Your macronutrients are the starting blocks. At IIFYM, it has been preached over and over; keeping track of your macros is the fastest way to achieve success, in a replicable manner. Yes, we know conventionally you may have been conditioned to believe that only healthy foods that taste like cardboard (these natural vasodilators won’t, we promise) are the only ones that are right for you, but we beg to differ.
In fact, following macros and finding appropriate macro friendly foods is the fastest way to accelerate your progress and achieve success. Don’t know your macros? No problem! You’re in luck, as they are just a stone’s throw away over in our macro calculator.
Which brings us to the “meat” of this post; finding macro friendly foods that are natural vasodilators, and enhance blood flow to your muscles, and throughout the body as a whole. Sure, supplements may sound promising, but there is a large gray area in what supplements exactly contain. As there are tons of hidden additives that may unfavorably affect your macronutrient requirements (such as those found in heavily marketed pre-workout boosters).
Well stress no more, as you are about to have your mind blown with these 10 foods that are natural vasodilators which are extremely flexible, and will still fit your IIFYM requirements, all while boosting your blood flow. Here we go!
Coffee is the beverage of champions- period. Never in history has there been a beverage more consumed than coffee, which simultaneously provides ergogenic benefits. Can’t function without your cup o’ Joe in the mornings? We feel you.
Yet, coffee does much more for you than merely acting as a stimulant, as it also boosts vasodilation and blood flow. According to a study conducted in 2015, men who drink 2 or more cups of coffee daily are far less likely to experience erectile dysfunction (ED), a condition caused by poor blood flow (1).
Though ED causes can be more complex than simply reduced blood flow (such as being compounded by diabetes etc.), this is strong evidence for the argument for coffee. Either way, this is a great addition to this list of natural vasodilators.
And why wouldn’t you want to drink more coffee? It’s delicious to boot, and is one of life’s true pleasures! And the best part of it all?
Coffee is extremely macro friendly. In fact, it can have close to 0 net effect on your macros, as when consumed black without additives, the macronutrient yield is extremely low. So get chugging and pump up that blood flow!
2.) Cayenne And Chili Peppers
There’s something alluring about cayenne or chili peppers that keeps us coming back to them again and again. Maybe it’s the succulent fire-breathing-mouth-watering effect they deliver? Whatever it is, one thing that is sure is that they complement an IIFYM plan perfectly.
How so? Well, for one, peppers are not notorious for being high caloric foods (though they can be if you eat a lot), and can easily fit your macros. Or maybe, it is the way these peppers can make your blood boil- in a good way of course.
Similar to chili and cayenne pepper, grapeseed also increases levels of the enzyme responsible for producing nitric oxide, translating to many benefits.
But what is of particular interest to us is the ability of the active ingredient, known as capsaicin, to promote the activity of an enzyme known as nitric oxide synthase (2). This little-known enzyme is what is required for the production of nitric oxide in tissue, helping to improve vasodilation and blood flow.
This effect by which capsaicin increases levels of this enzyme have been observed during multiple studies, and also explains why some male enhancement products have the ingredient capsaicin in it; let’s just say it “spices” up things in the bedroom!
3.) Grape seeds
Normally, eating the fruit would be the main course, with its peel or seeds optional; but what if things were reversed in this case? Yes, even though grapes are a powerhouse in their own right (SPOILER: more on grapes to come).
In this instance, their seeds take all the glory as one of the natural vasodilators. Why? Because they house health benefits not known by many, and are extremely low calorie, fitting comfortably into an IIFYM plan.
In addition, grape seeds or supplemental grapeseed extract is one of the few true natural foods that help stop testosterone from being converted into estrogen. This by itself is worth its weight in gold but isn’t what we’re after first in this case.
We are after the ability of grape seeds to boost vasodilation, by once again increasing levels of nitric oxide in the blood. Similar to chili and cayenne pepper, grapeseed also increases levels of the enzyme responsible for producing nitric oxide, translating to many benefits.
You can expect to see improvements in blood pressure, vascularity while working out, and buffering of fatigue. Indeed, the only deterrent to consuming grape seeds is that they have a bitter taste, and may not be tolerated well by everyone.
4.) Dark Chocolate
This is the most pleasurable macro friendly food out of this list of natural vasodilators, simply because it shows the power of IIFYM. You would be hard-pressed to find a healthy lifestyle plan that allows you to have chocolate, so you know you’ve hit the jackpot!
To be clear, we’ve specified dark chocolate since milk chocolate or other varieties do not have the flavonol content that is required to elicit an effect, and will not significantly alter your macro requirements as other varieties would.
This is the kind that has a slightly bitter taste and at least 70% cacao content. However, this does not mean that dark chocolate isn’t delicious, or that it is without health benefits. In fact, it would take far too long to highlight all the advantages of dark chocolate, so how about we stick to our primary target? Vasodilation.
Yep, you could frankly have a serving of good old dark chocolate before your workout, and experience an awesome pump to successfully smash it. Many bodybuilders swear by the vasodilation the experience from melting half a bar of dark chocolate into their pre-workout drinks.
