Citrulline Malate: The Most Important Ingredient In Your Pre Workout
The many benefits of citrulline malate make it the most important ingredient in your pre workout supplement.
Yeah, I said it.
It might not get the plaudits of caffeine, or beta-alanine, but make no mistake, citrulline malate is the first thing I get people to look for when they’re thinking of buying a new pre workout!
So what is it about this ingredient that makes it so special?
Well, you’re in luck! Today I’m going to provide you with a full ingredient breakdown, where we look at what citrulline malate is, what it does, and the benefits of using it before you hit the gym!
What Is Citrulline Malate?
Citrulline is an amino acid, and it’s found in watermelons, cucumbers, and pumpkin.
You’ve likely heard of amino acids before. They are the “building blocks” our body uses to build muscle.
There are twenty amino acids in total, and we split them into groups of “essential amino acids” and “non-essential amino acids”, the word “essential” meaning our body is unable to create that particular amino acid on its own, so we must consume it via food, drinks, or supplements instead.
Full list of amino acids:
- L-Aspartic Acid
- L-Glutamic Acid
Looking at that list, you may be wondering where citrulline is.
Don’t worry, you aren’t going crazy. Once citrulline is ingested, it becomes arginine (that’s why I highlighted it). In fact, many bodybuilders and fitness professionals supplement with arginine directly to get the benefits it offers (more on that soon!).
Supplement companies often attach a malic acid molecule to it, too, hence the name citrulline malate, or CitMal for short.
Studies show this ingredient to be completely safe, with no negative side effects. (18)
What Does Citrulline Malate Do?
So what happens when you add citrulline malate to your pre workout?
Well, this is where things get REALLY INTERESTING…
There are several ways CitMal can improve your training, and they’re all pretty major! Let’s take a run through each of them right now.
YOU’LL GET A BETTER PUMP!
Compared to the other benefits of citrulline, this one might seem a little, dare we say, superficial?!
Yes and no.
Because while the benefits of having a great pump while exercising are definitely good for the ego, they also hold some potential rewards for the long-term, too. After all, this enables longer, more intense workouts that will help you build more lean muscle and burn more fat.
The crazy pump happens because citrulline works as a nitric oxide booster, thanks to its effects on the urea cycle. Greater nitric oxide production leads to temporary vasodilation (the widening of blood vessels), which allows us get a great pump and look “fuller”. (1)
YOU’LL HAVE MORE ENDURANCE!
A pump is fantastic, but now we get to the REAL reason you should be using citrulline malate – with continued usage, the improvements we make to muscular endurance are astonishing!
Because citrulline eliminates ammonia.
Ammonia is a waste product of intense exercise, and when it builds up too much it leads to fatigue. Citrulline’s ability to remove this ammonia is the reason why you feel like SuperMan when you’ve been taking it for a few weeks. (2, 3)
There’s also another benefit from the increased vasodilation I mentioned earlier. The widening of blood vessels creates an environment which allows more nutrients to be delivered to working muscles, leading to better performance under exertion.
In 2010, a study was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looking at the effectiveness of citrulline malate as a supplement for weightlifters.
The researchers found that, from the third set of the workout onwards, trainees who used CitMal were able to perform an average of one more rep per set. (4)
Imagine getting an extra rep on every set you do from now on – those potential gains are nuts!
To make things even better, the study mentioned above also found that supplementing with citrulline saw a 40% decrease in muscle soreness, too.
IMPROVED GROWTH HORMONE LEVELS
Okay, this is where things go a little off track…
Supplement companies often hype up citrulline’s ability to increase our natural production of growth hormone, claiming that this is yet another way citrulline can help with muscle growth, but don’t buy into this one.
Temporarily boosting growth hormone levels during a workout DOES NOT provide any muscle building benefits. (5)
L-Citrulline VS Citrulline Malate..?
Some supplements use citrulline malate, and others use l-citrulline. But which is better?
Well, the answer depends on the type of training you’re about to do.
So what’s the difference between the l-citrulline and citrulline malate?
Citrulline malate consists of citrulline with an added malic acid molecule. Malic acid is a compound found in apples, and has been shown in studies to delay pain during intense exercise. It does this by impacting the Krebs cycle, which is responsible for converting food into energy (most notably the generation of ATP, which is the “money” our cells “spend” on intense exercise). (6, 7)
Meanwhile, l-citrulline is citrulline in its amino acid form.
