Q: A guy at the gym recommended that I take ginkgo biloba, but I thought that was one of those supplements designed to make you smarter. Do I need this in the gym?

A: The stereotype is that all bodybuilders can use any help they can get in the smarts department. While that certainly isn’t the case – we’ve met our fair share of cerebral freaks here at muscle & fitness – taking a ginkgo biloba supplement may be a good idea for bodybuilders because it enhances your body’s blood flow. Greater blood flow in the brain boosts brain activity, and increasing the flow of blood to your muscles improves your pump in the gym.

“Ginkgo biloba is a great supplement for bodybuilders for a number of reasons besides its ability to boost brain function,” says Tim Scheett, PhD. He lists the following bodybuilding benefits that may come from using this supplement:

>> Ginkgo biloba increases blood flow to your muscles. “When you increase blood flow to your muscles, you boost the amount of oxygen, nutrients and hormones in them,” Scheett notes. “In addition, increasing blood flow helps remove waste products and toxins from your muscles. This promotes recovery and growth.”

>> Ginkgo biloba may work as an antioxidant. “Some research indicates that ginkgo biloba may function as an antioxidant in fighting free radicals,” Scheett comments. Free radicals are harmful compounds created through stresses such as exercise. Antioxidants fight them, making cells less likely to be damaged by these stresses.

>> Ginkgo biloba may boost metabolism. Having a high metabolic rate is a great advantage for a bodybuilder seeking to stay lean while adding muscle mass. Scheett explains: “This boost in metabolism is most likely due to enhanced delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.

“If you’re interested in improving muscle gains through increasing blood flow, you can pair ginkgo biloba with arginine,” Scheett adds. Arginine is an amino acid that enhances nitric oxide (NO) production. Arginine and NO products (of which there are many) assist with delivery of oxygen, nutrients and hormones to your muscles. Many people experience a noticeable pump with these products.

To best obtain the benefits associated with greater blood flow to your muscles, try pairing ginkgo biloba and arginine. Take 3-5 grams of arginine or an NO product three times a day, one dose 30 minutes or so before you train. For ginkgo biloba, take 40-60 mg three times per day. Use an extract standardized to 24% ginkgo flavone glycosides and 6% terpenes.

Remember, though, that herbs such as ginkgo biloba can interact with other supplements and prescription medications. Talk with a health-care practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanicals before you start taking ginko or any other herb.