Almost all of these attributed benefit is due to the presence of a compound known as epicatechin, which is an antioxidant flavonol (similar to the compounds in tea). These findings have been confirmed via studies, which demonstrate significant vasodilation after just five days of daily consumption of flavonol-rich chocolate (3).
Finally, we know dark chocolate is a caloric beast. However, it is also chock full of fiber, and a little goes a long way, so consuming a bit daily can be accommodated by making a note of its macro content.
Did you know that watermelon does not have a high sugar content? Oh yes, believe it or not. Many associate this fruit with being loaded with sugar, when in reality, it’s just water!
This is why watermelon has made the list of one of the best macro friendly natural vasodilators, gaining the highest stamp of approval by us here at IIFYM.
What makes watermelon so sought after, is the presence of an amino acid called L-Citrulline. This amino acid can convert into L-Arginine, which is the direct precursor of nitric oxide. In fact, consuming more L-citrulline is a better way of increasing arginine than just consuming more arginine supplements (4)! See a pattern yet?
Consuming more L-Citrulline improves vasodilation, up to at least its saturation point. But nevertheless, it is a welcome addition to these natural vasodilators.
6.) Cold Water Fish, Especially Salmon
Salmon and its gang of cold water compadres (tuna, cod, etc.) are well known by many thanks to their excellent omega-3 fatty acid content. Omega-3 by itself is beneficial for overall blood vessel health, and hence healthy blood flow, but this macro friendly food has more going on for itself.
…like many of the other natural vasodilators on this list, increase nitric oxide by increasing the amount of enzyme (nitric oxide synthase) available to act on and convert arginine.
In particular, is the presence of a molecule known as coenzyme Q-10. This important biological molecule has numerous functions, but relating to promoting vasodilation, it helps to relax arteries, improve blood vessel function and prevent the breakdown of the nitric oxide molecule itself (5).
What this means is that it is able to exert its vasodilatory effect for a longer time. Making it a great addition to this group of natural vasodilators. Cold water fish are incredibly dense in protein and fat, so be sure to remember that when formulating your plan with one of IIFYM’s knowledgeable coaches.
7.) Grapes (and Red Wine!)
Ok, before you ask why we put red wine in brackets, it’s because we’re not sure if you’re ae an ehm… closet drinker. Yes, red wine does have proven health benefits, but its macro content is less than desirable (as alcohol sugars aren’t really helpful for anything).
Grapes, on the other hand, are great for your macros. They have ample Vitamin C (which can foster blood vessel health), along with numerous polyphenols, the most famous being Resveratrol.
And this is exactly the guy we are looking for; Resveratrol found in grapes, like many of the other natural vasodilators on this list, increase nitric oxide by increasing the amount of enzyme (nitric oxide synthase) available to act on and convert arginine (6). This conversion is referred to as the “rate limiting step” and is the key to increasing vasodilation.
One of the richest sources of anti-oxidants known to man. Pomegranates are also strong contenders for the crown of being the number one in this list of macro friendly natural vasodilators.
Similar to the other foods on this list, pomegranates upregulate nitric oxide synthase enzyme expression, but also protect nitric oxide itself (7).
Thus, it can be regarded as promoting a self-sustaining vasodilatory system, on the one hand increasing nitric oxide, and on the other preventing premature removal of it from the blood. Pomegranate fruit can be consumed on its own (though it is a chore to eat it), or can be taken as juice- you just need to be careful of juices with excessive added sugar.
The inconspicuous and everyday onion can help you in your quest to compile macro friendly foods, owing to its content of a compound known as quercetin. The quercetin in onions has a nitric oxide protectant effect, as well as a “scavenging” action, promoting its recycling to make new nitric oxide molecules.
Its action seems to depend heavily on oxygen concentration and blood pH, meaning that under certain conditions it could do absolutely nothing. However, owing to its extremely flexible low macro count, you can feel free to use onions and not negatively affect your IIFYM plan.
Going hand in hand with onion is everybody’s other favorite meal enhancer- garlic. Not one to be outdone, garlic also possesses its own set of tricks, being able to improve blood flow in the periphery (limbs, and blood vessels furthest away from the heart) (8).
Though garlic itself contains nitrates and nitrites which are converted to nitric oxide via saliva. Its actions are believed to be due to another compound, known as interleukin-6. Which is why it lands itself in this list of natural vasodilators.
The Final Say
There are much more macro friendly foods you will discover as you spend more time with IIFYM, and this is the exact beauty of it all.
You do not need to get bogged down with ridiculous restrictions, causing your diet to fail altogether.
No, instead you will be able to follow a SMART plan crafted by one of our specialist coaches, taking into account your individual differences and making a Custom Macro Blueprint that works for you. Losing weight or gaining muscle does not need to be difficult. It just needs to be built on a solid base of getting your macros in a way that works the best for you.
Allowing you to fit foods to help your goals such as these natural vasodilators!