Note: There are affiliate links in this article, if you buy something, we get a commission on the sale.
What Is Arginine and Where Does It Come From?
Arginine, or L-arginine as it is more commonly known, is a naturally occurring amino acid, and in fact a very common one at that.
For the average person it is not necessary to supplement with additional L-arginine; however, athletes and especially bodybuilders can benefit greatly from it due to the instrumental role that it plays in the production of nitric oxide or NOS.
Those of you who are familiar with NOS supplements will be well aware that they can act as potent stimulators of blood flow, enhancing pump and vascularity both inside and outside of the gym.
Arginine is what is referred to as a conditionally non-essential amino acid, which basically means that most of us have bodies capable of synthesizing arginine from other amino acids in our diet.
Although this is largely the case, it is still necessary for us to source some arginine from dietary sources, and we will cover what these are below.
What Types of Arginine Are There?
There are currently three or four main types of arginine available on the market, and these are:
- L-arginine HCL;
- Di-arginine Malate; and
- Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate or A-AKG
The scientific data establishing which ones are superior over others does not yet exist, and there are several other varieties of arginine that you may encounter in supplements such as pre-workout blends and other pump enhancers.
The best advice we can give at this point is to experiment with a few different products over a period of time to see which ones work best for you.
Do Any Foods Contain L-Arginine? Which Ones are the best?
We mentioned above that arginine is a relatively common amino acid; it can be found in the following foods in varying quantities:
- Dairy products (including whey protein)
- Chicken and turkey breast
- Fish and shellfish
- Nuts and seeds
None of these foods are necessarily better sources of arginine than any other; however, we can clearly see that many of these foods are bodybuilding staples, so most of you are probably already consuming many of the items on the list.
How Does Arginine Work and What Are the Benefits?
Citrulline is a precursor of arginine and arginine is the direct precursor to nitric oxide, so we can clearly see how supplementing with this amino acid will be beneficial in enhancing the supply of nutrient-rich blood to our muscles.
It is also a precursor to creatine, and the body can even use it to produce glutamine, which is also a conditionally non-essential amino acid largely for this reason.
Arginine plays an important role in the process of vasodilatation, that is, the widening or enlarging of blood vessels to allow an increased supply of oxygenated blood to certain areas of the body.
Not only does this provide pump-enhancing benefits to the hard-training bodybuilder, it also suggests some application in the area of cardiovascular health by improving systemic circulation throughout the entire body.
Arginine also illicits a kind of relaxing effect on blood vessels, potentially helping with hardening of arteries and hypertension (high blood pressure).
Who Can Benefit from Using Arginine and How?
The most obvious answer to this question is bodybuilders.
Arginine is one of the most potent vasodilation supplements on the market, and is a common ingredient in many pre-workout formulations.
If you are also supplementing with substances such as creatine, BCAA, or hydrolyzed whey protein, all of which make incredibly effective intra-workout supplements, adding arginine to the mix could really help to compound the effects.
Anything that is going to increase the flow of blood to your muscles is a good thing, especially if you are consuming free form amino acids and other ergogenic supplements.
How and When Should I Use Arginine?
As with any supplement you should always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for usage, which can usually be found in the packaging.
Arginine is typically used pre-workout or even intra-workout depending on your training needs, as this will provide a targeted vasodilatory effect during your training session.
It is also worth mentioning that citrulline malate makes a great addition to stack alongside arginine as this can significantly increase overall nitric oxide or NOS production. Again, use caution if you are concerned about your cardiovascular health.
How Much Arginine Should I Use?
Always refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for each specific product you use.
Do I Need to Add Citrulline to Make Arginine Work?
Not at all, and in fact you will probably be better off using arginine by itself for a while until you feel you have gotten everything out of it that you can.
Just like when we increase or decrease our caloric intake during different phases of our diet cycles, we do so out of necessity in an incremental and strategic fashion to get more out of less over the long haul.
Apply this same line of thinking to your supplementation and you will be able to stretch your budget for supplements far further than if you simply go out and buy every single supplement imaginable before really giving any of them a chance to work.
Does Arginine Have Any Side Effects?
Because of its vasodilatory effects, arginine should definitely be avoided by anyone who has ever suffered a heart attack or other form of cardiovascular disease.
There have actually been instances of heart attack sufferers dying after supplementing with arginine, so ensure you speak to your doctor before using any supplement that may impart similar effects.
What’s more, arginine should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women, nor should it be used by individuals under the age of 18.
Consult your doctor or physician prior to using arginine if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or if you are currently using prescription medication.
Should I Be Concerned About My Cardiovascular Health if I Use Arginine?
With all the caveats and disclaimers in the world, there is no reason why the average healthy adult should need to be fearful of using a supplement like arginine.
It is always important to keep a realistic, balanced, and open view of supplements in the sense that they are largely unregulated by governing bodies such as the FDA and there is always going to be some degree of risk.
Having said that, the exact same thing is true for prescription and over-the-counter drugs around the world, so take responsibility over the substances you are putting into your body by educating yourself and remaining mindful of the potential for misuse over time.
Note: We recommend speaking to a doctor before taking any supplements.
Choosing the Right L-Arginine Supplement
As with a lot of different supplements, diets, training programs, and so on, the right one for you is the usually one you’re currently not using.
Start by opting for a simpler arginine supplement such as the basic L-arginine, or alternatively purchase a pump enhancer, NOS booster, or other variety of pre-workout supplement that includes arginine in one form or another.
After using a certain kind of arginine for a few months, or perhaps for your next training cycle, you will be better equipped to make a judgment call about whether or not you want to continue using it.
Experimentation is a huge part of bodybuilding, even more so as you progress over the years, so don’t be afraid to dip your toe in, so to speak, and just buy a basic arginine supplement so that you can assess its effectiveness and then move on to another one if you’re not entirely satisfied with it.
1. NOW Foods L-Arginine
2. Jarrow Formulas Arginine
3. Infinite Labs Arginine AKG
4. Cellucor NO3 Chrome
5. AllMax Nutrition Arginine
6. PrimaForce Agmatine
7. Twinlab L-Arginine
8. AI Sports Nutrition Agmatine
9. GAT Nitraflex
10. Olympian Labs Arginine & Ornithine