If you’re looking to build your body these days, you’d have to be under a rock not to have seen the dizzying stream of marketing for pre-workout products that supposedly increase Nitric Oxide (a.k.a., NO). On molecular level, NO is a very short acting gas that your body produces to relax the walls of your arteries to enhance blood flow. So, marketers of NO products made the leap that (if) their product could increase NO while you were training, the dilated blood vessels would allow more “nutrient rich” blood to flow to your working muscles. Not surprisingly, these products were and are sold on the merits of a better pump and infer muscle growth will be greatly improved. To date, no studies have proven this theory out. But, the idea of the PUMP, or specifically “well hydrated” muscle cells is a rock solid sign that you have the “right” nutrition and training factors in play.
Exercise scientists now know that “cellular hydration” (i.e., cell swelling) serves as a physiological regulator of cell function. It is known to simulate anabolic processes, both through increases in protein synthesis and decreases in protein breakdown. While the mechanisms are not fully understood, the scientific community (and me) believe that increased pressure against muscle cell membrane is perceived as a threat to cellular integrity, which in turn causes the cell to initiate a signaling response that ultimately leads to reinforcement of its ultrastructure. Why might this be true? For 1)–resistance exercise, especially when higher volume is part of the plan, has been shown to alter intra- and extracellular water balance, and 2) when you train like a bodybuilder you increase the need to store carbohydrates (glycogen), and other energy producing molecules like creatine, in your muscle cells. The greatly increases your PUMP potential, because every gram of carbohydrate stored in muscle pulls in 3-grams of water. Of course creatine does the same thing, which is why you get bigger and stronger. So, if you’re getting your swell on, and not getting fat, it’s a good bet your nutrition and training are working pretty darn good. And that’s more than I can say about NO products.
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