Whether you’re a bodybuilder, or into Crossfit or just a weightlifting enthusiast, we all love that satisfying feeling of blood rushing to your muscles when they’re lifting some heavy weight. This is a phenomenon widely known as “the pump”.
It makes us feel accomplished; like we’ve really given it our all.
But sometimes there are those days where you can’t seem to get a pump whatsoever. You’ve hit your set and rep targets for the days’ workout, but you still can’t get that fulfilling sensation that you’re after.
Well, what if I told you that there are certain supplements that you can take that’ll drastically increase your chances of getting a nasty pump in the gym?
So what are the best supplements for “the pump?” What are the best supplements for vascularity? Can supplements increase vascularity?
Today I’m going to go over the 9 supplements that’ll help you get those muscles pumped and those veins popping!
But first, let’s explain the difference between single-ingredient supplements and pre-blended supplements.
Single Ingredient Supplements for Pump & Vascularity
This is the category that I’m going to primarily focus on in this article.
A single ingredient supplement is fairly self-explanatory. They are products that only contain one extract/ingredient.
An example of this would be something like: l-citrulline or vitamin C (covered in the list below).
These products are made to provide you with the benefits of their sole ingredients. As you’ll find out below, the ingredients I have chosen have the best pump-boosting and vascularity benefits even when taken on their own.
That being said, the other category is probably what you’ve heard about the most.
These are pre-blended products made by combining the ingredients on this list to provide even more of the effects that you’re looking for.
The two best pre-made supplements for vascularity and pump are pre-workouts and nitric oxide boosters.
Nitric Oxide Boosters & Pre-Workouts
The supplements above can work well on their own, however, when combined, they can provide you with even bigger pumps and more vascularity.
Luckily, there are various companies out there that formulate blends of all these ingredients into particular products; often marketed under the categories of “pre-workouts” or “nitric oxide boosters”.
This makes it very simple to find a product that works for you, without having to obtain all of the ingredients individually.
Let’s take a look at a sample product’s ingredient label…
This is an example of a stim-free pre-workout called High Volume by PEScience.
As you can see, it has many of the ingredients that we will discuss below, such as Vitamin C and l-citrulline.
When looking at these products, you’ll notice that many place a strong emphasis on l-citrulline, which is actually part of the reason why I placed it first on the list below.
9 Pump Boosting & Vein Popping Supplements
(watermelon is the best food source of l-citrulline)
This amino acid is certainly one of the most potent stimulators of a massive pump.
But why is that? It’s just an amino acid after all, right?
Well, l-citrulline is one of the three amino acids (along with l-arginine and l-ornithine) that is found in the urea cycle, which, for the sake of simplicity, is one of the metabolic processes that your body utilizes to excrete waste.
So, what does this have to do with pump and vascularity?
When you increase the amount of these amino acids in the body, the waste recycling process becomes more efficient, which, in turn, improves the efficiency of nitric oxide metabolism as well.
Nitric oxide acts as a vasodilator, in other words, it widens the blood vessels, improving circulation and the transportation of nutrients to various tissues of the body.
This benefit was shown when male athletes were given 6g of l-citrulline each day before performing an exhaustive 137 km cycling test (1). Urea (a waste product) increased by 27-30% in subjects compared to placebo.
Also, the growth hormone showed an increase of an astounding 66.8%!
In fact, supplementation of citrulline is more efficient at raising levels of l-arginine that supplementation with arginine by itself (2).
This was illustrated in a study that involved supplementation of 5,600mg in sedentary, overweight men. L-citrulline was able to significantly improve blood flow, lessening their symptoms related to arterial stiffness, which is a risk factor for heart disease and other metabolic disorders (3).
This was accomplished by the l-citrulline being able to raise the level of l-arginine in the bloodstream, which was the amino acid primarily responsible for improving the levels of arterial stiffness in these men.
How Much L-citrulline to Take
The dose that’s been used most prominently in sports performance studies has been in the range of 6,000mg-8,000mg approximately an hour or so before exercise.
If you’re looking for a good food source of citrulline, then watermelon is your best bet. L-citrulline is also typically a prominent ingredient in manufactured blends of the best pre-workout supplements for pump.
Glycerol is an ingredient that has long been used to control hydration levels. Because of its profound effects on bodily fluids, it can significantly increase your chances of getting a stronger pump in the gym.
