In the supplement world, we refer to NO, Nitric Oxide, as though the products in the space are the very definition of the words. Possibly because the first nitric oxide supplement introduced commercially in 2002, from MRI (Medical Research Institute), was called NO2. To this day, the majority of products in the category use NO or Nitric Oxide in the product name. Ironic, as these supplements in no way contain nitric oxide.
Let’s take a closer look at nitric oxide. We’ll discuss what a nitric oxide supplement is, its benefits, and we’ll give you our picks for the best nitric oxide supplements. Let’s get started!
The Real Nitric Oxide And A Nobel Prize
Nitric oxide is a gas first discovered way back in 1772 by a chemist named Joseph Priestly. NO is a simple molecule consisting of just one atom of oxygen and one atom of nitrogen, and until the 1970s was considered an atmospheric pollutant. It wasn’t until 1977 when a chemist researching nitroglycerine discovered that it released nitric oxide. (Note: nitroglycerin is given to patients for heart conditions like angina to promote vasodilation and reduce blood pressure). In 1986 Louis Ignarro discovered that nitric oxide played an essential role in regulating certain biological functions in humans, garnering Ignarro and his associates the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology in 1998.
Since 1998 NO has been the title of some 31,000 scientific papers and has been mentioned in more than 65,000 articles. This tiny molecule plays a role in cardiovascular health, helps keep blood vessels healthy, and regulates blood pressure. It is essential in other bodily systems such as the immune and nervous systems, and in certain chronic conditions like inflammation.
L-Arginine And Nitric Oxide
During their studies, researchers discovered that the body synthesizes L-arginine into nitric oxide in the body. L-arginine is an amino acid found in red meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products – it is also produced in a laboratory to be used as a medicine or a supplement. In medicine, this amino is used to treat heart disease, erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure, and narrowing of blood vessels. L-arginine also stimulates the release of growth hormone, insulin, and other substances in the body.
With its many benefits, it wasn’t long before a NO-stimulating product was formulated and entered into the nutritional supplement world. As mentioned in our intro, in 2002, Ed Byrd, the founder of MRI, introduced NO2 for vasodilation for athletic performance. Byrd was also one of the founders of EAS (Experimental and Applied Sciences), where he introduced the first creatine monohydrate product, Phosphagen.
What Is A Nitric Oxide Supplement?
Now that we understand that nitric oxide is a gas, we turn to what makes a nitric oxide boosting supplement. NO products are a category of supplements featuring L-arginine and L-citrulline designed to induce vasodilation and stimulate the release of insulin and growth hormone. L-citrulline, like L-arginine, is an amino acid you can source through diet in foods such as meat, nuts, legumes, and watermelons. And, like L-arginine, citrulline can be made in a laboratory. Another ingredient gaining popularity in the NO category is beetroot. Beetroot features natural nitrates, believed to help enhance NO levels.
Vasodilation refers to the dilation of your blood vessels, i.e., your blood vessels become wider to increase blood flow to the muscles and lower blood pressure. Some theorize that this increased blood flow also brings more oxygen to the muscles, which may improve athletic performance and lessen delayed onset muscle soreness.
Most nitric oxide products are pre-workout products, intended to be taken shortly before physical activity. The most comprehensive pre-workouts will usually include ingredients to invoke vasodilation, an energy component, a mental focus ingredient, beta-alanine to improve performance, and many include a form of creatine.
The goal for these pre-workouts, well, they all mention strength gains, stamina, endurance, vascularity, and of course, the pump – the mind-blowing muscle pump.
The outlier in the category is the beetroot trend. This ingredient is included in some pre-workout formulas; however, when sold as a stand-alone ingredient, the focus is on general wellness, heart health, circulation, and healthy blood pressure levels, rather than athletic performance.
Nitric Oxide Benefits And Supplementation
There are three primary targets in nitric oxide boosting supplements:
- Athletic performance, strength gains, and muscle gains
- Sexual performance, for those with symptoms of E.D. erectile dysfunction
- General health, heart health, and blood pressure
The greatest number of products in the space are the pre-workouts; virtually every sports nutrition company in the business has at least one pre-workout, and many have more than one and in various forms such as powders, capsules, and ready-to-drink. Let’s take the national sports nutrition brand Cellucor. Their C4 pre-workout has been a best-seller for years, and they’ve extended the line. C4 is now available as:
- C4 Original
- C4 Ripped Formula
- C4 Extreme Formula
- C4 Ultimate Formula
The products come in the original powder form, or as a ready-to-drink, or the C4 Shred capsule. The powders and the On-the-Go RTDs come in an assortment of various flavors.
Another popular, national brand, Pro Supps, has two distinct brands of pre-workout, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and they also come in powder or ready-to-drink.
Then there are those NO products explicitly marketed for sexual performance, like GNC’s ArginMax. When specialty retailers private label an item, you can be sure the category is sufficiently significant to warrant the investment.
As we mentioned, the stand-alone beetroot products take a different approach to NO boosting. We’ll be sure to include at least one beetroot product in our “Best Of” segment.
Do Nitric Oxide Supplements Really Work?
