Sunday, March 7, 2010

Product Review: N.O.-XPLODE

Given that Nitric Oxide (or “N.O.”) boosters are one of the highest sellers in the supplement industry, I thought it may be a topic of poignant interest to readers if I addressed the claims of this product, as well as its actual efficacy according to the most recent research. I completed an entire research presentation on N.O. products during my last semester in school as well, so I've spent a bit more time analyzing these products as opposed to some of the other supplements out there. Given that “N.O. X-PLODE" appears to the most popular of the nitric oxide supplements out there, I'll analyze this product in particular.

What does it claim to do? (taken off the website)
  • “maximizes training intensity, energy, and motivation for any athletic activity”
  • “elevates blood flow and delivery of oxygen and nutrients”
  • “increases resistance to muscular fatigue, power output, and overall work capacity”
  • “enhances mental focus and acuity; helps establish mind-muscle connection during physical activity”

These claims may appear a bit over-the-top, but compared other supplement promises (ex. "become a walking human experiment!"), the ones put forth by the NO-XPLODE product are actually a bit mild (supplements aren't regulated by the FDA and the companies are actually allowed to place any claim on the product as long as they don't claim to cure mitigate, or treat a disease). Supplements can be sold if they don't present “a significant or unreasonable risk or illness or injury when used as directed on the label or under normal conditions of use (if there are no directions)”. So basically...regulations on supplements and their claims are pretty loose.

Now, diving into and critically analyzing each and every one of NO-XPLODE's ingredients is beyond the scope of this post. I will, however, BRIEFLY analyze three of the most prominent ingredients in this product.

#1. Arginine

Arginine is found in almost every N.O. supplement. It's an amino acid that is a precursor for nitric oxide formation in the body. The idea is that if one increases arginine supply in his or her body, then more nitric oxide will be formed. Why is this ideal during a period of strenuous exercise? Nitric oxide is a vasodilator (it widens the circumference of blood vessels), which would increase the rate of blood flow throughout the body. So if nitric oxide levels are increased in the bloodstream, then the hypothesis is there will be increased blood flow (and thus upregulated delivery of oxygen and nutrients) to the working skeletal muscles, enhancing the overall results of the workout (increasing muscular growth and strength).

Does it have any merit? From the studies I have observed, arginine supplementation does not correlate to improvements in strength gains or favorable changes in lean body mass when compared to placebo groups. Another important note is that arginine is found to increase insulin secretion, and insulin itself increases vasodilation and blood flow! So, if one wanted to increase blood flow during a workout (beyond executing muscular contractions which will increase blood flow to the working muscles anyway) could he or she ingest a carbohydrate to catalyze insulin release in the blood, leading to vasodilation? Yes.

#2. Creatine

I'm not going to delve into too much detail here. Creatine supplementation has been shown time and time again to augment muscular strength and delay fatigue during high-intensity exercise lasting roughly ten seconds or less (think 5-rep max on the bench or squat, or a 100m sprint). There has also yet to be demonstrated a risk of disease or kidney problems from supplementing with creatine (I've researched this quite a bit, as well as spoken to sports nutritionists about it). I can go into greater detail on creatine in a later post, but for now just understand: it works!

#3 Caffeine

I don't think I need to cover this one in great detail either. Most people know that caffeine is a stimulant, and that it increases mental clarity in humans. It may also aid in muscular contraction via enhanced calcium mobilization in skeletal muscle, but this has primarily been demonstrated with regards to aerobic exercise/competition. A couple points worth noting though:
  • Caffeine has vasoconstriction effects in blood vessels. Could the effect of constricting the blood vessels via caffeine cancel out the vasodilation effects nitric oxide? Possibly, however it appears that this is most likely not the case (at least for this product)
  • The company (BSN) refuses to display how much caffeine they place in their product (so others won't copy the “secret formula”). It's understandable that a company won't relay all of their ingredient ratios, but it can be a bit unnerving knowing that BSN may be placing absurd amounts of caffeine in their product. For those that are hypersensitive to caffeine, this poses an obvious concern. Also, how does one know whether or not ingesting extra caffeine via coffee/tea throughout the rest of the day will send him or her over the safe limit? (amounts exceeding 9mg/kg, or about 650mg for a 160lb person, have been shown to exhibit negative side effects)
Other Concerns
  • Consistently varying the circumference of blood vessels by elevating N.O. levels can place tremendous demands on the heart (as it would need to increase/decrease blood output to maintain optimal blood pressure). Our blood pressure varies throughout the day anyway (circadian rhythm, exercise, nutrient ingestion, etc. all effect blood flow throughout our body) but causing the heart to have to adjust more than usual (especially through “artificial” means) may prove harmful in the long run.
  • The directions on the product label suggest one to consume a serving on off days! This will not help anyone, besides giving him or her a boost in energy from all the caffeine. These directions are clearly a ploy to make people consume more of the product than necessary (thus using more powder each week and having to order the product more frequently), but be aware of this. If you decide to buy this product, don't consume it on an off day. It won't help.
  • Most of the energy and “increased mental focus” you'll experience from this product primarily stems from the caffeine in the product (and who knows how much is in there??). If you need a boost of energy before your workout: eat something, drink some coffee/green tea, and/or be sure you're getting enough sleep.
  • The strength gains and improvements in muscle mass that the product claims to elicit most likely does not stem from arginine supplementation.
  • The product carries some validity to it, but in my opinion it's not worth the money. Spending less money on a quality creatine product (avoid the outrageously expensive creatine “formulas” and stick to plain creatine monohydrate powder) will provide your body with some extra fuel during high-intensity training sessions.
Will Nitric Oxide products turn you into your own version of King Leonidas? I'd look elsewhere.