When ingested, glycerol is distributed rapidly to the intracellular space, which is another way to say the inside) of the muscle cell, which is where you want it.
If it were to be distributed to its counterpart, the extracellular space (the space that lies between the muscle and fat), then it would blur your muscle definition and wouldn’t contribute much to your pump; not what we want here.
Many studies refer to glycerol’s action on muscle cells as “hyperhydration” (4). This particular status of hydration has been shown to increase exercise efficiency and prolong time to exhaustion, primarily in endurance athletes (5).
How Much Glycerol to Take
Since this particular ingredient hasn’t been around for nearly as long as other known “pump” ingredients, a well-established dosage has not been set yet.
As of now, the dosage that appears to work best in human trials for enhanced sports performance is between 1-2g taken before exercise.
Beetroot has a high amount of nitrates in it. Nitrates are converted to nitric oxide after ingestion.
Beet roots effects on exercise were tested on nine young male athletes during both submaximal and maximal cycling tests (6).
What the researchers found was that supplementation with beetroot lowered oxygen demand during submaximal work. This occurred without any increase in lactate, which is a common waste product involved in exercise metabolism.
This is significant, as this likely indicates that the production of energy became more efficient as the athletes continued to supplement with the beetroot.
Another added benefit to beetroot supplementation is the very short amount of time that it takes to begin working. Unlike many other ingredients and supplements, you don’t have to wait for the beetroot to “build up” and you don’t have to “load” it.
Supplementation of beetroot begins showing its effects immediately after the first use. In one study, just 6 days of supplementation increased the level of nitric oxide in the blood by 96% (7)!
How Much Beetroot to Take
Studies recommended dosages range anywhere from 6.4-12.8mg/kg. Start on the lower end of the range and work yourself up if you feel the lower end of the range isn’t giving you any noticeable results.
When you think of garlic, the last thing that comes to your mind is exercise performance. Surprisingly, garlic is a very potent stimulator of nitric oxide in the body.
Although more and more studies are coming out all the time involving the cardiovascular benefits of garlic, there aren’t nearly as many that note its effects on vasodilation, or the widening of the blood vessels.
However, there’s one notable study that illustrates this effect in healthy individuals (8).
When the participants ate 2g of garlic, levels of nitric oxide in the blood increased by a whopping 224% 2-4 hours after ingestion!
Although it may not be very desirable to eat 2 grams of garlic cloves every single day, there is a vast array of garlic extracts out there in various forms, such as in liquid droppers, capsules, and tablets. Whichever form you wish to take is up to your personal preference, as enough studies have not been performed on all the different types of garlic supplement formulations out there.
How Much Garlic To Take
Studies of garlic have shown ranges from 600-2,000mg per day. Finding a supplement within this range is the smartest way to go about it.
If you wish to approach the upper end of the range, you can take multiple doses before your 2-3 biggest meals of the day.
Many of us probably think about Vitamin C as the supplement that we take to ward off the flu or common cold. Well let me tell you, it’s a lot more impressive than that.
One of Vitamin C’s unique benefits is that it has the ability to lower blood pressure and improve overall blood flow in those with various disorders and conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and even those who smoke (9, 10, 11).
Vitamin C exhibits its vasodilation properties primarily because of the fact that it is an antioxidant. Although many antioxidants demonstrate the same functions on blood vessels, Vitamin C is very popular for this purpose because of the fact that it is widely available and very inexpensive.
How Much Vitamin C To Take
The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of Vitamin C is only 100-200mg, which is very easily attainable through diet alone.
However, in order to benefit from the vasodilation properties of Vitamin C, supplementation of up to 2,000mg per day would be sufficient.
But despite what many people think, the primary purpose of placing taurine in energy drinks isn’t for increased energy, but actually improved blood flow.
In fact, one study illustrated that just two weeks of supplementing with 1,500mg of taurine daily was able to promote vasodilation among diabetic smokers, who often suffer from abnormalities in the inner linings of their blood vessels (12).
How Much Taurine To Take
The sweet spot for taurine supplementation seems to lie anywhere between 500-2,000mg per day, taken about an hour or so before your workout.
Again, just like with any ingredient, product, or supplement, start at the bottom end of the range and work your way upwards.
No top supplement list would be complete without creatine. Despite its many benefits (increased strength, reduced fatigue, muscle building, just to name a few), not many people think of the effects it has on your pump.
