If you have been around a weight training gym for more than a day, most likely you have heard of the "pump". Every bodybuilder, professional or recreational, craves it. Better still if the pump lasts beyond the gym. This is one of the reasons nitric oxide supplements have become so popular.
So, do nitric oxide supplements really help you get pumped? Can they help you build muscles quicker? In short, do they work? We shall look at the facts in a moment.
What Is Nitric Oxide?
Also known as nitrogen monoxide, nitric oxide (NO) is one of the paradoxes of nature: it is supposed to be toxic but plays important roles in your body. It is a gas naturally found in the body, whose function is to convey information between cells.
One of its main functions is increasing blood flow by dilating blood vessels.  This is one of the reasons for its popularity as a sports supplement. It has also been used, orally as well as intravenously, in the treatment of heart, hypertension, erectile dysfunction and other conditions.
Nitric oxide supplements actually do not contain nitric oxide. They contain an amino acid called l-arginine, or simply arginine, which is a building block for the gas. Though the human body can make its own arginine, it gets used up pretty fast in times of stress such as in intense weight training.
L-arginine supplements usually come in the form of arginine alpha-ketoglutarate (AAKG or AKG).
What Does Nitric Oxide Do?
Nitric oxide is not just used in sports supplements, but in also in the medical field. As mentioned earlier, it has been used for treatment of heart conditions due to its blood flow-improving effects. Here is a short list of its benefits:
- Nitric oxide is said to causes vasodilation.  That means that it helps make blood vessels wider and thus capable of delivering more blood, oxygen and nutrients to the cells.
- Nitric oxide has cardioprotective benefits. 
- Nitric oxide plays an important role in muscle growth. 
- Studies indicate that it has wound healing benefits and therefore can assist in recovery. 
Although one of the simplest biological molecules in nature, nitric oxide has found its way into nearly every phase of biology and medicine ranging from its role as a critical endogenous regulator of blood flow and thrombosis to a principal neurotransmitter mediating erectile function to a major pathophysiological mediator of inflammation and host defense. 
There is also evidence suggesting that supplementing with l-arginine can help boost growth hormone (GH) levels although some studies showed little or no effect. 
A Healthy Heart is Essential for Weight Training
Too often, athletes and fitness enthusiasts overlook their long-term health because they are too focused on short-term gains. After all, it feels good to get a complement about how good you look after just a few weeks of training. Well, nitric oxide supplements may be the perfect supplements for a little ego ride (face it, we all indulge in this) because they provide both long-term and short-term benefits.
Boosting your nitric oxide levels can not only help you keep your body intact longer, it can help you gain short-term performance benefits as well.
Nay, if you are serious about weight training and want to be able to do it well for a lifetime, you need to keep your heart in good working order. Because the health of the heart is so heavily dependent on the health of the surrounding arteries, whatever you can do to boost the health of your arteries will help out your heart. Eating right, getting some aerobic exercise regularly, and taking nitric oxide supplements can all help you to preserve your heart health.
How Nitric Oxide Helps Out Muscle Cells
Muscle cells are dependent on surrounding capillaries to supply them with nutrients and oxygen they need to function. Without access to a constant flow of oxygen and nutrients, muscle cells quickly die. If you want your muscle cells to be in peak working order, you need to try to maximize the life-giving flow of oxygen and nutrients they receive. Taking arginine supplements can improve the release of nitric oxide and lead to significant increases in blood flow to muscle cells.
Using nitric oxide boosting supplements can help you to shorten your recovery period, which means faster growth - muscles grow as heal after training. Your muscle cells also will get the materials they need to repair themselves faster, and they will be able to eliminate wastes more efficiently.
The more efficiently your muscle cells get nutrients and eliminate wastes, the more efficiently you will be able to gain muscle mass in the long term.
Understanding the Different Supplements Available
Most of the nitric oxide boosting supplements on the market contain the amino acid l-Arginine as their primary ingredient. This is because the body synthesizes nitric oxide using L-Arginine as the raw material. While it is possible to get L-Arginine from your diet, in practice most people do not consume enough legumes to get adequate amounts of L-Arginine.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Nitric oxide enhancing supplements have minimal side effects. L-Arginine is an amino acid, so it is harmless even in very high doses. The worst side effect you may experience is an upset stomach, which usually happens in higher doses. Increasing dosage gradually can help minimize or avoid this.
If one nitric oxide supplement product gives you problems, try switching over to a different brand. Different manufacturers formulate their products differently, so you might find that you respond better to a different brand. Consulting with a physician before starting on this or other supplement cannot be overemphasized.
So, do nitric oxide supplements work to enhance your health and strength? Indications are that they actually do. Incorporating a nitric oxide supplement into your daily supplement regimen may be just the thing you need to do to get yourself off a plateau.
7. Sports Supplements Buyers Guide (Amazon)