Arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid – it is considered essential for young children whose bodies cannot yet manufacture it, but non-essential for healthy adults. However, it is a popular sports, athletic and body building supplement, and arginine supplements may also have beneficial effects in wider applications too.
The body uses arginine to produce nitric oxide. This important substance is a neurotransmitter, which stimulates the release of insulin and growth hormone.
Nitric oxide also relaxes blood vessels and improves circulation. This means that arginine is potentially beneficial for cardiovascular health, and may also help in the treatment of erectile dysfunction, particularly when combined with yohimbine.
Arginine is taken by athletes because of its role in building muscle mass. Its vasodilation properties allow lower blood pressure, meaning more blood flow to muscles during a workout. This in turn increases the amount of nutrients sent to the muscles, potentially enhancing athletic performance, endurance and recovery.
Arginine can be sourced from the diet – good sources include red meat, wholegrains, nuts and dairy products – or taken as a supplement. Arginine supplements are typically available as capsules or powders, and can be taken before or after exercise.