Whether you are an exercise enthusiast or someone new to working out, chances are you have heard the buzz about L-arginine supplements but what is L-arginine and can it improve your workout? Let’s dive in.
What is L-Arginine?
L-arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid. This means that in normal circumstances our body can make L-arginine on its own but during some situations, we may require it from our diet. For example, during trauma, injury, and pregnancy our L-arginine needs become essential .
Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins. L-arginine also acts as an essential precursor to other amino acids. It can be found in many protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products .
Can L-Arginine Improve Exercise Performance?
Some researchers hypothesize that L-arginine may improve exercise performance by enhancing nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide acts as a vasodilator which relaxes our blood vessels and allows oxygen to circulate more efficiently to our muscle tissue.
While the results of some studies are promising for this, other studies suggest there are no significant benefits toward performance.
Some research studies believe the reason L-arginine supplements may not be as successful in increasing nitric oxide is because it is already broken down before entering the bloodstream but research on this is still ongoing [3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8].
How Does L-Arginine Work in the Body?
To better understand what all this means we need to take a deeper dive into how L-arginine functions in our body.
L-Arginine and Vasodilation
L-arginine is an essential precursor to nitric oxide, a vasodilator that acts to relax our blood vessels. When our blood vessels are relaxed, they open up to allow more blood to flow through which can reduce blood pressure and increase oxygen circulation throughout the body .
Does L-Arginine Help With a Muscle Pump?
Muscle pump occurs during muscle contraction, such as with exercise, that causes an accumulation of volume from fluids in the muscle tissue. These fluids cause the muscle fibers to swell which temporarily increases the muscle size.
Some researchers believe L-arginine may assist in muscle pump due to its vasodilating effect which can increase blood flow and volume accumulation in the muscle fibers. However, most studies found it increased muscle blood flow post-recovery with no effects on muscle strength or performance .
Can L-Arginine Boost Strength and Endurance?
Despite L-arginine’s role in synthesizing nitric oxide, studies remain conflicting on whether L-arginine provides any significant benefits toward improving strength and endurance.
According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), there are a variety of factors that may influence someone’s ability to get any benefits from L-arginine supplementation and more research is still needed.
However, current studies available do support consistent consumption of lower doses (1.5-3g/day) compared to acute intake of high doses.
Additionally, taking L-arginine supplements 30-90 minutes before exercise is likely most beneficial in improving endurance but studies are still limited on this as well .
Are There Other Benefits of L-Arginine?
While the jury is out on L-arginine supplementation benefiting muscle strength and endurance, there may still be benefits to taking an L-arginine supplement.
For example, some research suggests that L-arginine may help improve blood pressure due to its role in the production of nitric oxide which acts as a vasodilator to improve blood circulation. Because of this, it can also potentially help treat those suffering from erectile dysfunction by assisting in improvements in blood flow to that area [12, 13].
L-arginine also becomes conditionally essential during critical illness and can be used to help treat various conditions including post-surgical wounds, burns, cases of sepsis, and trauma.
Is L-Arginine a Good Pre-Workout?
While further research remains warranted on the true benefits of L-arginine for exercise performance, it’s not harmful to take L-arginine supplements. In fact, they may complement other pre-workout ingredients to increase energy levels.
Although the studies on this are lacking, we know that L-arginine helps to increase nitric oxide and thus provides improved blood flow through vasodilation. Improved blood flow means improvements in oxygen being provided to the muscle tissue. Well-oxygenated muscle works better and may help boost your exercise capacity.
If you do choose to take an L-arginine pre-workout supplement, be sure to choose one from a trusted brand that offers third-party testing.
Our Ella Pre Workout powder is a convenient option for women to fuel their best workout.
It contains 1 gram of L-arginine per serving along with creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine, and caffeine from organic green coffee beans, and all of the ingredients combine to work synergistically to provide a clean boost in strength and endurance.
Are There Any Side Effects of L-Arginine?
Most healthy adults tolerate L-arginine doses of 20 grams per day or less with only mild side effects reported. Most side effects experienced when taking L-arginine supplements occur when a large dose is taken in one sitting (typically more than 9 grams).
However, these symptoms appeared to resolve when dosages were split throughout the day. Common side effects of taking L-arginine supplements include upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, and bloating .
What are the Best Dietary Sources of L-arginine?
If you want to skip the supplement you can still get L-arginine from food sources.
Because it is an amino acid, it’s found in many protein foods including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. It can also be found in varying amounts in nuts, seeds, and soybeans for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Bottom Line on L-Arginine and Exercise Performance
There remains conflicting research available on the potential benefits of L-arginine supplementation and exercise performance. While some research studies show promising results, others show no difference.
L-arginine supplementation is not harmful and may provide some health benefits including reducing blood pressure levels, treating or preventing pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, and assisting in healing due to surgery, trauma, or burns.
Many believe L-arginine supplements can assist their workout and they may provide some benefits when used as a pre-workout supplement. While the studies are still lacking, it’s not harmful.
If you do decide to try out an L-arginine supplement, be sure to buy one from a trusted brand that offers third-party testing for quality and purity.