Some people believe that using citrulline in its “pure” form is superior to using CitMal, but others completely dismiss l-citrulline as a poor substitute for CitMal, so who is right?
Let’s take a look at what science says on this…
If your focus in on aerobic exercise and endurance training (i.e. cardio, such as running on a treadmill) then l-citrulline is your best bet. (8, 9)
However,while there are some useful studies documenting improvements to aerobic training capacity, on the whole I’d say research on l-citrulline supplementation is somewhat of a grey area, with some studies proclaiming it has little to no effect on trainees.
The most notable of these was a 2015 study from researchers at the University of Scranton, which found that giving trainees 6 grams of l-citrulline before performing a bench press to failure and also running on a treadmill to failure. They concluded that l-citrulline did not improve performance. By that, they mean it showed no increase to the number of reps per set, nor time to exhaustion, and vasodilation was not improved. (10)
Research on citrulline malate is a heck of a lot more conclusive.
Earlier, I showed you research which showed CitMal increasing the number of reps per set and decreasing recovery speed of muscles during a chest workout – this wasn’t a “one off”…
In 2015, researchers from the Mississippi State University also discovered that giving trainees CitMal prior to exercise had a profound effect on their performance during lower body workouts.
In this trial, each trainee was given 8 grams of citrulline malate and performed a workout consisting of leg extensions, leg press, and hack squats. As the sets and reps went on, trainees who had taken citrulline prior to training were able to perform more reps to failure than the other group. (11)
The same findings re-occurred in a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition later the same year, this time finding that citrulline malate helped increase the number of reps per set in upper and lower body exercises for a group of female trainees. (12)
It seems the malic acid molecule is the reason for making CitMal more effective than l-citrulline when we knock up the intensity of our workouts (i.e. weight training and/or HIIT). This molecule appears to help the body produce ATP faster.
Citrulline VS Arginine..?
Now that we’ve established the key differences between using l-citrulline in its pure amino acid form versus using citrulline malate, let’s take a look at another popular comparison people like to make with this ingredient:
Citrulline vs Arginine.
Look back at our table of amino acids from earlier in this article, you’ll remember me saying that citrulline becomes arginine once it’s ingested, right?
So why not cut out the middle man and take arginine directly? Well, interestingly, this would actually gives us worse results!
Bodybuilders used to do this in the early 2000’s, when arginine was the go to nitric oxide booster in most of the top pre workout supplements.
But times change, and when a 2002 study from Germany found that using CitMal causes higher blood levels of arginine than using arginine directly, it raised a few eyebrows in the supplement industry. By the time these results were re-confirmed in 2009 when another study showed citrulline is 50% more potent for raising blood levels of arginine, it was game over for l-arginine. (13, 14)
Although it may sound strange, supplementing with citrulline malate is actually a better way of getting the full benefits of arginine than using arginine itself!
It’s the rare instance of discovering a remake better than the original.
In many ways, it’s like comparing the 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger version of True Lies to the bang average 1991 original.
(If you didn’t know there was a 1991 original, then perhaps that does an even better job of illustrating the gulf in class between citrulline and arginine!)
This happens because the vast majority of arginine is destroyed by the liver and intestines as soon as it enters the body. One study suggests that as little as 1% reaches our muscle cells! (15)
Meanwhile, citrulline malate bypasses the liver and intestines entirely!
In a 2012 study published in Medicine & Sport Science, a team of Spanish researchers confirmed that about 80% of citrulline makes it to the kidneys, where it is converted to arginine and sent to working muscles. (16)
Those are much better numbers, right?
Unfortunately, many supplement companies STILL use arginine to this day, as it still enables them to claim “increased endurance and pump!” on the packaging (technically it does this, just not very well), and they presume the general public won’t know the difference.
Now you do!
What Is The Optimal Citrulline Malate Dose For Performance Benefits?
Okay, so you’re sold on using a pre workout that contains citrulline malate. Great, I’ve got some suggestions for you at the end of this post.
But how much do we need?
Optimal citrulline malate dosage is between 6 grams and 8 grams, taken 20-30 minutes before training.
While the majority of studies use 6 grams and show decent results, note that the studies I’ve shown you today (which yield the absolute best results) all use the maximum dose of 8 grams. So when you’re looking for a GREAT pre workout, look for one which gives you 8 grams of citrulline malate.
