This article is the first (perhaps of many; maybe of one) written to the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan.
If any of you are willing to go through the effort of proxy-ing yourself into my site, it only seems fair that I should write something worth that effort. Thus, this: my first article in response to one of your questions.
If you have any other questions, just pass them along to Travis (my cousin), and whenever I have a few minutes of downtime, I'll try to toss up a response.
First response: nitric oxide.
Usually NO-anything (Explode, XNO, NO-XS, Nitrox, MegaNO2, Nox, Nitric Boost, etc) in supplement form is just a bunch of arginine. And arginine is just an amino acid. Like all amino acids, it has a bunch of functions. One of them (one of arginine's) is to make nitric oxide.
My compliment to nitric oxide: it has a cool name. It sounds very serious. But unless your problem is erectile dysfunction (which might be a serious problem), supplementing nitric oxide isn't going to do anything for you. Certainly nothing helpful. I would be lying if I said there was some sort of muscle development you could get from it. Furthermore, I would be lying if I told you it was harmless.
I guess it could be harmless enough if you were taking heaps of antioxidants at the same time.
"Okay, Courtney. I think I see where you're going with this. Alongside every heap of nitric oxide, I should be taking a heap-matched handful of antioxidants. And then I'll be set. Yes?"
No, reader, no.
A) I just told you nitric oxide doesn't do anything. And B) even if it did, the answer is still no.
If you take your NO around your workouts (this is a bad idea; it actually wouldn't be such a bad thing to ingest if you didn't workout until all of it cleared your system), that would mean the simultaneous antioxidants were being ingested around your workouts. And if you take a bunch of antioxidants around your workouts, you're blocking the pathways for the breakdown products that provide signaling to create an anabolic response (inhibition of myostatin, etc).
I realize that was a big sentence. Basically if you take a bunch of antioxidants, you block the signaling cascade, and if you block that, you don't make any gains. Take-home message: you shouldn't be taking antioxidants around workouts. But this article isn't about antioxidants. It's about NO. And later in this article, you'll understand why that last paragraph was relevant to NO.
But we're not there yet. We've barely even talked about you. So let's start there.
You're marines. And because you're marines, any workout you do is going to be fairly vigorous. And even if your workouts were only half-serious, there's still enough vigor there to tally up a pretty steep metabolic price tag.
Workouts aren't free (from a metabolic perspective).
And this price tag is paid for by every one of your metabolic pathways. You can never completely isolate one pathway and shut off another. At all times, every pathway is running.
And the burliest of these pathways is your oxidative metabolism. Oxidative metabolism is why you breathe. Without it, you wouldn't even need lungs (I'm trying to illustrate that this pathway is huge and important).
And this huge, important pathway ends with what's called the electron transport chain. Here (in the electron transport chain), pairs of hydrogen (i.e. electrons) bind and unbind to a series of molecules in the mitochondria with a progressively increasing affinity in order to create energy.
Because the hydrogens are toppling down the affinity gauntlet in pairs, and the terminal bond is with oxygen, the ultimate result is H2O. Water. That and a bunch of energy. Peter Mitchell got a Nobel Prize for figuring this out.
Does it make sense?
Okay, sorry. Let me start over. A mitochondrion is where all your energy is made. Think of it like a tiny dance floor. The electrons are the bachelors. It's a little bit gay that the bachelors are all showing up in pairs, but go with it. Because it's weirder that the goal of every pair of bachelors is to have a threesome with the prom queen (oxygen).
But they can't just race to the PQ. The chaperons would report it as sexual deviance... and even if it doesn't result in a forcible rape charge, there's going to be problems on some level. You can't get away with that kind of thing. So for the most part, the bachelors all follow the rules. They work their way across the dance floor, mingling with some of the more common ladyfolk en route to the PQ. They dance with the first girl for a moment, see another that looks sexier (more electronegative), break stride with the first, hook up with the second, see an even sexier girl, trade up again, and so on. If you count NADH (the girl that drove you to the dance... you owe her a couple steps), there are four. The fourth (cytochrome oxidase, i.e. the maid of honor) is the girl that passes you (you and your buddy) to oxygen... the PQ. That's the last bond. The three of you join in plural matrimony and live happily ever after.
