The Importance of a Muscle ‘Pump’ for Increased Muscle Growth

Ever wondered about the importance of a muscle “pump” for increased muscle growth? Here, we explain what a pump is, why it’s important, and how PhD Nutrition can help you to maximise your performance driven goals.

Why do performing muscles see an increase in blood flow to them?

We all know that during intense exercise, heart rate increases and blood is pumped around the body at a higher than normal rate.

Our body needs to deliver oxygen, glycogen, amino acids, testosterone, growth hormone, IGF-1 to these working/starving muscles. It also needs to facilitate the removal of the unwanted waste products that pool in the muscle and can actually hinder performance causing muscles to fail (and the set of exercise to end).

An example of this is the build-up of hydrogen ions that we refer to as ‘lactic acid build-up’. Blood needs to deliver carnosine to help buffer these hydrogen ions and bring the muscle pH back down to more normal levels.

This is why performing muscles will see an increased flow of blood to them as it delivers oxygen rich red blood cells to the starving muscles. This accelerates the rate at which your system is able to cleanse itself of these waste by products (such as ammonia) as well as other nutrients needed, whilst helping remove the unwanted byproducts. Increased blood flow also helps to improve muscular efficiency of ATP production in the mitochondria, therefore reducing the oxygen cost of exercise.

The relationship between blood flow and recovery

The removal of ammonia and other metabolites allows athletes to recover more quickly and may result in better growth stimulus and adaptive growth response to micro-tears.

Consider your blood flow to be like a river: it allows small boats to come along, deliver what we need and as it passes through it helps remove what we don’t need. Imagine a garbage collection service that delivered your food shopping as well as removing your garbage!

Bodybuilders love the feeling of the “pump” in the gym, mainly because a muscle gorged in blood and extra intracellular water looks much bigger and more impressive that it would normally. 

But does a pump mean only muscle growth? Clever bodybuilders and athletes truly realise the importance of this increase in blood flow to the muscle, not only for delivering the vital nutrients to that muscle immediately after exercise when most needed, but also for the benefits to muscle recovery.

Knowing the best protein to fuel your strength workout before, during and after your workout can make a big difference too. Protein powders are a convenient way of getting more protein into your diet to help support your training goals and fuel your body throughout the day.

How can we increase blood flow around the body?

So, we know the importance and benefits of increased blood flow to muscles, but it’s also important to consider that the rate at which blood flows through the body is limited by the blood vessels and how dilated they are.

A narrow river is limited by the number of boats it can transport in and out, right? Well, similarly, research has shown that maintaining an increased level of Nitric Oxide (NO) in the body has been found to increase blood flow throughout the body. It does this by relaxing the smooth muscles that line the blood vessels (endothelial cells) thereby expanding the lumen of the blood vessel (the middle space of a blood vessel where the blood flows through). The more relaxed a blood vessel, the more the lumen expands, the more blood flow is enhanced – resulting in what is known as peak vasodilation.

The more vasodilation, the more blood flow, the more elevated amounts of the various muscle-building, performance and recovery enhancing catalysts are delivered to the hard working muscle cells.

To refer back, vasodilation means our river has been widened (by NO). Therefore, more boats are allowed to more freely come in and out, delivering more readily our supplies and removing our waste.

What is Nitric Oxide and how do we maintain an increased level of NO?

Nitric Oxide (NO) is a gas that’s naturally produced in the body via two pathways. Nitric Oxide’s main job is to deliver messages between the body’s cells. It also plays a key role in controlling the circulation of blood and regulating activities of the brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, stomach and other organs.

But from a muscle-building perspective, NO affects the release of hormones and adrenaline. It’s also said to speed growth and recovery time as well as increase blood flow, thus delivering more nutrients to muscles, helping them grow.

The main NO-boosting supplements on the market today utilise the arginine-nitric oxide pathway. That is the pathway where arginine is converted in the body to nitric oxide (NO) with help from the enzyme nitric oxide synthase (NOS), which catalyses the reaction. Supplements such as arginine, citrulline (which is converted in the body to arginine) all use this pathway.

This is an effective pathway to target. A recent study reported that subjects consuming arginine 30 minutes before a biceps workout increased biceps blood volume during the workout by more than 100 percent. What’s more, research suggests that taking citrulline results in even higher blood levels of arginine and NO than an identical dose of arginine.

Yet, there is another pathway that can also lead to higher NO levels in the body: the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. When you consume nitrate (NO3-), bacteria in the mouth cause it to lose an oxygen molecule and become nitrite (NO2-). The nitrite then travels to the bloodstream, where it loses another oxygen and becomes NO.

Where can we get sufficient nitrates?

Nitrates are found in many plants. Most people these days obtain their nitrates via the consumption of beets, hence why beetroot juice is rising in popularity. One of the richest sources of nitrates is the beetroot. However, beets are not the only vegetable that is high in nitrates and, in fact, not even the most potent.

Red Spinach is now changing the way sports nutrition looks at nitrate. Red Spinach, when tested, has been shown to have higher levels of nitrate than beetroot.

Oxystorm uses a patent pending process to obtain a seriously purified standardised extract of red spinach (now being touted as the number 1 source of natural nitrate). Oxystorm offers 5 times more nitrate than beetroot powder and 50 times more nitrate than beet juice. It is standardised to 9-10% nitrates whereas most beetroot ingredients are only around 2%. It is pH neutral, low-sugar and does not oxalate (oxalates can lead to kidney stones).

Research done by Prof. Andrew Jones and colleagues at the University of Exeter, showed that 507 mmol of nitrate is the optimal amount to reduce resting blood pressure, lower oxygen cost of exercise (which in turn increases muscle efficiency) and therefore enhances exercise tolerance and performance. These effects have been shown to be present in as little as three hours after ingestion and can be maintained for up to 15 days if the supplementation is continued on a daily basis.

Please note, a recent study found that using an antiseptic mouthwash such as Listerine killed off a significant number of the bacteria in the mouth that convert nitrate into nitrite. This reduces the NO produced from sources such as beets. So if you’re using beets or something else to increase NO levels, consider ditching the antiseptic mouthwash, at least before taking any nitrate source.

Bring out your best training and sporting performance with our products

We’ve established that increased blood flow delivers the vital nutrients to that muscle immediately after exercise and also benefits muscle recovery. To aid this process and to see improvements in endurance, muscle mass and strength, and improved performance in high-intensity activities like sprinting or heavy weight lifting,

you can try our specially-formulated strength supplements. Our supplements are also available to support your body in different areas, such as weight loss and multivitamins.

Josh is an Online Fitness Trainer & qualified Sports & Exercise Therapist Bsc (Hons)