The short answer is “Yes,” a nitric oxide supplement will improve blood flow. Research shows that both L-citrulline and L-arginine increase levels of nitric oxide. As to the purported product claims of mind-blowing pumps, that’s a bit trickier. Studies show that nitric oxide boosters may improve athletic performance in some people but see little to no improvement in elite athletes.
On the E.D. front, there is clinical evidence that a combination of citrulline and arginine, or citrulline and pycnogenol (a plant extract from the pine tree), may improve sexual performance. Recent research seems to indicate that citrulline is the more efficacious ingredient in nitric oxide synthesis, a trend we see in newer NO formulations.
It seems that nitrates, found in beetroot and dark leafy vegetables, have some of the best clinical evidence of efficacy in addressing blood pressure.
So, will an NO supplement work for you? It depends on your reason for taking the supplement.
Nitric Oxide Supplement Alternatives
We’ve mentioned in this article the source of nitric oxide boosting L-arginine, and L-citrulline, so obviously diet is one way to improve your nitric oxide levels. When you consider the effectiveness of the nitrates in beetroot, diet could play an even more critical role. Here is a list of nitric oxide boosting foods:
- Beets (of course)
- Leafy Greens
- Dark Chocolate
- Nuts and Seeds
- Citrus Fruits
Another strategy to increase NO is exercise, getting the blood flowing, and eating a diet high in antioxidants or supplementing with antioxidants.
Our Picks For The Best Nitric Oxide Supplements
When picking the best nitric oxide supplements, regardless of the targeted benefit, we followed the following criteria:
- We sought products with the correct ingredients to boost NO; L-citrulline, L-arginine, beetroot, etc.
- Transparency was essential – products which listed the dosage of each ingredient and used the appropriate dosage of the key ingredients
- We ensured the products are manufactured in a certified cGMP facility (Good Manufacturing Practices)
- We looked for companies and brands that have independent third-party testing for quality-assurance
Here are our picks for your consideration. Note: we have no bias or affiliation with any of these products.
Cellucor NO3 Chrome
One of our top picks for best nitric oxide supplements is Cellucor NO3 Chrome. This supplement is designed to help you achieve maximum, long-lasting pumps to promote more muscle gains. It includes NO3 in the form of Arginine Nitrate, which is a fusion of two powerful ingredients – L-Arginine and Nitrate. It also contains Nitrosigine to boost NO levels and promote better blood flow. Additionally, Cellucor NO3 Chrome is creatine and stimulant free.GET THE BEST PRICE ON CELLUCOR NO3 CHROME
Pre Jym, From Jym Supplement Science
Formulated by Jim Stoppani, Ph.D. This brand, originally introduced on BodyBuilding.com exclusively, is now available online and in brick and mortar retailers. No proprietary blends, efficacious ingredients at the appropriate dosages, cGMP certified facility, as Dr. Jim likes to say, no BS. For nitric oxide uptake, a full six grams of Citrulline Malate, per clinical research studies.GET THE BEST PRICE ON PRE JYM
C4, From Cellucor
The original pre-workout and still one of our favorites, C4 Original. A comprehensive formula with Beta-Alanine, Creatine, and Arginine. Okay, so there is a proprietary Energy Blend, but the dosages are properly listed for the key active ingredients. C4 represents one of the better values in the category.GET THE BEST PRICE ON CELLUCOR C4
BeetElite, From HumanN Nutrition
For those seeking a pre-workout without the stimulants and other more aggressive sports nutrition type ingredients, there is BeetElite. BeetElite is a nitric oxide booster containing non-GMO beetroot powder delivering the equivalent of six whole beets. This HumanN product is also Informed-Sport certified, checking one of our boxes for third party testing, and assuring you BeetElite is free of any banned substances.
HumanN also performed clinical trials on BeetElite, showing it to be effective in allowing participants to work out longer and recover faster.
We admire HumanN’s approach within the natural products industry, and to the nitric oxide category. They offer a variety of products, including another beet product called SuperBeets. The company, formerly Neogenis Labs, introduced Neo 40 to the market in 2011, and it quickly became one of the leading nitric oxide products. The product was developed in partnership with the University of Texas Health Science Center’s NO Discovery Program.GET THE BEST PRICE ON BEETELITE
Neo40 Daily, From HumanN Nutrition
Our choice for an NO product addressing general health, heart health, and blood pressure is Neo40 Daily. This gluten-free, keto-friendly, non-GMO product was clinically studied in a random, double-blinded, placebo-controlled research study and proved effective in lowering blood pressure levels in participants.
We confess Neo40 does contain a proprietary formula including Beet Root Powder, Hawthorne Berry, L-citrulline, and Sodium Nitrate. We deviate in this instance as Neo40 has become the most prescribed nitric oxide supplement by doctors in the U.S. today.GET THE BEST PRICE ON NEO40 DAILY
Stacking Nitric Oxide With Other Supplements
Most NO products for the sports nutrition market already have a combination of ingredients for energy, focus, etc. Both L-arginine and L-citrulline are sold as stand-alone products. Should you opt to take the independent route, you can certainly stack either with creatine, glutamine, caffeine for energy, beta-alanine, or a myriad of other ingredients.
We believe there is sufficient science to recommend incorporating a nitric oxide enhancing product into your regimen. There is ample evidence of its usefulness in increasing blood flow, whether you opt for L-arginine, L-citrulline, beetroot, or pycnogenol.