Interested in boosting your physical performance, your brain power, your general health and your energy levels? In this case, there are few ingredients in your diet more important than nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a substance that is highly important for athletes and for anyone that wants to perform their best in the gym and it has countless other benefits besides.
This is a nootropic, a performance enhancer and a health panacea all in one. So how does it work and more importantly, how can you raise it?
What Exactly is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric oxide is a molecule with a range of important functions in our bodies. One of the most important and well-known however is to facilitate and encourage ‘vasodilation’. This is the widening of blood vessels (veins and arteries) to improve the flow of blood and oxygen around the body and to the muscles.
The wider your veins become as you train, the more you will get the sensation of ‘pump’ and the more you will supply your body with the crucial nutrients and energy it needs to continue performing effeciently. By increasing nitric oxide, you deliver more oxygen to your brain and muscles. This is why athletes are so interested in it and it’s why nootropics (smart drugs) like vinpocetine or ginkgo biloba are so popular.
Nitric oxide also has a number of highly beneficial properties too. For one, it can lower blood pressure – of course by opening up the blood vessels. It also plays important roles in bone health, kidney function, sleep and sexual health – Viagra works via nitric oxide for instance!
Nitric oxide also benefits the muscles through a secondary mechanism by increasing the presence of satellite cells. Satellite cells are cells that live in proximity to the muscles and that are called into action to repair muscle damage and thereby to help muscles grow back thicker and stronger following a workout that causes microtears.
Nitric oxide also has interesting roles in the brain, working as a neurotransmitter that is thought to play a big role in ‘waking up’ the brain first thing in the morning.
How to Raise Nitric Oxide
So with all that said, how do you raise nitric oxide? One of the easiest options available is to raise it through your diet, in which case, you will need to seek out foods high in nitrates. Nitrates are converted into nitritines on the tongue and nitritines are then turned into nitric oxide in the gut by the gut flora (friendly bacteria living in your stomach).
There are several different foods and supplements that can deliver these results, here are a few of our favorite nitrate rich foods:
Beetroot juice is among the most effective food items for increasing nitric oxide and can also increase energy in a number of other ways, by enhancing the function of the mitochondria (energy factories in our cells) for example.
Beetroot juice is so potent in fact, that many people describe it as being almost like a performance enhancing drug. In one study, it was found that beetroot juice could improve athletic performance by 3% in activities that involved 5-30 minutes of exertion. 3% might not sound like a lot, but it is definitely enough to make a big difference on the race track and could be the difference between a gold medal and not placing at all.
To get these effects, consume the beetroot juice around 2-2.5 hours prior to exercise and in quantities of around 500-600ml. You can make the juice either from fresh beets or from a beetroot powder extract like OptiBeet.
Garlic + Vitamin C
Another very effective way to hike up your nitric oxide levels is by simply combining garlic and vitamin C. Garlic is very high in nitrates and adding vitamin C appears to protect the nitric oxide molecules that get created as a result. It’s also true that antioxidants like vitamin C are capable of raising nitric oxide on their own, so when you combine the two, you get an impressive synergistic effect.
In one study, it was found that this combination could raise nitric oxide by as much as 200% and that it might be more effective than some over-the-counter medications!
Dark chocolate has a host of benefits that include brain boosting and muscle building properties. As well as these other functions though, it also simply increases nitric oxide and thereby boosts vasodilation. It was found in one study that consuming 30g of dark chocolate per day could raise nitrates by as much as 54% in just 15 days! Subsequent studies have gone on to link this with increased cognitive performance.
If you were to combine all three of these nitric oxide foods, then you could expect to see some serious increases in your nitric oxide.
Others Nitrate Rich Foods
There are many others too though. One is arugula lettuce, which isn’t terribly tasty but sure does raise NO. Another is spinach, which will go great with some scrambled egg for your breakfast. Spinach also comes with handy sterols and phytoecdysteroids, so it’s one to keep an eye on. Celery and iceberg lettuce can also further the cause.
Failing this, of course another option is to use a supplement. There are plenty of supplements out there that will boost your nitric oxide levels and many of these are packed into preworkouts with the promise of increasing your visible vascularity (a desirable thing for bodybuilder-types) and helping you to get a greater sensation of ‘pump’. These also tend to contain a lot of other ingredients too, which include caffeine (lots of caffeine) and things like bitter orange. It’s important to do your research, as some of these are a little too stimulatory and can leave you feeling a bit too jittery and dried out once you get into the gym.
As with so many of these things, it’s a matter of finding what works for you and what you can afford. To be honest though, a simple glass of beet juice is pretty hard to beat. (No pun intended!)