If possible, also look for one which contains folic acid. This will increase the effectiveness of your citrulline malate dose even further, as folic acid helps synthesize BH4, which sets the stage for greater nitric oxide production. (17)
The Benefits Of Citrulline Malate Are No Joke!
So now you know the benefits of citrulline malate, it’ll help you when choosing your next pre workout.
- What citrulline is
- The benefits of citrulline malate when taken before a workout
- The key differences between l-citrulline and citrulline malate
- Why citrulline malate is better than arginine
- The optimal dose of citrulline malate for best results
And knowing this information will not only help you get better results in the gym, but also better supplements!
You see, there are many manufacturers who continue to cut corners with this key muscle building ingredient.
Some continue to use arginine, despite the fact we know it’s much less effective:
Grenade .50 Calibre, Pro Supps Mr. Hyde NitroX, Universal Nutrition Shock Therapy, Adapt Nutrition Pre Train v2, Mutant Madness, Cobra Labs The Curse…
Some use l-citrulline instead of citrulline malate, so they’re better suited to aerobic training:
Kaged Muscle Pre Kaged, Gaspari Nutrition SuperPump Max, MusclePharm Wreckage…
And some opt to use CitMal but HIDE THE DOSAGE behind a proprietary blend (meaning they definitely do not contain enough):
Evolution Nutrition ENGN Shred, Kali Muscle Hyphy Mud 2.0, BPI Sports 1MR Vortex, Warrior Rage…
Finally, here are some examples of pre workout supplements that get it right, and provide you with a full clinical dose of citrulline malate:
- AML Pre Workout (contains 8 grams of CitMal, and also 800mcg folic acid)
- Dymatize Pre W.O. (contains 8 grams of CitMal)
- Jym Supplement Science Pre Jym (contains 6 grams of CitMal)
- RedCon1 Total War (contains 6 grams of CitMal)
Leave me a comment down below if you have any questions that aren’t covered here.
- Alvares T. S., et al. Acute l-arginine supplementation increases muscle blood volume but not strength performance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. (2012)
- Eriksson L. S., et al. Ammonia metabolism during exercise in man. Clinical Physiology (Oxford, England). (1985)
- Mutch B. J., et al. Ammonia metabolism in exercise and fatigue: a review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. (1983)
- Pérez-Guisado J., et al. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. (2010)
- West D. W., et al. Associations of exercise-induced hormone profiles and gains in strength and hypertrophy in a large cohort after weight training. Eur J Appl Physiol. (2012)
- Werbach M. Nutritional strategies for treating chronic fatigue syndrome. Alternative Medicine Review. (2000)
- Schroeder M. A., et al. Real-time assessment of Krebs cycle metabolism using hyperpolarized 13C magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The FASEB Journal. (2009)
- Suzuki T., et al. Oral L-citrulline supplementation enhances cycling time trial performance in healthy trained men: Double-blind randomized placebo-controlled 2-way crossover study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2016)
- Bailey, S. J., et al. l-Citrulline supplementation improves O2 uptake kinetics and high-intensity exercise performance in humans. J Appl Physiol. (2015)
- Cutrufello P. T., et al. The effect of l-citrulline and watermelon juice supplementation on anaerobic and aerobic exercise performance. J Sports Sci. (2015)
- Wax B., et al. Effects of supplemental citrulline malate ingestion during repeated bouts of lower-body exercise in advanced weightlifters. J Strength Cond Res. (2015)
- Glenn J. M., et al. Acute citrulline malate supplementation improves upper- and lower-body submaximal weightlifting exercise performance in resistance-trained females. Eur Journal Nutr. (2017)
- Kuhn K. P., et al. Oral citrulline effectively elevates plasma arginine levels for 24 hours in normal volunteers. Circulation. (2002)
- Schwedhelm E., et al. Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of oral L-citrulline and L-arginine: impact on nitric oxide metabolism. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. (2008)
- Castillo L., et al. Splanchnic metabolism of dietary arginine in relation to nitric oxide synthesis in normal adult man. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. (1993)
- Sureda A., et al. Arginine and citrulline supplementation in sports and exercise: ergogenic nutrients? Med Sport Sci. (2012)
- Crabtree MJ, et al. Dihydrofolate reductase protects endothelial nitric oxide synthase from uncoupling in tetrahydrobiopterin deficiency. Free Radical Biology & Medicine. (2011)
- Curis E., et. al. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care; “Citrulline and the gut;“. (2007)