Nitric oxide supplements have been popular in the world of bodybuilding and athletics for over a decade. Early on, L-Arginine supplements were all the rage, as arginine is the amino acid the body uses to generate nitric oxide. But, due to the fact that free form L-Arginine offers terrible bioavailability in the body, researchers and supplement formulators have searched high and low for more effective compounds that can boost nitric oxide, thereby improving performance and generating massive muscle pumps.
One of the newest and most powerful sources of nitric oxide-boosting compounds is red spinach, believe it or not! Maybe Popeye and your mom were onto something all those years ago when they kept telling you to eat your greens.
Let’s dive a little deeper into what nitric oxide is and why you want more of it.
What is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric Oxide (NO) is an important signaling molecule that serves an essential role in numerous vital functions within the body. Aside from its pump and performance boosting benefits, nitric oxide is highly regarded by medical professionals as an important component of cardiovascular health and protection.
Included in the various functions nitric oxide participates in is:
•Regulating cell life & death •Nutrient delivery •Neurotransmission •Immune system response
What does Nitric Oxide do?
Nitric oxide is naturally produced in the endothelial cells lining the inside of your blood vessels, where it penetrates the underlying smooth muscles and acts as a powerful vasodilator that widens and relaxes the blood vessels and arteries. Due to this vasodilating action, nitric oxide plays a critical role in overall circulation as well as blood pressure and oxygen delivery. Furthermore, nitric oxide also protects the endothelium by combating oxidative stress and inflammation.
How the Body Generates Nitric Oxide
The human body is incredibly smart, and comes with not one, but two different pathways through which it can produce nitric oxide. The first and more well known of the pathways is the...
Arginine-Nitric Oxide Pathway
As we said up top, for a time, L-Arginine supplements were all the rage, as it was believed supplementing with free form arginine would increase blood levels of arginine. While this turned out to not really be the most effective means for boosting serum arginine levels, the amino acid arginine is still ultimately responsible for fueling nitric oxide production.
To generate nitric oxide, a two step process occurs where arginine reacts with oxygen to form nitric oxide plus citrulline (another prominent NO-boosting compound. But, there’s a little enzyme known as arginase that can upset nitric oxide synthesis.
Arginase is the enzyme that breaks down arginine in the body, converting it to ornithine and urea, which means no more pumps for you weightlifters out there. Now, there are certain supplements you can take to inhibit (stop) the actions of arginase, such as L-Norvaline or Agmatine, but don’t forget about the other nitric oxide-generating pathway in the body (and the one we’re really interested in when talking about red spinach!), which is the…
Nitrate-Nitrite-Nitric Oxide Pathway
The secondary (and possibly more powerful) pathway by which the body can produce nitric oxide is called the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. Nitrates (NO3-) ingested through food (like red spinach) are converted into nitrites (NO2-) by assorted bacteria naturally-occurring in your mouth. Nitrites are then further reduced to nitric oxide via the enzyme nitrite reductase, completely bypassing arginase and allowing for uninterrupted nitric oxide production.
Red spinach is an incredibly rich source of compounds that fuel this pathway, which makes it one of the best sources to naturally boost nitric oxide.
So, what are all the benefits nitric oxide has to offer?
Benefits of Nitric Oxide
We’ve said it a few times already, but the #1 (and most widely known) benefit of increased nitric oxide production is vasodilation -- the widening and relaxing of blood vessels. This relaxation allows for greater blood flow throughout your body, including your muscles, which helps increase vascularity, muscle fullness, and massive muscle pumps!
Increased Oxygen and Nutrient Transport
Along with the increased blood flow comes an increase in the amount of oxygen and nutrients that are delivered to your muscles, improving performance, stamina, and muscle growth.
Enhanced Athletic Performance
Nitric oxide boosting ingredients (especially red spinach extract) has game-changing effects on your athletic performance. It’s been shown to increase time to exhaustion and improve VO2 max, your maximum aerobic power. Not only that, but the compounds present in red spinach also make exercise feel easier by enhancing ventilatory threshold and reducing the oxygen cost of exercise, ultimately making you a more efficient athlete!
It’s said quite often, especially in the world of athletics, that the best ability is availability. How well you recover ultimately determines whether you’re available to train or compete. Intense exercise can seriously drain your mental and physical reserves, but fortunately, increasing nitric oxide production can improve your body’s ability to recover faster, enabling you to get back on the field or in the gym and continue to dominate the competition!
More specifically, nitric oxide increases circulation throughout the body, including your muscles and surrounding tissues.
Why is this important?
Well, blood carries with it important recovery nutrients, such as amino acids, which help your muscles to rebuild and repair following physical activity. The more nutrients that are delivered to the damaged areas of your body, the faster you can recover, ultimately allowing you to train more frequently and continue to make gains in size and strength.
Enhanced Glucose Uptake
One of the lesser known benefits of nitric oxide is its ability to improve glucose uptake and clearance.[7,8] Improving your body’s ability to process and remove glucose from the blood, helps protect against diabetes, insulin resistance, and other metabolic disorders. Plus, the efficiently your muscles absorb and use glucose, the energy storage and utilization is during training.
Improved Cognitive Functioning
Another intriguing benefit of nitric oxide production is its role in boosting cognitive function. In addition to being generated in your muscles, nitric oxide is also generated in the brain, where it’s involved in neurotransmitter production. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain and onto the muscles of our body.
Due to this, nitric oxide can improve learning, memory, and computational abilities. It also enhances reaction times, and is being explored as a means to protect against dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of mortality across the globe. Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), high blood pressure, and peripheral arterial disease are hallmark symptoms of the disease.
But nitric oxide can help support cardiovascular health and function due to its vasodilating benefits, which in addition to relaxing blood vessels also relaxes the smooth muscles of the heart, leading to a reduction in blood pressure and better circulation throughout the body.
A healthy heart is essential to high-intensity training, which allows you to push harder for longer in the gym for bigger, better gains! Suffice it to say that nitric oxide is pretty incredible stuff, and it’s something you definitely want (and need) more of in your daily life. There’s a lot a ways to go about boosting nitric oxide, but the best way is the all natural way with red spinach!
Cramming down a plateful of green or red leafy spinach isn’t exactly ideal heading into a tough training session at the gym. The full stomach feeling and possible GI distress from the high volume of fiber can leave you slow, sluggish, and potentially nauseous. Fortunately, you don’t have to choke down plates (or cans in the case of Popeye) of red spinach in order to get the nitric oxide-boosting benefits from the plant.
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