What does nitric oxide do for working out?

By Ismana Webster
Oct 12 2022

What does nitric oxide do for working out?

You’ve seen it splashed across a pre-workout tub ‘’boosts nitric oxide, totes awesome’’, or you’ve heard people going on about nitric oxide supplements at the gym, and now you’re wondering – what does nitric oxide do for working out? 

Nitric oxide is a gas, and before you head down to the race track to start siphoning drag cars, it should not be confused with nitrous oxide – the stuff they put in the cars to make them go voom voom fast. Nitric oxide is one molecule of nitrogen, one molecule of oxygen, nitrous oxide is two molecules of nitrogen, one oxygen, and definitely not advised to fuel the human body with – save it for the cars!

The body produces its own nitric oxide, and while you can’t get a nitric oxide supplement, you can supplement compounds your body can use to make it, and adjust your nutrition to enable your body to produce more.

There are manyworkout-enhancing benefits to increasing nitric oxide production. It can help increase blood flow, alleviate muscle soreness by improving oxygen and nutrient supplies to muscle cells, increase performance and stamina for both lifting and cardio, and improve energy levels. Let’s take a closer look at how nitric oxide can boost your workouts and overall health.

Reduced fatigue levels when working out and boosted performance

So now we know nitric oxide increases blood flow to get more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. Not only does this aid recovery, it also helps reduce fatigue levels during physical activity, improving exercise performance – meaning you’ll be able to lift more intensely or run further (or whatever else) before lactic acid build-up becomes an uncomfortable issue – when you start to feel that burn that’s when the working muscles are depleted of oxygen. 

More blood and oxygen to your muscles translates to better performance, and research has shown that nitric oxide supplements do indeed improve exercise performance – particularly for endurance athletes.

Help with breathing

Nitric oxide improves blood flow in the areas of the lungs that are getting air by dilating blood vessels and the airways to the lungs, and can help steady your breathing and heart rate during Crossfit, running, or other high-intensity or endurance activities.

Studies have also shown that nitric oxide plays a crucial role in signaling red blood cells to release oxygen to the body’s tissues.

What does nitric oxide do for working out

Try this next time you’re getting out of breath on a run, bike ride, or mid-Crossfit workout:

Close your mouth, breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 mississippis. Make sure it’s a nice big belly breath – let your stomach expand.

Hold your breath for a count of 4.

Breathe out either through your nose, mouth, or even while humming for another count of 4. 

Feel better? Breathing easier? More relaxed? Heart rate dropped a smidge? Pretty good, right?

Our nasal membranes produce nitric oxide, and slow box breathing through the nose in this method helps increase uptake into our bodies, lowers blood pressure, increases oxygen transportation to tissues and muscles, and gas exchange in the lungs.

Nose-breathing to increase nitric oxide benefits you in more ways than just calming your breathing and enhancing performance. It can also kill or inhibit bacteria and viruses in your airways, which inhaling through the mouth will not do.

Increased blood flow = increased recovery

Nitric oxide is a vasodilator. It expands blood vessels which in turn increases blood circulation, which means trained muscles receive more oxygen and nutrients, and waste products are taken away more efficiently.

Increase in blood flow and muscle repair due to higher nitric oxide levels also decreases muscle soreness, getting you ready to smash your next workout session sooner.

Temperature regulation

A nitric oxide supplement could help regulate your body temperature, particularly while working out. Our body temperature naturally fluctuates throughout the day, and when we work out we raise our body temperature even more, nitric oxide has been proven to help with thermoregulation, meaning it will help you stay cooler and have more energy during your workout as you aren’t struggling with overheating. Obviously, this does not mean you won’t sweat or get too hot, particularly in summer, but every little helps, right? 

The pump

One of the benefits of nitric oxide is better oxygen delivery to muscles and increased blood flow. For those of you who love chasing ‘the pump’ in the gym, making your muscles look twice as big as usual then doing some flexin’ and posing in the mirror, if you increase nitric oxide, you also increase your pump. This doesn’t really have any particular extra benefits to your workouts, but it’s fun, makes you feel good, and might go ways to helping you stay motivated at the gym.

Nitric oxide supplements for weight loss

We are now learning that nitric oxide plays a big part in the regulation of metabolism and body composition. 

L-Arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide and can be taken as a supplement. In research, it has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity – the body’s ability to process glucose (sugars from carbs), leading to increased fat-burning potential. What does this mean for workouts? Well, if your blood glucose uptake is increased, you use glycogen stores up quicker, then your body starts to burn fat for energy instead. 

L-arginine has also been linked to increased energy expenditure – and more calories burnt means more fat loss!

Not only that, but low nitric oxide activity has been commonly observed in obese individuals, and supplements to help stimulate nitric oxide production have been shown to increase metabolism, help with insulin resistance, and produce positive changes to body composition.

Nitric oxide and blood pressure

People with high blood pressure are likely to have impaired ability to process nitric oxide in their bodies. Taking nitric oxide supplements such as l citrulline or l-arginine, and eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables can help lower blood pressure. 

Nitrate in particular (from certain vegetables) has been found effective in reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Ok, sounds great, how do I increase my nitric oxide then?

The two main supplements to increase nitric oxide are amino acids, l arginine, and l citrulline. L citrulline is the most effective, as it converts to l arginine so you get the best of both worlds.

Exercise stimulates nitric oxide release from endothelial cells, so exercising can make you better at exercising! Who knew?!

Another way to increase nitric oxide in the body is through nutrition: 

  • Opt for dark leafy greens – Arugula, spinach, cress, kale.
  • Add beets – or even better, beet juice, to your diet – as long as you don’t mind pink pee!
  • Enjoy some citrus fruits.
  • Add garlic to your cooking (you should be doing that anyway as it makes everything extra tasty).
  • Have some guilt-free dark chocolate! It’s for health reasons so do the calories even count?
  • Nuts and seeds are high in arginine.

Who shouldn’t try to increase their nitric oxide?

If you have low blood pressure, cirrhosis, or have had a heart attack or kidney disease, nitric oxide supplements are one you should probably give a miss. 

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