Marketed as a means to help jump-start athletic performance and muscle-building, N.O.-XPLODE is a powdered drink containing caffeine, amino acids, vitamins, creatine and herbs meant to be taken before a workout. But does it work, and is it safe? The answers are, at best, unclear.
What the Experts Say
"I think these supplements are safe if used in moderation," says Michael B. Banffy, MD. "Daily consumption will definitely lead to a person becoming desensitized to it." Dr. Banffy specializes in sports medicine and orthopedics at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, and is a physician for the city's Rams and Dodgers professional sports teams.
Registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist Christopher Shuff, RD, LDN, of Love & Fire Nutrition in Atlantic Beach, Florida, says the product is not designed to be used for an extended period, nor is it appropriate for the average gym user, but is made for athletes in good health.
Nitric Oxide and Amino Acids
Manufacturer Bio-Engineered Supplements and Nutrition Inc. claims the mixture will increase energy, mental focus, strength and endurance. The N.O. in the name stands for nitric oxide, a chemical in the body that regulates widening (dilation) of blood vessels and blood flow and other properties.
N.O.-XPLODE contains two amino acids that can be transformed into nitric oxide in the body. The liver changes l-arginine into nitric oxide, and l-citrulline can be metabolized into l-arginine, according to a February 2012 study published in Sports Medicine.
"Nitric oxide production could theoretically bring more blood flow to muscles," Dr. Banffy says.
The product also contains beta-alanine, which two tests showed can increase exercise capacity temporarily, according to a July 2012 study published in Amino Acids. It can cause skin to itch or tingle, as noted in an October 2012 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Whether the amino acids in pre-workout supplements are actually converted into nitric oxide is unclear, Shuff says.
Other Components: Creatine and Caffeine
Creatine has been credited with improving performance in high-intensity exercise. It may also help prevent injury and aid in recovery, according to a June 2017 review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Creatine makes muscles appear more pumped, as it increases the amount of water held in them, Dr. Banffy says. That would gradually disappear once someone stopped taking it. Shuff advises to drink more water when using it.
Creatine increases the body's production of ATP, a chemical tied to cellular energy. Shuff says it may help sprinters, power lifters and others who want extra energy for a brief period.
The caffeine and other ingredients in N.O.-XPLODE are responsible for the claim it boosts mental focus. The formula contains 275 milligrams of caffeine per dose. Regular coffee contains 12 to 16 milligrams of caffeine per ounce, notes Consumer Reports, so the supplement's caffeine is equivalent to two and a half to three 8-ounce cups of coffee.
Heart and Blood Pressure Warning
"If anyone has any kind of heart issue or blood pressure issue, then a bunch of supplements can exacerbate that" and "elevate their blood pressure, as well as heart rate," Dr. Banffy says.
Consumers should talk to their doctor before taking any supplement and carefully read product labels, writes Nathan Arnold, press officer for the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), in an email. The FDA doesn't approve supplements, as they are not classified as medicines.
Shuff suggests checking labels to see if they have been tested by an independent lab, as he says supplements for athletic ability, sexual enhancement and weight loss are more likely to contain unlisted adulterants, such as steroids, Viagra and amphetamines.
Other Risks to Consider
It's also important to remember that because dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, their efficacy and safety may not have been tested in clinical studies and they may pose serious risks.
Caution is warranted: A case of acute kidney failure in a young man taking the N.O.-XPLODE for three months was reported in the July-August 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, and in October 2013, Annals of Internal Medicine published information on liver toxicity in military personnel who had taken N.O.-XPLODE.
Before you start taking any dietary supplement, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits for you.
- Michael B. Banffy, MD, orthopedist, Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles; team physician, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Rams
- Christopher Shuff, BS, RD, CSOWM, LDN, CLT, dietitian and nutritionist, Atlantic Beach, Florida
- Nathan Arnold, press officer, U.S. Food & Drug Administration
- Bio-Engineered Supplements and Nutrition Inc.: "Product Webpage for N.O.-XPLODE"
- Sports Medicine: "The Effect of Nitric-Oxide-Related Supplements on Human Performance"
- Amino Acids: "Effects of Beta-Alanine Supplementation on Exercise Performance: A Meta-Analysis"
- Journal of Neuroscience: "Mechanism of Itch Evoked by Beta-Alanine"
- Consumer Reports: "Is There More Caffeine in Espresso Than in Coffee?"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Safety and Efficacy of Creatine Supplementation in Exercise, Sport, and Medicine"
- Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine: "Renal Failure in a Soldier Taking N.O.-Xplode"
- Annals of Internal Medicine: "Hepatotoxicity Associated With the Dietary Supplement N.O.-XPLODE"