If you carefully read the label on most, if not all containers of creatine, you’ll begin to notice a common theme; you’ll see that most manufacturers will recommend that you increase your water intake?
Do you know why they provide this recommendation?
This is because consistent creatine supplementation (approximately 3-5 grams taken daily) increases the amount of total body water, without affecting the distribution of that water throughout the body (14).
In other words, your body is more efficiently and effectively utilizing your body’s stored water, particularly during exercise. Because of this, it is advised that you add and replenish more water into the body so that further benefits can be observed.
Due to increased water, you’ll witness more dramatic pumps, but as for vascularity, it may or may not change, as that is dependent on the current amount of body fat that you are currently carrying.
Also, creatine increases the amount of water both on the inside (intracellular layer) and the outside (extracellular layer) of the muscle. If the amount of water is increased in the extracellular layer, then muscle definition and vascularity will be blurred, and vice versa.
How Much Creatine To Take
The standard dose of creatine monohydrate (the most common form on the market) is 5g (1 teaspoon) taken per day about 30 minutes before training or any time on non-training days.
Some people also choose to load creatine when they first begin taking it in order to saturate the muscles faster. This is usually 20-25g taken per day for 5-7 days.
However, some people may find they experience discomfort in doing this, such as bloating and nausea.
If you experience these symptoms, it is advised that you stick with 5g per day, which will take about 28 days or so to fully saturate the muscles if you have just started taking creatine.
Potassium is a very important mineral for overall health, as many people often eat more sodium than potassium in their diets (in Western societies at least). Both of these minerals must be balanced in order to achieve efficient muscle contractions, as well as overall bodily functioning.
Over the years, potassium has been noted to aid in the treatment of hypertension (high blood pressure). But surprisingly, it has also been shown to reduce blood pressure in patients with normal blood pressure levels (16).
This is due to potassiums’ vasodilation effects on blood vessels.
Normally, it’s not necessary to supplement with potassium, as reaching the USDA recommended intake of 4,700mg can usually be achieved through diet alone. Plus, it is not legally allowed to be sold in high amounts (usually no more than 100mg or so per serving).
Because of this, supplementation usually isn’t that cost-effective either.
How Much Potassium To Take
Adding more fruits, vegetables, and legumes to your diet is the best way to “supplement” with potassium, but for those who still have trouble reaching their potassium target for the day, 500-1,000mg is plenty sufficient when taken with food.
Another important mineral, getting enough sodium in your diet (and even supplementing with it) is critical if you want to achieve the best skin-splitting pump of your life.
In order to get water inside of the muscle cells, you need both potassium and sodium in sufficient amounts. You also need sodium to make sure that you’re utilizing all of your body’s available amino acids (broken down components of protein) in order to provide your body the energy it needs to perform at its peak.
In sports-performance settings, the primary purpose of supplementing with it (besides affecting water balance to get a better pump) is to neutralize the acidity that results from exercise.
How Much Sodium To Take
From a dietary perspective, it is recommended by the USDA Recommended Daily Allowance guidelines (RDA) to adhere to 2,300mg per day.
However, for athletes, slightly more sodium may be beneficial in order to increase cell volume, thus, a better, more satisfying pump.
As far as sodium bicarbonate supplementation is concerned, 200-300mg/kg of body weight is utilized in most of the scientific literature to date.
Take this 60-90 minutes pre-workout. However, be cautious of gastrointestinal side effects, as it may cause nausea or stomach aches in some individuals.
Out of all the potential ingredients that you could take on this list, I believe that l-citrulline has the most profound effect on muscle pumps and vascularity.
This isn’t to say that the other ingredients aren’t important, but l-citrulline is definitely an ingredient that should be included in your supplement stack!
Alright, so now you should be armed with the knowledge to get the best pump of your life!
Just be aware that everybody is their own unique individual, and that people will react differently to each ingredient listed here. Along with the information presented here, use simple trial and error in order to best assess which ingredients work best for you.
Keep Reading: 9 Best Supplements to Increase Endurance
ⓘ Any specific supplement products & brands featured on this website are not necessarily endorsed by Zachary.
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About the Author
Zachary MacDonald is a fitness professional with a Master’s Degree from The University of Tampa in Exercise & Nutrition Science. He is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), as well as an amateur bodybuilder in the National Physique Committee, the world’s largest amateur organization of bodybuilding! Email Zachary.