the widening of the blood vessels.
This allows more blood to flow through the vessels and reach the muscles. But it doesn't end with the delivery of nutrients and oxygen.
Waste compounds also need to be removed at a faster rate in this case. And nitric oxide accomplishes that as well. Could you imagine the inability to remove the byproducts of metabolism as the rate-limiting step in performance? That would be a horrendous outcome.
Boosted Immune System
Your immune system is your first line of defense against illness and infection. When it's functioning properly, it can help you stay healthy and perform at your best.
Nitric oxide plays a key role in boosting the immune system. In fact, it's so important that a lack of nitric oxide has been linked to a number of autoimmune diseases.
While the full mechanisms are not yet understood, it is believed that nitric oxide helps to regulate the activity of certain immune cells and mediators.
It also helps to increase blood flow to the area of infection or injury. This allows the immune system to more quickly and effectively remove pathogens and heal the body.
Inflammation is a necessary process in the body. It helps to fight off infection and heal injured tissue.
However, chronic inflammation can be detrimental to your health. It has been linked to a number of diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease.
Nitric oxide has anti-inflammatory effects in the body. It does this by inhibiting the production of certain inflammatory mediators.
Combined with its immune-stimulating properties, it can promote rapid healing while reducing the risk of chronic inflammation.
Improved Brain Function
Almost any supplement you come across these days purported to help with brain function will contain L-arginine or a related compound. Why is this? It is because this amino acid is a direct precursor of nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide plays a number of important roles in the brain. It helps to regulate neurotransmitter activity, blood flow, and cerebral metabolism.
It has also been shown to protect neurons from damage and death. All of these things contribute to improved brain function.
Plus, it purportedly improves focus and concentration by virtue of its ability to enhance the blood flow to parts of the brain which are responsible for these functions.
This can help keep you on target during your exercise session, especially if you find yourself lacking the mental focus to do so from time to time.
Enhanced Sexual Function
Male enhancement supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry. Performance is on every man's mind. Not surprisingly, the ability to enhance blood flow is seen as a major benefit.
Nitric oxide has been shown to improve blood flow and enhance erectile function in men. It does this by relaxing the smooth muscles in the penile arteries, allowing for increased blood flow.
Specifically, an area of spongy tissue known as the corpus cavernosum needs to be flooded with ample blood to facilitate erectile potency.
Making nitric oxide is essential to this process.
It's also important for female sexual function. Nitric oxide helps to increase blood flow to the clitoris, which can enhance arousal and lead to more satisfying sexual encounters.
Improved Growth Hormone Production
There is seemingly no end in sight to the benefits that can be had from increased nitric oxide levels. This translates to more growth hormone as well.
We previously covered growth hormone in detail in a previous blog post, but in short, it is beneficial for both muscle growth and fat loss.
Nitric oxide has been shown to increase growth hormone production in both men and women. It does this by stimulating the release of Growth Hormone Releasing Hormone (GHRH) from the hypothalamus.
This, in turn, leads to increased secretion of growth hormone from the pituitary gland.
Growth hormone is released in a pulsatile fashion early in the morning, at night, and during sleep (along with following exercise). Taking advantage of these natural spikes can boost your efforts.
So if you're looking to improve your body composition, nitric oxide just might give you the edge you need.
How To Increase Nitric Oxide
While nitric oxide is produced naturally by the body, the amount is typically finite and diminishes with age. For example, it is estimated that when we are 40 years old, our bodies produce 50% as much as when we were 20; that number is reduced to 25% at age 70.
As a result, it is usually a good idea to seek out methods to enhance the natural production of this important molecule.
This is fairly doable and can be accomplished with a combination of lifestyle, dietary and supplemental interventions.
Pomegranate is rich in polyphenols, which have been shown to increase nitric oxide production.
Polyphenols work by inhibiting the breakdown of an enzyme known as nitric oxide synthase (NOS). This enzyme is responsible for the production of nitric oxide itself from L-arginine.