The problem is that the electron transport chain (i.e. the dance floor) isn't flawless. Those chaperons aren't going to stop all the deviants. Once in a while, a pair of bachelors will manage to skip all the bridesmaids and go straight to the PQ. The mess this makes is called superoxide. It's a free radical.
It's not the only free radical. Nor is it the most potent. There are worse crimes and criminals than sexual deviance and its deviants. But... Can I go back to science now? Do you get the whole electrons working their way toward oxygen thing now? Basically every time a pair of bachelors breaks stride with a bridesmaid, energy is released.
"Okay, yeah. That makes sense."
Okay. Well when you get a bunch of free radicals in your system, they're going to bounce around, crashing into stuff, modifying gene expression, causing cell damage, and ultimately putting you at a higher risk for cancer and a bunch of degenerative diseases (or at least it appears as though they have this effect) while ramping up your rate of biological aging.
Luckily, your body is pretty competent when it comes to superoxide cleanup. If released in reasonable quantities (like a standard high school dance), your body can generally turn it into hydrogen peroxide, then turn that hydrogen peroxide into water (through catalase). Your chemotherapy and geriatric care facility are kept at bay.
With me so far?
"Yes, Courtney, the United States Marine Corps is with you."
Good. Moving on.
Not moving on as far as nitric oxide yet though. We'll get there. We're moving onto exercise first... because the only reason people take NO supplements is for exercise.
So you, solider, are in the weight room. You haven't taken any nitric oxide (i.e. heap of arginine) yet, but you're getting in a pretty good workout anyway.
Remember that high price tag I said was associated with these workouts?
This is paid for by a drastic increase in the rate at which hydrogens are flailing down the electron transport chain (bachelors are shooting across the dance floor). And, predictably, this drastically increases the rate of superoxide production (sexual deviance).
A few of superoxides escape your body's attempt to convert them into water, but still not the end of the world. Your body is durable. It can tolerate this.
Now, take that same workout, but introduce supplemental nitric oxide. NO is a weak free radical. Left to its own power, it won't give you cancer. This is why I said taking when you're not working out is probably okay. But when you're working out, that NO is going to squeeze itself into the final pre-oxygen binding site (cytochrome oxidase... the maid of honor) of the electron transport chain. While here, it will compete with oxygen for those hydrogens. And the harder you work out, the better odds it has at winning (the harder you work out, the faster your oxygen is being bound, the less of it there is to compete with NO).
As NO starts binding to the hydrogrens, something funny happens: the electron transport chain gets totally fucked up (enters into an extremely electron rich state).
When this happens, superoxide begins to be churned out at a staggering rate. Much, much faster than you could ever do with exercise alone. And that's too much for the body to convert back to water.
So they start bouncing through your system.
And guess what else you have in your system?
Nitric oxide. A lot of it. Because you took all that arginine before your workout (without the handful of antioxidants because you were afraid they would impede muscle development).
And guess what happens when nitric oxide meets superoxide?
Right! It forms peroxynitrite! And do you know what this is?
Right! It's the mother of all free radicals, destined to deform everything it comes into contact with.
Enjoy the premature hospice. Or at least the metabolic dysfunction, as it's the citric acid cycle, where you actually burn your fat, that the peroxynitrite is formed and thereafter bounces around destroying.
Take-home message: don't ingest nitric anything (Boost, XS, Explode, etc) unless you're using it to overcome a bout with erectile dysfunction. Or if you're sneaking it into your workout partner's drink like some sort of lifting ruffie. But if that's the goal, don't stop with the altering of benzodiazepine (ruffies, not NO). You might as well hit all the transmitters. Or, opposite that, if you want a supplement that actually does something for you, find one that blocks gamma aminobutyric acid (i.e. GABA) rather than enhances it (anti-ruffies). You'd find some serious results there. You might (temporarily) go insane from the uninhibited cognitive stimulus (constantly noticing everything, like that you're wearing socks, and unable to stop noticing), but you'd be a beast in the gym.