Seasoned lifters are plenty familiar with the satisfying swoleness and energizing circulation that comes with using a pump supplement before hitting the weights hard. Newer gymgoers, too, have probably at least heard of this popular category of sports supplements, which also go by “nitric oxide boosters”.
A quick refresher: “Pump supplements are designed to increase your body’s nitric oxide levels,” explains The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N., L.D.N., C.P.T. “This supports the relaxation of blood vessels, which improves blood flow, leading to a greater pump and boosting oxygen and nutrient transport.” This boosted blood flow also helps muscles flush out waste products. In all, it’s a recipe for greater endurance, performance, and recovery—and what gymgoer doesn’t want that?
Whether you’re looking to switch up your supplement routine or find inventive new ways to reap the benefits of more blood flow, here are all of the ways a pump supplement can really come in clutch (prepare for some surprises!).
1. When you need to rev up a workout sans stimulants
Whether you’re sensitive to caffeine and choose to avoid it across the board or hit your workouts late in the day and don’t want to screw up your sleep routine, pump supplements will be your pre-workout best friends, suggests Michels. Most products are free from any stimulants, meaning they can support your hard-working system without any of the not-so-pleasant potential side effects, such as trouble falling asleep, a racing heart, and anxiety.
Don’t worry, high-caf pre-workout devotees: Research shows that pump supplements really do get the job done in the gym. One study even found that lifters who supplemented with popular pump agent l-citrulline saw more than a 50 percent greater increase in barbell bench press progress than those who didn’t. (Those lifters also experienced less muscle soreness post-workout.)
That said, even if you’re an A.M. exerciser and have a love-love relationship with caffeine, pump supplements still make for a worthwhile addition to your pre-workout routine, says Michels. You can stack them on top of whatever other performance-boosting staples you usually take to support your efforts.
2. Any time you need To maximize brain power
It’s not just your muscles that pump supplements increase circulation to; the same is true for your brain! “While nitric oxide promoters are a wonderful addition to an athlete’s supplemental regimen, they may also benefit those looking for cognitive support,” says Michels. “Sharpened mental focus may be an added benefit of pump supplements.” So while you might not think to reach for your pump-up powder when you’re on a work or school deadline or want to really get in the zone for a creative project, it might offer just the level-up you’re looking for. (Especially if grabbing something caffeinated usually backfires and leaves you too antsy to focus!) In fact, Michels recommends them before study or work sessions, presentations, and even gaming sessions.
There’s research to back this up, too. One study of male athletes found that beetroot juice (which is high in pump-increasing nitrates) not only improved their performance in high-intensity intervals but also increased their mental performance and reaction time, shares Dr. Jacob Wilson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.*D., CEO of The Applied Science & Performance Institute and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council.
3. When the afternoon slump hits hard
Another perk of increasing blood, oxygen, and nutrient flow throughout your entire body? Overall energy, which many people can use a solid dose of around mid-afternoon, when that dreaded dip in motivation seems to kick in like clockwork, suggests Michels. Chugging a coffee or energy drink at this point in the day will leave lots of people staring at the ceiling come bedtime, but a pump supplement can offer just the extra oomph you need to get through the rest of the day without any unintended effects.
4. For performance between the sheets
You knew this one was coming, right? Increased circulation supports all sorts of body functions—and, yes, that includes those down under. Research suggests that nitric oxide is a necessary ingredient for sexual function, with one study noting that many men who experience erectile issues have low levels of pump-boosting amino acids l-arginine and l-citrulline.
5. If you’re really hurting post-workout
Remember that study that found that people who took pump-boosting l-citrulline experienced less muscle soreness post-workout than those who didn’t? Ramping up nitric oxide is also a good thing for recovery, Michels notes. Wilson agrees: “You see, muscle recovery is dependent on blood flow and insulin sensitivity,” says Wilson. “Supplements that improve the nitric oxide signaling system improve blood flow.” And, research also suggests that, by impacting serotonin, high levels of nitric oxide also work against insulin resistance, which is good news for proper recovery.
So while you might typically incorporate it into your pre-workout stack, it’s worth giving your pump supplement some love post-workout, too, especially if your muscles are really yelling at you.
6. Whenever you want to look extra swole
We’re not about to recommend using pump supplements as drink mixers before hitting the bar or club, but using one of these blood-flow-boosters before an event at which you want to look extra jacked or vascular for could offer a nice confidence boost. “Any time you want to look more muscular to take pictures or go to the beach, pump supplements can definitely help you achieve a more aesthetically pleasing look,” says Wilson. Churning out a few squats and pushups before you head out won’t hurt, either.