What Is Nitric Oxide? What You Need to Know About NO

By now you’ve surely heard of these so-called “Nitric Oxide” products that claim to do just about everything. Anytime I read or hear about a new product that sounds too good to be true, I usually wait till studies emerge that say “this product isn’t worth it.” Sadly, more often than not, this is exactly what happens.

In the world of supplements it’s easy to be a skeptic, so when we were introduced to these Nitric Oxide boosting products a few years ago we took a wait and see approach. Well, after several years and a number of published studies, I’m comfortable saying that Nitric Oxide boosting supplements should have a place in every serious lifter’s program, including yours.

Brief Introduction to the “Pump”

Some would say that nothing is more satisfying than having a muscle swell with blood during an intense workout. For decades this sensation has been called “The Pump.” It’s a feeling that one famous Ex-Governor of California considered to be the most enjoyable part of working out.

Now whether you agree with his premise or not is a matter of personal opinion. We’re not here to assign rank to the pleasure scale; instead I’d like to discuss the physiological merits of achieving a pump during your workout.


The widening of blood vessels, including veins.

Though the Governator gave a great layman’s definition of what happens when you have a pump in your muscles, let’s dig a little deeper. The clinical term for a pump is Vasodilatation, which is simply the widening of blood vessels, including veins, that allows for more blood flow.

The marketing of products that promote increased blood flow is generally based on the assumptions that increased blood flow to exercising muscles will enable:

  • Increased levels of work output
  • Increased resistance to fatigue with submaximal levels of work
  • Increased recovery following exercise training

So the most logical question at this point would be: How exactly do I increase blood flow? Let me introduce you to Nitric Oxide. What is nitric oxide? No, it’s not the stuff Vin Diesel made famous pumping into his intake manifold (that’s Nitrous Oxide) in The Fast and the Furious. Nitric Oxide, or NO for short, is a gaseous signaling molecule that plays a role in a variety of biological processes and was named 1992’s Molecule of the Year which is like People’s Sexiest Man Alive for molecules. Where you at now Nitrous Oxide?

It’s this basic molecule that holds the keys to getting a great pump. So let’s take a look at what NO is, what it does, and why you should be supplementing with products that increase NO production.

What is Nitric Oxide?

NO is a compound made up of one nitrogen atom and one oxygen atom. In order for the body to create NO, it commonly relies on precursors or boosters such as the amino acid arginine and a family of enzymes called Nitric Oxide Synthase (NOS).


Accelerate (a reaction) by increasing the rate of a chemical reaction.

When arginine is Catalyzed by NOS enzyme the result produces NO and citrulline (another amino acid). Now citrulline can be recycled into arginine with the help of yet another amino acid called aspartic acid. So if your goal is to maximize NO production in your body, taking a combination of the three of these amino acids would be recommended.

What Does Nitric Oxide Do?

NO commutes freely from cell to cell in your body, and has several functions within the body’s nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems including:

  • Acting as an intracellular messenger
  • Regulating cardiac function
  • Improving neurotransmission

For the purposes of this article we’ll look at NO as an intracellular messenger and it’s role in vasodilatation.

How Does Nitric Oxide Work?

Endothelial Cells:

Cells that make up the lining of blood vessels.

Nitric Oxide is produced within the Endothelial Cells that line the inside of blood vessels. When the endothelial cell is stimulated (aka a muscle contraction) it synthesizes and releases NO. Once released, NO diffuses across the endothelial cell membrane into the adjacent smooth muscle tissue of the blood vessels, causing vasodilatation. The result is an increase in blood flow to the stimulated area, which ultimately causes your muscles to get pumped.

If you’ve ever tried watering your lawn with a kink in the hose; then you know what it’s like to work out with insufficient NO production. Increasing Nitric Oxide is similar to releasing the kink in the hose where it immediately magnifies the flow.

So does this mean getting a pump is important? The short answer is yes! Increased blood flow is not only a satisfying physical stimulation, but it stalls the inevitable decline in muscle function and performance during high intensity activity.

The flow of blood is the body’s primary transportation system. It’s responsible for shuttling nutrients (such as amino acids, creatine, and glucose) to the muscles, which are necessary for energy production, growth, and recovery. Furthermore, oxygen rich blood flushes away lactic acid and carbon dioxide (the after-effects of energy metabolism), which normally fatigue the muscle and impede performance.

How to Amplify Nitric Oxide Production

At this point I’m sure you’re sick of the science and ready to learn how to use this stuff.

When used as a pre-workout booster, I’d recommend taking these three products 30-60 minutes prior to exercise on an empty stomach.

  • 3-6 g Arginine
  • 1-3 g Citrulline
  • 1-3 g Aspartic Acid

On a side note, NO production is limited by the availability of NOS enzymes, which are severely depleted in the catalyzation of arginine (in high amounts).

Therefore, you may consider stacking products that increase the activity and amount of NOS available to catalyze arginine. Two such products are:

  • 50-100 mg French Maritime Pine Tree Bark Extract (marketed as the trade name Pycnogenol®)
  • 500-1,000 mg American Ginseng

So if getting bigger, stronger, and recovering faster sound like results that you’re looking for then considering supplementing with one or more of the aforementioned products to stimulate maximum NO production!

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