If you’ve been experimenting with different pre-workouts for a while now, chances are you will have come across one containing l-arginine. A naturally occurring amino acid, l-arginine is found in many exercise supplements, as well protein-rich foodstuffs like meat, chicken, nuts and seeds. It can also be fully synthesised in the laboratory.
Helping the body to build protein, l-arginine also encourages the production of important hormones like insulin, and it plays a part in the urinary system.
Its heavy presence in pre-workouts is the result of one of its other properties, however. In processing it, our bodies produce nitric oxide, a vasodilator. This means that it encourages the blood vessels and arteries to relax and widen. In turn, this increases blood flow.
The idea is that this boosts the haemoglobin count in our blood, allowing for a faster and more efficient transfer of oxygen to the working muscle, as well as of nutrients and energy.
The more oxygen present in the blood stream, the less lactic acid. In theory then, fatigue will also set in more slowly.
All of which, we’re sure you’ll agree, sounds just dandy – why then the nagging feeling (expressed by many,) that pre-workouts containing l-arginine just don’t always get the blood pumping?
I’m Medicine Jim, Not a Foodstuff
Unlike rather a lot of pre-workout ingredients, which are usually filed under ‘foodstuffs’ by the U.S. Food and Drink Administration (FDA,) l-arginine has a number of distinctly medicinal uses.
It is variously prescribed to treat everything from coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure to erectile dysfunction and the common cold.
Just because it may have a beneficial effect for those in need of it as a Medicine though, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good for a fit and healthy body. I mean, a plaster cast works great on a broken leg, but you never think about getting one for the general good of your health, right?
As it turns out, the general consensus is that l-arginine levels in healthy individuals really aren’t an issue.
commented Dr. Suzanne R. Steinbaum of the Lenox Hill Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Institute.
Call the Plumber
‘Enough’ is one thing, but what about that haemoglobin boost, all that extra energy and checked fatigue?
Well, it’s certainly true that good circulation is usually considered a good thing. Remember though that l-argenine is potent enough to be prescribed to people suffering from coronary heart disease. It will expand the veins and the arteries, but it won’t increase the amount of blood flowing through them.
Think about it like a faucet; if you kept making the pipe running into it wider and wider, but never increased the water flow, you’d end up losing water pressure.
Heavy l-argenine supplementation in a healthy circulatory system, then, can actually lead to unusually blood pressure. This can potentially trigger blurred vision, dizziness, and headaches.
But what else might you expect to experience when using a pre workout containing l-arginine?
L-arginine has been linked with a number of unpleasant side effects. As it is an amino acid, it can significantly alter the body’s chemical and electrolyte balance. It can trigger excessive stomach acidity, potentially leading to cramps and bloating. It’s also said to react adversely with various prescription medicines. In the case of drugs to reduce high blood pressure, this could even be fatal.
Probably a more commonly recorded side effect relates to strains of the herpes simplex virus, which includes the infamous cold sore. As you might already know, this nasty little customer is what’s known as a lifelong virus. This means that, caught just once, it will lie dormant within your cells indefinitely. It can then ‘reactivate’ when your immune system is low enough.
Or, until you start taking l-arginine supplements!
Best Alternatives – L-Arge and In Charge?
L-Argenine is one of a quartet of nitric oxide supplements: L-arginine, L-citrulline, agmatine, and nitrates. The big problem is that L-Argenine is the weakest of the four of them due to it’s poor absorption when consumed orally.
So … is it any use at all?. There are however, instances where L-Argenine can be of benefit. Specifically for those with an impaired glucose tolerance or type 2 diabetes. For people with either of those conditions their arginase enzyme levels are higher than normal, which causes an argenine deficiency.
Ultimately, the consensus is that for increased blood flow when you are working out, look instead to L-citrulline or agmatine.