By Brendan Brazier
The most efficient way to achieve your fitness goals is through effective training combined with optimal nutrition. As a strength athlete you may be considering a regimen of supplements that claim to help you grow bigger muscles and get more pump. Some of these supplements may be inefficient or ineffective, while others are simply dangerous. However, there are nutrients found in, whole, plant-based foods that can help to support muscle growth—and increase pump, naturally. Adding in whole food sources of nitric oxide, L-arginine and branched chain amino acids to your diet can help increase your potential for muscular growth and endurance.
Nitric oxide (NO) is a gas that is used to dilate your blood vessels—which increases blood flow, nutrient delivery to your muscles and waste removal from your muscles. With increased blood flow and delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the muscle, your body can produce a better pump, with more force, when lifting weights. It can also aid in increased recovery time and muscle growth. While there is little research supporting the effects of adding a NO supplement to enhance your performance, it is plausible that adding NO-forming foods to you diet may improve muscle pump when lifting weights.
One way to supplement NO through food is with beetroot juice. Beets contain nitrates and antioxidants that are beneficial on our overall health. The nitrates in beet juice are converted into nitric oxide which has the potential to increase blood flow.1 Consider adding beet juice to a smoothie or hydrating beverage to reap the benefits of NO on muscle pump.
Exercise stimulates growth hormone release, which is important for muscular strength gains. The amino acid L-arginine has also been shown to stimulate growth hormone release while our bodies are in a resting state.2 Arginine is an amino acid that is readily converted to nitric oxide in your body. Dietary supplementation of arginine has also been shown to normalize the hormonal stress response, to lower the amounts of cortisol you produce.3
L-arginine can be found in the nuts and seeds listed below:
- Brazil nuts
Branched Chain Amino Acids
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are three essential amino acids—isoleucine, leucine and valine, which must be consumed through what we eat because our bodies are not capable of creating them. Without replacement of BCAAs before and after exercise, muscle damage may occur and protein synthesis may be inhibited.4 BCAAs have traditionally been used in an ideal ratio of 2:1:1 of leucine, isoleucine and valine. Leucine in particular has the capacity to stimulate muscle protein syntheses and has gained more attention for its ability for muscle growth and muscular endurance.5
The dosage of a BCAA supplement is determined by body mass. Five grams of BCAAs is often sufficient to produce a benefit. You can find BCAAs in Brazil nuts, pumpkins seeds, lima beans, chickpeas, cashew nuts, and hemp protein. You can also buy a supplement in your natural health food store, or look for a plant-based protein that includes BCAAs, such as Vega Sport Performance Protein.
1. Ferreira LF, Behnke BJ (2011), A toast to health and performance! Beetroot juice lowers blood pressure and the O2 cost of exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology110 (3). Accessed on 5/11/15 from: http://jap.physiology.org/content/110/3/585.full.pdf+html
2. Collier SR, Collins E, Kanaley JA.(2006). Oral arginine attenuates the growth hormone response to resistance exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. vol. 101 Accessed on 5/11/15 from: http://jap.physiology.org/content/101/3/848.full.pdf+html
3. Smriga, M, et al. (2007). Oral treatment with L-lysine and L-arginine reduces anxiety and basal cortisol levels in healthy humans. Biomedical Research. 28(2):85-90. Accessed on 5/11/15 from: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/biomedres/28/2/28_2_85/_pdf
4. Benadot, Dan,(2012). Advanced Sports Nutrition. Human Kinetics.. 2nd ed
5. Pasiaskos, Stefan et al. (2011). Leucine-enriched essential amino acid supplementation during moderate steady state exercise enhances postexercise muscle protein synthesis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 94(3);809-818. Accessed on 5/11/15 from: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/94/3/809.long