A History of Nitric Oxide and Bodybuilding

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Nitric Oxide or NO has been the focus of many supplement companies. It’s a molecule made up of nitrogen and oxygen, two atoms that have various functions in the body. NO in particular is very special. NO can rival even the most chemically elaborate anti-hypertensive drugs with regards to vasodilation or blood vessel expansion.

Nitric Oxide and Bodybuilding – A History

It’s hard to trace how the world of bodybuilding became enamored with Nitric Oxide. Its rise in popularity may have been postulated by several different people when the effects of NO was first discovered in Nitroglycerine. As a medication, nitroglycerine was first discovered by Ascanio Sobrero. A small amount of nitroglycerine produced violent headaches. Usually, headaches occur due to extreme vascular changes, in particular the veins and arteries found in the head.

Nitroglycerine was used in 1851 to help people with Angina as it greatly expanded and relaxed blood vessels to the heart. Amyl nitrite was another nitric oxide medication that acted like a powerful vasodilator. But it would take decades till we learned exactly why nitroglycerine seemed to work so well. In 1977, Ferrid Murad was able to discover that nitroglycerine produced Nitric oxide or NO and was found to be responsible for its action on vascular smooth tissue. The current nitroglycerin medication right now is Glycerol trinitrate but pure nitroglycerine is still used.

The use of nitroglycerine in bodybuilding had varied results. In fact, it’s not advised that you use nitroglycerine while working out as the medication can cause a severe drop in blood pressure for healthy individuals. Small doses of as little as 5 milligrams can plunge a healthy 120/80 blood pressure to 60/40, a blood pressure level that can make any one faint. Nitroglycerine medications are not safe for bodybuilding, which is why you don’t see supplement companies adding it to their products.

However, bodybuilders and athletes persisted in looking for ways to increase nitric oxide in the body without resorting to Nitroglycerine use. Thus sparked the creation of NO supplements!

How Nitric Oxide Supplements Work

nitric oxide vasodilation

Nitric Oxide Molecules Expanding a Blood Vessel

Contrary to what most people think, a nitric oxide supplement is not pure NO. In fact, it’s not safe to take a pure dose of NO because it is readily absorbable and causes a severe drop in blood pressure. An amount as low as 5 mg is enough to drop your blood pressure, and unfortunately, 5 mg of NO or nitroglycerine is rapidly removed in the body.

This means 5 mg can have peak times of 15 to 30 minutes. That time frame would only cover your warm up and won’t even last throughout your workout. Doses of 10 mg and above might be tempting but NO levels of this dosage will be more than enough to kill with severe hypotension. The race for an NO supplement that can be sustained for hours without a severe drop in blood pressure occurred in the 90’s, as many companies extolled the virtues of nitric oxide as a pre workout supplement.

NO and Arginine – Popular Pre workout NO supplement

The safest way to increase NO in the body is to use nitric oxide precursors. Technically, NO supplements today are NO precursors. The most popular NO supplement is Arginine. It was discovered that an L-arginine – NO pathway existed. The body makes use of Arginine to produce NO via NOS or nitric oxide synthase in endothelial cells. The NO then creates cGMP and the cGMP is responsible for smooth muscle cell relaxation.

nitric oxide

The L-Arginine – Nitric Oxide Pathway

However, Arginine is rapidly removed from the body with Arginase so most companies add in Norvaline to counter the enzyme. Still, Arginase isn’t enough because it’s bioavailability is low even with the anti-arginase effects of Norvaline.

Other Nitric Oxide Supplements

Other Nitric Oxide supplements include Citrulline and AAKG. You can find these two in many supplements. There are pure AAKG sources that you can add to existing pre workout supplements like Jack3d. Citrulline is actually a precursor to Arginine and is not affected by Arginase. Most companies mix Arginine, Citrulline and Norvaline for a sustained NO production.

Why is Nitric Oxide important in Bodybuilding?

nitric oxide vascularization

Muscular Vascularization with NO

Nitric oxide does not really increase your muscle mass and strength directly. In fact, the only thing it does is to expand your blood vessels. So why do supplement companies sell the stuff? The answer lies in blood supply. With NO, you can increase your blood supply to muscles even during workout. Blood supply is so important because you will be straining your muscles and the cells will be clamoring for oxygen and nutrients. Increase blood supply also washes away toxins produced during a workout.

An increased blood supply also leads to increased muscular growth as cells are bathed in nutrient rich blood. Many bodybuilders equate NO with muscle pumps or the feeling of well saturated muscles. It’s no wonder the tiny Nitric Oxide molecule has became so popular as a preworkout supplement.

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