What Is L-Arginine?
Amino acids have for a very long time been associated with fitness and strength. They are organic compounds that are both produced in the body and obtained from food and supplements. Long chains of amino acid residues become proteins, and these are the building blocks of muscles and tissues.
L-arginine is one such amino acid that is the favorite of trainers, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts. Also called arginine, it is classified as a semi-essential amino acid needed by human beings from birth.
How Is L-Arginine Obtained?
L-arginine is a semi-essential amino acid. In usual cases, this particular amino acid is made in the body easily by breaking down proteins from the foods you eat. In some instances, though, you may need to get these in the form of supplements to match your body’s increased needs.
Importance Of L-Arginine In Fitness
L-arginine produces a gas called nitric oxide in the body. This gas can widen blood vessels. When blood vessels are widened, more oxygen-carrying blood reaches the muscles and improves athletic performance.
A 2020 study concludes that when L-arginine supplements in the amounts of 0.15 g/kg of body weight are consumed 60-90 minutes before exercising, they can help improve aerobic and anaerobic performance.
Another study shows that oral ingestion of L-arginine supplements can increase at-rest growth hormone secretion in the body by up to 100%.
Other Uses of L-Arginine
- Helps control high blood pressure levels
- May bring down high blood sugar
- Used in the treatment of erectile dysfunction
- May treat preeclampsia in pregnant women
L-Arginine is also used in the treatment of circulatory diseases as it can widen blood vessels. A 2020 study analyzed the effects of exercising and L-arginine in the process of aging and concluded that L-arginine supplementation and the right exercise can together bring down inflammation and oxidative stress in the heart and protect against age-induced cardiac problems.
The regular dietary intake of L-arginine is 4-5 grams a day. Taking up to 9 grams a day is considered safe. Dosages between 9 and 30 grams a day can cause gastric problems like diarrhea.
Genetics And Its Influence On L-Arginine Levels
The ARG2 gene encodes arginase type II, an arginase protein. This enzyme is responsible for removing nitrogen from L-arginine and sending it out for excretion. Certain genetic polymorphisms of this gene can lead to excess arginine and ammonia accumulation in the body. This condition is called arginase deficiency and can lead to stiffness in the legs and spasticity. Arginase deficiency can affect the ability of a person to perform intense physical activities.
A study analyzed the effects of genetic polymorphisms of the AGR2 gene and L-arginine concentrations in blood for unsupplemented individuals. It concluded that the CC genotype of the SNP rs3759757 of this gene caused low L-arginine levels in the blood in unsupplemented individuals when compared to people with the GG genotype.
Non-Genetic Factors That Affect L-Arginine Levels
While it is very rare for a particular type of diet to cause L-arginine deficiency, starvation is one non-genetic factor that can lead to very low levels of L-arginine in the body. This can lead to developmental delays, tiredness, fatigue, difficulty in balancing, seizures, and tremors.
In one study, a group of rats was fed an extremely low arginine diet for 20 days. The rats lost considerable muscle mass in the lower limbs.
Smoking can affect arginine metabolism and decrease the production of nitric oxide in the body. Smoking can prevent L-arginine from helping the muscles grow.
Moderate consumption of alcohol has no effects on L-arginine levels and nitric oxide (NO) levels in the body. However, chronic exposure to high amounts of alcohol reduces the production of NO through L-arginine. This can bring down the benefits of L-arginine on fitness and also lead to an increased risk for cardiac problems.
Arginase Deficiency/ Effects of Arginine Buildup In The Body
Arginase deficiency is an inherited condition where the body is unable to process L-arginine. This deficiency is a part of the group of conditions called ‘urea cycle disorders’ where the body cannot remove the waste.
In arginase deficiency, L-arginine and ammonia levels in the blood start increasing slowly. Children who are born healthy start showing symptoms of this deficiency between the years of one and three. Signs to look for are:
- Stiffness in the muscles
- Growth abnormalities
- Sudden seizures
- Smaller sized head
- Problems with coordination and balance
- Lowered intellectual ability
Genetic polymorphisms in the ARG1 gene cause arginase deficiency. People with this deficiency are recommended to consume a low-protein diet and be on medications throughout their life.
Recommendations For Safe Use Of L-Arginine For Fitness
L-arginine Supplements for the Older Athletes
As people age, the ability of the arteries to dilate freely reduces. This is the cause of a variety of cardiac and circulatory problems. This also leads to lesser oxygen reaching the muscles and a loss in performance. L-arginine supplements may help in improving endothelial functioning, helping more oxygen reach the muscles.
L-arginine and Resistance Exercises
Resistance training is often a proven way to improve muscle mass and muscle strength. A 2018 study concludes that combining L-arginine supplements with resistance training can improve muscle mass quicker.
The Right Diet
Before considering L-arginine supplements to boost your fitness regime, try including arginine-rich foods every day in your diet. This can gradually help you get the benefits of this amino acid and improve strength and muscle mass.
The below foods are rich sources of L-arginine.
- Nuts and seeds
- Meat and poultry
- Soy-based foods and drinks
You can also consult your doctor and dietician and consider L-arginine supplements if you train intensively and need that extra boost.
- L-arginine is an amino acid that plays a vital role in muscle growth and strength.
Arginine is easily available in the foods you eat. In some special cases, extra doses of arginine may be needed and are offered as supplements.
- L-arginine increases the production of growth hormone in the body and dilates blood vessels to let more oxygen reach the muscles. These are considered beneficial for trainers, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts.
- Genetic polymorphisms of the ARG1 and ARG2 genes can bring down the levels of L-arginine in the body. Such individuals may need supplements to meet their requirements.
- Starvation, extremely low arginine-based diet, smoking, and consuming excess alcohol can all affect L-arginine availability in the body.
- Combining L-arginine with resistance exercises helps increase muscle mass and muscle strength.
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