Inhibiting NOS breakdown, therefore, leads to increased levels of nitric oxide. This is the basis by which many nitric oxide supplements work as well.
Pomegranate also contains high levels of L-arginine, which is a direct precursor to nitric oxide. So it's a two-for-one deal in terms of boosting nitric oxide production.
Pomegranate juice, or a high quality superfood powder like Field of Greens is perfect for getting more of this potent NO booster in your diet.
Beetroot has been gaining a lot of popularity in recent years owing to its ability to improve exercise performance.
This is largely due to its dietary nitrate content. Nitrates are converted into nitric oxide in the body, which leads to increased blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles.
This improved blood flow and oxygenation can help delay fatigue and improve exercise performance.
In some circles, it is being compared to creatine because of its endurance and performance-boosting properties, although it works quite differently.
The best, and easiest approach is to combine beetroot juice with creatine and ATP.
Garlic + Vitamin C
We don't need to sing the many praises about Vitamin C, as it is well established as anti-oxidant and immune supporting agent, but did you know that when combined with garlic, it can be a potent nitric oxide booster?
The two work in synergy, with Vitamin C working to recycle used nitric oxide back into its active form and garlic helping to elevate nitric oxide production by virtue of increased NOS expression.
It is also being used to help manage high blood pressure thanks to this action.
Leafy greens are a rich source of organic dietary nitrates, which as we previously mentioned, are converted into nitric oxide in the body.
So by eating leafy greens, you are effectively increasing your nitric oxide stores. Nitrates from dietary sources are generally considered to be safer and more bioavailable than supplements.
Greens are also rich in other nutrients that support health, so it's a win-win all around.
L-arginine is known as the prototypical nitric oxide boosting agent, as it is the necessary precursor to its production.
It should make sense, after all, that increasing the intake of this amino acid would yield increased nitric oxide production.
It has been shown to be effective in a variety of different populations, from healthy young adults all the way to the elderly.
However, it has since been surpassed by the amino acid L-citrulline, which is mentioned below.
L-citrulline is actually a superior precursor to nitric oxide production, owing to the fact that much more remains structurally intact.
For comparison, over 70% of consumed arginine is broken down by the liver upon ingestion, unable to yield its effects.
Citrulline, however, does not undergo this extent of metabolism. Afteringestion, it still needs to be converted into arginine before it can be used to make nitric oxide.
However, the fact that so much more survives the journey through the digestive system and liver means that it is far more effective at increasing nitric oxide levels.
This is why it has been shown to be more effective than arginine itself.
Watermelon is an excellent natural source of L-citrulline if you want to give it a try.
Exercise is one of the best tools to naturally boost your nitric oxide levels. Not only does the increased heart rate associated with physical activity great for cardiovascular health, but it also helps to increase nitric oxide production.
This is because exercise increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, which leads to increased nitric oxide synthase activity.
This results in more nitric oxide being produced, which then leads to increased blood flow and improved muscle function.
Plus, another key indicator of healthy nitric oxide production is blood vessel flexibility, as they must be capable of dilating in response to an increased need for blood supply in a pinch.
Blood vessels that are inflexible might have other issues such as atherosclerosis, calcified deposits of another cardiovascular disorder.
Nitric oxide is a crucial molecule for the proper function of many systems in the body, from the nervous to the cardiovascular system.
It is important for maintaining blood pressure, blood vessel flexibility, and healthy blood flow. It also supports cognitive function and immune health.
If you are an athlete, its benefits can mean increased performance, improved endurance, and quicker recovery times.
Fortunately, there are many ways to increase nitric oxide levels naturally. These include exercise, dietary changes, and supplementation.
It becomes ever more important to actively try and increase natural nitric oxide production as we age, as diminishing levels strongly correlate with morbidity and mortality.
In reality, ensuring this signalling molecule is able to function at optimal levels is the best thing you can do to maintain a good quality of life.