Everything You Need to Know About Raising Nitric Oxide – For Bodybuilders, As a Nootropic and Health Risks

By on February 13, 2015

Nitric Oxide is one of the most important substances in the body not only for building strength but also for improving mental performance. It can give you more energy and pump during workouts, it can encourage increased alertness and focus and it can even help with learning and brain plasticity. If you’re at all interested in enhancing your performance and you’re not thinking about raising your nitric oxide, then you’re missing out big time.

Then again though, increasing your NO willy-nilly isn’t such a smart move either as it may be linked to cancer and to Alzheimer’s. Bodybuilders and anyone interested in nootropics need to understand both the pros and the cons of nitric oxide and they need to understand how to increase levels safely and effectively. Fortunately for you, I am here and I have collated pretty much everything you need to know into this handy article. Read on to learn how manipulating NO can help you to boost your performance without the downsides.

What is Nitric Oxide?

For the Body

Nitric oxide is a molecule that serves a number of different functions throughout the body. One of the most well-known and most important of these functions is to encourage vasodilation. For those who don’t spend all day reading bodybuilding books, that basically means your blood vessels get wider thus enabling more blood to get to your muscles. This in turn means more oxygen, more energy and more nutrients, so right away, by increasing your nitric oxide you will improve your performance in workouts by supplying your muscles with more oxygen and you’ll enhance hypertrophy by providing them with more nutrients (especially amino acids) subsequently.

In fact, it’s an increase in nitric oxide that is responsible for ‘the pump’ – the appearance of swollen muscles that you get after a good training session. That’s why many pre-workouts attempt to raise levels of nitric oxide.


Oh and for guys who want mean looking veins, nitric oxide is one way to encourage that too!

Nitric oxide is also great for lowering your blood pressure and for combating heart disease. Loss of NO is one of the first events in the onset of cardiovascular problems. It also plays important roles in the kidneys, bones, sleep, sexual health (Viagra works by stimulating NO) and more.

For the Brain

At this same time this means that you will get more oxygen and blood to your brain – potentially resulting in heightened mental performance. What’s more, nitric oxide is also a neurotransmitter in its own right and appears to play a specific role.

In particular, nitric oxide is distinct from other neurotransmitters because it doesn’t only communicate across the synapse (the ‘gap’ between two neurons that communicate) and instead proliferates throughout the brain affecting nearby neurons as well.

Remember: neurons that fire together, wire together and this means that nitric oxide may play a role in forming new associations and in learning. In other words: brain plasticity (1, 2). Likewise, it has also been suggested that this process helps to wake the brain up; by triggering a wave of activity across each region (3). This has been likened to a ‘booting up’ process. It’s also easy to imagine that nitric oxide may also play a role in aiding creativity, by encouraging us to explore related ideas and concepts and find new associations.

Health Risks

More mental energy, alertness, creativity and learning? Yes please. Except unfortunately nitric oxide also has some negative effects on the brain. That’s because it has oxidization properties, meaning that it can damage brain cells over time and has thus been implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s and age-related cognitive decline (4, 5, 6). As with anything, you can have too much of a good thing.

But does this mean you shouldn’t be interested in raising your nitric oxide levels? Probably not. Few people are at risk of having too much nitric oxide and in fact many people are deficient in it – especially those who push themselves hard for long hours. What’s more, the body has strong homeostatic regulatory mechanisms – meaning in other words that it’s good at keeping these things in check. It’s very unlikely that eating more garlic for instance (see below) is going to increase your chances of Alzheimer’s. As long as you’re making healthy, natural changes your body will be able to keep things in balance and you’ll benefit from increased stamina, wakefulness, hypertrophy and more.

Another concern regarding nitric oxide is that it could react with protein in order to form nitrosamines which are potentially carcinogenic. More recent evidence though suggest that this is actually nothing to worry about – nitrate doesn’t tend to ‘accumulate’ in the body. What’s more, there are ways you can combat this ‘just in case’ as we’ll see below.

How to Increase Nitric Oxide Safely and Naturally

With all that in mind then, how do you go about safely and naturally increasing your nitric oxide levels?

The good news is that simply by working out, you are already increasing your nitric oxide levels. Other than that, the key is your diet. And while there are hundreds of foods that will increase your levels, there are a few that are easy to get and that will have a drastic and safe effect.

Here are they…

Garlic + Vitamin C

This cheap and easy combination according to studies can boost your nitric oxide by up to 200% (7) and appears to be more effective at lowering blood pressure than some over-the-counter drugs designed specifically for that purpose (8).

This is because garlic is very high in nitrates, which are converted by nitritines on your tongue and then to nitric oxide in your gut by bacteria that lives there. Useful! The addition of vitamin C meanwhile protects the nitric oxide molecules once they have been created and it may also help to combat the oxidative effects of the NO – as vitamin C is a potent antioxidant. Vitamin C also neutralizes the risk of nitrosamines.

In fact, antioxidants also help to boost nitric oxide themselves, so this is a very potent and effective combination (9).

Beetroot Juice

Beetroot juice is so effective at improving physical endurance that it has been described as almost a ‘performance enhancing drug’ by the likes of Tim Ferriss. That’s because it increases nitric oxide and improves the efficiency of the mitochondria (which in my mind is the holy grail of performance enhancement). It is also delicious.

In one study it was found that beetroot juice could improve athletic performance by nearly 3% in activities involving 5-30 minute exertion (10). That is not a trivial amount! Further studies suggest that beetroot juice is most effective when used 2-2.5 hours before exercise (11). About 500-600ml does the trick.


Beetroot again doesn’t carry any risk of nitrosamines either; because it contains nitrate not nitrite and because it doesn’t contain protein.

Other Methods

Many other things also increase nitric oxide including a range of vegetables like spinach and kale, omega-3 fatty acids (which are just awesome for everything) and coenzyme Q10 which like vitamin C, helps to protect the NO molecules. Generally my current nootropic stack is pretty badass for NO if you throw in vitamin C.

Additionally, you should avoid mouthwash if you’re seriously interested in boosting nitric oxide. That’s because it kills bacteria in your mouth indiscriminately – including the bacteria on your tongue that turns nitrates into nitritines.

As mentioned, working out also increases nitric oxide and so too does sunlight. These both help to improve your endogenous synthesis of nitric oxide which actually is still where the majority of our nitric oxide comes from. You want to increase your nitric oxide synthase specifically – the enzyme that the body uses to create its own supply.


So there you go, a ton of information on nitric oxide, what it is and how you need to boost it. Really what we’ve learned is that nitric oxide is very important but that too much of anything is bad news. As long as you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, you’re getting lots of sun and you’re working out regularly you should have no problem with your NO levels. If you want to add a little more then you should add garlic and vitamin C to your morning regime. If you want a short-term boost in performance, try the beet juice.

And watch this space carefully to see what else we find out about nitric oxide as a nootropic…

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.


  1. Val Locksley says:

    If you are swallowing supplements, the tongue has no interaction. Is the tongue really necessary?

    • thebioneer says:

      Good point! Theoretically when using nitrates but I’m sure you’ll still get a benefit from taking garlic in supplement form (as many people do – myself included in the past). In fact studies seem to suggest supplement form works okay: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14711458 Perhaps those nitritines on the tongue manage to exert their effect indirectly?

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