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The Supplement Your Personal Trainer Won't Tell You About

Posted Oct 28 2009 11:01pm

Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight I'd like to present to you to the 1992 winner of Molecule of the Year. (Yes, that's an actual award. No, I don't think you get a trophy or a modeling contract out of it. Yes, I know I'm a geek.)

Nitric Oxide (NO)
Tired of getting confused with it's hilarious-at-parties-but-really-vacuous-cousin N2O (a.k.a. laughing gas), this sexy little number plays a big part both in polluting our atmosphere and in running our central nervous system. It is also involved with how much hair you lose, penile erections, and acclimating to high altitudes. But aside from these nifty accomplishments, NO has another very interesting effect - it is one of the best vasodilators we have.

A vasodilator means that it works on the inner lining of your blood vessels to open them up by relaxing your smooth muscles and thereby increasing blood flow. It is frequently used in hospitals, particularly in pediatric units to treat babies with meconium inhalation lung problems. (For those of you who've not had a baby, meconium is the tar-like first poop that your precious little nugget excretes soon after birth. Incidentally only one of many strange substances that will ooze, spew and dribble from various orifices in said nugget. Some babies, however, poop while still in the womb. They then breathe in the meconium which can cause all kinds of problems.)

Who Cares?
You do. And here's why: it's become one of the hottest muscle building supplements on the market. That's right, one of the worst pollutants known to mankind and simultaneously a wonder pediatric drug, is being used to Pump You Up.

What does it do for you, exactly? According to one product, N.O. -Xplode, it does everything but cure malaria and solve Rubix cubes blind-folded. Bask in the unfettered (and unedited) hyperbole:
"N.O.-XPLODE is an extreme pre-training energy and performance igniter. From the very first serving you will experience elevated physical and mental energy, muscle-expanding pumps, unparalleled strength and stamina; not to mention tunnel-vision like mental focus, allowing you to zone in and have the best training session possible. By combining all of these benefits in one knock-out formula, you will experience a level of training intensity that you never thought was imaginable, getting you physically and mentally dialed in for the training session of a lifetime; leaving those days of lack-luster workouts behind. Once you train with N.O.-XPLODE, you will never train without it! NO-Xplode has the unique ability to get you dialed in and pumped up for every single workout by inducing a strong and advanced nitric oxide, creatine, and body-mind stimulating surge."
(Note to N.O. Xplode - I realize that spelling is not your strong suit but let me tell you that as a chemistry teacher it hurts me deep inside to see you punctuate N.O. That makes it sound like a rapper or a euphemism for something dirty, which amount to the same thing, I know. But. It is okay to just write NO. It is also okay to just say NO. To drugs. Just saying.)

Alter(ed) Egos
Sold under various names and formulations (such as Black Powder & MuscleTek NaNo Vapor), it is generally one of the more expensive supplements out there. GNC tries to hard-sell me on it every time I walk in their door. (Well, except they are in the mall so they don't have doors. But they do have a nice little massage chair! And now suddenly I'm rethinking my decision to buy vitamins from the mall.) Anyhow - typical retail price: $63.99-$79.99 for one bottle. Although the last time I went in the salesman tried to sell me on NO2 Black... for $103.99. Dreams of a fat commission vanished before his eager eyes as I plopped down two $13.99 bottles of fish oil. Although his frown could also have been because my kids just knocked over his entire display of vita-paks and were now riding the rowing machine like a pony.

Pros
I received this tip from a reader who wished to remain anonymous. He is a mid-20's collegiate competitive athlete who tested this out for us. Mr. X (for Xplode, NOT for XXX, sickos) seemed hesitant to talk about it at first but then waxed rhapsodic about being able to up his reps, maintain his weight through an extra set, and "push through previous barriers." He added that his perceived exertion was less for the same intensity of exercise and it also helped him stay laser-focused. He admitted that this last effect might be due to the caffeine, of which there is probably a lot although no product listed exactly how much. Mr. X added that this was one of his favorite supplements (the other being creatine) and that he felt it had provided measurable muscle gains.

Cons
Mr. X added an interesting caveat: He is a personal trainer and yet he would not recommend it to any of his clients. His reasoning was that as a highly trained athlete he knows what his limits are and what his body normally feels like so if anything fishy started happening he could back off immediately. A novice lifter would not have that self insight.

Other known side effects of NO include:
- headaches (the most often reported side effect - and a known effect of vasodilators)
- "Xplosive" diarrhea (Oh how I chuckled! I love punny people. Punny lifters? Even better!)
- dizziness, light headedness
- heart palpitations ("like I was on speed" - probably the caffeine)
- insomnia (again, probably the caffeine)
- increased flushing (getting red in the face, nothing to do with toilets people)

Conclusions
This is interesting to me. On one hand I love anecdotal evidence in the form of personal experiments. As long as the person is not getting paid to talk about the supplement (and Mr. X wasn't) then their opinion means a lot to me. Most muscle-building supplements just don't work but it sounds like this one might actually do something.

One the other hand, it's air pollution. You're imbibing fruit punch-flavored air pollution. That can't be good. Plus there's the whole vasodilation thing. I kinda like my veins the way they are (even if they are a little bulge-y). I also don't like supplements much in general. And if they put it in Viagra...? Lastly - $103.99?! Egads.

Any of you try this stuff? Tell me what you think of it! I need more input!! Also, what do you think of a personal trainer who takes things he wouldn't advise his clients to?

Update:Reader FitJerk, who is a professional supplement reviewer (didn't even know they had those!) made an iteresting point about the mechanics of this product in the comments that I was worth bumping up: "There is no NO being produced in these products. They contain the ingredient L-Arginine which is supposed to be a pre-cursor to N.O but it ISN'T! Studies have proved it. In fact, the amount of L-Arginine you'd have to take to even notice minute benefits of a "pump" is about 30g. At that dose you'll have stomach cramps and upsets before a major pump. The amount of L-Arginine in N.O Xplode is a few grams... if that. So it's all insignificant. The only reason you feel anything after taking this stuff is because of the 200+ mg of caffeine (about 2 cups of coffee worth) and the fact that your body produces a natural pump while resistance training. So if that's what you want, might as well just drink a friggin' RedBull."
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