It is not until recently that researchers in sports nutrition and exercise physiology fields started to pay more attention to nitric oxide and its role in the body. Regardless of your age or state of life, NO plays a major role in your cardiovascular health. The influence of nitric oxide in several physiological processes has inspired thousands of studies to understand its impact on enhanced performance and recovery. But what is nitric oxide and why is it important for a workout? This particular article will take a closer look at NO to help you understand what nitric oxide is and why you need it for your workouts.
A Little History of Nitric Oxide
Nitric Oxide, abbreviated as NO, is a gaseous molecule synthesized in various parts of the body. It is composed of one atom of Nitrogen bonded to an atom of Oxygen. It is one of the smallest and simplest molecules that was first identified as a gas by Joseph Priestly back in 1772. Back then, NO was classified as an air pollutant. Fast forward two centuries later, many scientific studies focused on investigating NO as a vital biological molecule and understanding mechanisms behind it have been carried out. A Nobel Prize in 1998 further raised awareness of the physiological importance of nitric acid. In the last two decades, 60k+ studies have been conducted on nitric acid.
Understanding Nitric Oxide
For some people, nitric oxide is the gas that makes us laugh when we pay the dentist a visit. To others, it is the fuel that racecar drivers use to boost their cars. I hate to break it down to you, but it’s neither of the two. For the uninitiated, nitric oxide is a vital molecule in the human physiology responsible for regulating muscle contractility, blood flow, neurotransmission and mitochondrial respiration. This highly reactive, diffusible and endogenous molecule is synthesized in every type of cell in the human body. It is released by the endothelium (inner layer) of blood vessels.
The anti-inflammatory nature of NO prevents white blood cells and platelets from sticking to the inner lining of blood vessels. This minimizes chances of blood clots and plaque accumulation.
As we grow older habits like poor diet, smoking, high cholesterol and inactivity cause our nitric oxide system and blood vessels to become less efficient. Blood vessels become less flexible leading to atherosclerosis, blood vessels inflammation and hypertension.
So What’s All the Hype About?
Research shows that the production of NO is dependent on the physical stimuli responsible for activating particular NO synthases. Increasing the production of NO has been proven to enhance athletic performance (better endurance, enhanced muscle pump and faster recovery).
Role of Nitric Oxide in Workouts
Besides being responsible for communication between body cells, nitric oxide plays a vital role in various cellular processes. Increasing NO is the new secret weapon for gym junkies and athletes. If you spend a lot of time shopping online, you have probably come across nitric oxide pre workout supplements. It is nitric oxide’s effect on energy and blood flow that has made it a popular sports supplement. More and more pro-athletes are now taking supplements with L-citrulline and L-arginine to enhance oxygen and blood flow to the skeletal muscle.
Decreased Fatigue and Quicker Recovery
Pro-athletes and bodybuilders utilize NO to get rid of exercise-induced lactic acid that causes fatigue and slow recovery during high-intensity workouts. Avoiding premature fatigue enables you to train for longer. This way, you can reap more gains from your exercise regimen.
To recover faster, your muscles need nutrients that will repair the damage caused by intense training. NO allows blood to flow through your muscles and surrounding tissues freely meaning the nutrients will be transported to the required areas. When you recover faster between workout sessions, you will be able to perform more weight training exercises.
Your mitochondria are your cells’ energy storehouses. They are found in nearly every cell in your body. Mitochondria are also your skeletal muscles energy source. The increased presence of NO signals your body to generate more mitochondria; a process scientifically referred to as mitochondrial biogenesis. This process is vital to keep up with increased energy requirements. Exercising puts your mitochondria at task to replicate themselves to address the increased energy requirements during intense workouts.
Promoting vasodilation is one of the core functions of nitric acid. As a vasodilator, NO relaxes (dilates) the inner muscles of blood vessels forcing them to widen. As a result, the molecule increases blood flow throughout the body and subsequently lowers blood pressure. Wider blood vessels enhance the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles when working out. Vasodilation also results in improved efficiency in the removal of waste products from working muscles.
Enhanced Glucose Uptake
During workouts, your performance and recovery determine how well your body takes glucose, stores it in the skeletal muscle as glycogen and utilizes it for energy. Research shows that NO plays a crucial role in glucose homeostasis. Increasing nitric oxide production will, therefore, offer more glycogen storage for increased energy synthesis. This will also result in quick recovery between training sessions.
How Do I Increase NO in My Body?
The most common and easiest way to increase NO is through exercise. Exercise accelerates blood flow which in turn stimulates the production of NO. When you lift free weights or run on the treadmill, your muscles require more oxygen. This oxygen is supplied by the blood. What follows is that your heart will pump harder to supply the muscles with the blood. Your arteries’ lining then releases NO into the blood to relax and widen the vessel wall. Wider vessels mean more blood will flow to the muscles.
To increase your NO, you should change your diet and lifestyle. Many people are beginning to comprehend why eating nutrients found in certain foods is an effective way to boost the body’s NO levels. Consume more amino acids L-citrulline and L-arginine. Arginine is readily available in beets, leafy green vegetables, dairy, fruits, nuts and other high-protein foods. It directly synthesizes NO and citrulline inside your body cells. The reaction is catalyzed by NO synthase enzyme (NOS). The citrulline is afterward recycled back into arginine. For best results, the enzymes tasked with the job of converting arginine into citrulline and vice versa should function optimally to enable efficient synthesis of NO. To protect such enzymes, ensure to consume antioxidants and healthy food like Vitamin C, soy, garlic, alpha lipoic acid and CoQ10.
It is worth mentioning that nitric acid lasts in your blood vessels for only 90 seconds, after which your body needs to manufacture more. The human body possesses the ability to regenerate NO every few hours. So it is important to provide as much antioxidant protection as possible.
Now you understand what Nitric Oxide really is and its role in enhancing athletic performance. The best way to maintaining a healthy level of Nitric Oxide is regularly exercising and sticking to a varied plant-based diet.
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