The many benefits of citrulline malate make it the most important ingredient in a great pre workout supplement.
Yeah, I said it.
It might not get the plaudits of caffeine, creatine, or beta-alanine, but it sure-as-hell deserves them.
Sadly, citrulline is often just “thrown in”, under-dosed and nowhere near as effective as it could be, as supplement companies continue to focus on the three mentioned above.
But make no mistake, citrulline malate is the first thing I get my clients to look for when they’re thinking of buying a new pre workout.
If you’re not sure of the benefits it offers, today’s article was compiled to give you a handy walk-through guide on everything you can expect from citrulline.
Learn how I created “the perfect pre workout” by combining citrulline malate with 3 other ingredients here.
What Is Citrulline?
It’s an amino acid, and it’s commonly found in watermelons.
In supplement form, you’ll usually hear it referred to as citrulline malate. This is citrulline with a malic acid molecule attached to it.
Occasionally, you’ll also hear of supplement companies attaching these molecules in different ratios, i.e. a 2:1 ratio, as seen in Pre Jym.
In the video below, I give a brief rundown of the main benefits
- Increased muscular endurance.
- Better pumps.
- Improved growth hormone levels.
Not too bad, right?
So how does citrulline malate help you train harder, and sustain that effort for longer?
Well, it doesn’t give you super powers.
It’s all about lactic acid build-up. This is not to be confused with beta-alanine, though. Beta-alanine possesses the unique ability to temporarily buffer the onset of lactic acid (“the burn”), whereas citrulline works by widening the blood vessels and causing greater nutrient delivery to the working muscles, as well as helping to shuttle away waste product while you train.
In doing so, you unlock the ability to train nearer to peak levels for a longer period of time.
The inclusion of a malic acid molecule will also boost your production of ATP, enabling a slight improvement in recovery time between your sets.
As someone who lifts weights, I’m sure this is exciting you. So let’s look further into the science of why citrulline is such a key player in a good pre workout supplement…
How does citrulline fare during actual workouts, then?
A fabulous 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research answered this question in order to test the impact it had on greater muscular endurance and recovery. (1)
They found something quite startling.
From the third set in, every participant who used citrulline was able to perform an average of one more rep per set than those who used a placebo.
Holy cow, Batman!
If you’re training as hard as Rocky in a snow-filled barn, this should be music to your ears! After all, with continued supplementation, getting one more rep on ever set would soon add up into a mountainous advantage.
Citrulline vs Arginine
I’ve you know your pre workouts, you may recognize the benefits of citrulline malate closely resemble those often touted with another pre workout favourite; arginine.
Just like CitMal, arginine will increase nitric oxide levels, causing blood cells to widen and deliver more nutrients during training. (2)
This causes an insane pump, because while the widened blood cells primary function is to improve nutrient delivery, it also allows for greater blood flow. Seeing as blood is 50% water, this causes our muscles to temporarily swell up (“the pump”).
It’s kinda like when Joey wore his Thanksgiving pants.
During the early 2000’s, almost every pre workout supplement used arginine to get the benefits shown above.
It was the king of N.O. (nitric oxide) supplements.
But times change…
We know now that arginine is not absorbed very well. It is mostly destroyed before it reaches the muscle cells.
Citrulline, however, converts into arginine once inside the body, and has a far greater absorption ratio.
This makes CitMal a superior way to get the benefits of arginine versus using arginine itself!
This was confirmed during an interesting 2002 study from Germany which concluded that using citrulline malate caused higher blood levels of arginine than using arginine directly. (3)
This was re-confirmed six years later with a trial published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, where it was shown that citrulline is 50% more potent than arginine when it comes to raising blood levels of arginine. (4)
This comes down to breakdown and transportation.
You see, once inside the body, arginine lasts about as long as a child molester in Gen Pop.
Most of it gets destroyed in the liver and intestines (one study even suggesting as little as 1% makes it all the way to the muscle cells!), meaning we would need a f**king huge dose to achieve the kind of training benefits arginine is capable of. (5)
In comes citrulline malate, like the 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger re-make of True Lies versus the very average 1991 original.
If you didn’t know there was a 1991 original, that’s how average it was. And that’s how big the gap is between CitMal and arginine.
Citrulline bypasses the liver and intestines, and get straight to work.
In a 2012 study published in Medicine and Sport Science, a team of Spanish researchers found that about 80% of citrulline actually makes it to the kidneys, where it is converted to arginine. (6)
Those numbers are much better, right?
That’s why your pre workout should include citrulline malate, and why arginine should be a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, many manufacturers continue to throw arginine into their pre workout formulas because it is much cheaper to produce, and they presume the general public won’t know the difference in results.
Now you do!
Another often touted benefit of using citrulline malate, is it’s ability to boost growth hormone levels.
I’m not a fan of this claim, because temporarily boosting your growth hormone levels during training does not give you any benefit when it comes to building more lean muscle. This is a superficial benefit supplement companies like to shout about because ‘growth hormone’ sounds like muscle is being built. (7)
How Much Citrulline Malate Do You Need?
The clinical dose for performance benefits is 8 grams.
This is where most companies miss the grade.
They want to be able to make the huge claims on the packaging from including citrulline in the product (i.e. the pumps, the endurance, etc), but they also want to keep the production cost as low as possible.
It’s a double-edged sword.
This usually results in one of the following three scenarios:
- Using a proprietary blend.
- Using l-citrulline instead of citrulline malate.
- Using a combination of citrulline malate and arginine.
In using a proprietary blend, a company is able to withold the amount of each ingredient in the product.
It’s an old supplement industry loophole originally designed to allow manufacturers to protect their formula from copycat products, but nowadays it’s used primarily as a means to hide an under-dosed product.
The fact that the ingredient is in the product is enough for them to splatter the packaging with claims of what the ingredient can do, even if it’s not fully dosed and therefore won’t provide any of those potential benefits.
It’s wrong, but it’s how the supplement industry works. And it isn’t a practice only used by little-known, shady supplement companies, either.
The best way to avoid this scam is to stay clear of any pre workout which contains a proprietary blend.
Examples of popular pre workouts which hide their formula behind a proprietary blend:G
When we use the standard form of citrulline, known simply as l-citrulline, we lose a significant amount of the potency. Remember, that malic acid molecule plays an important role.
Examples of popular pre workouts that use l-citrulline instead of CitMal:
Finally, I’ve already shown why we don’t need to use a combination of CitMal and arginine, or use arginine in place of CitMal entirely.
Arginine shouldn’t be there in the first place, unless you’ve mastered time travel and are reading this in 2004.
(In which case, don’t go to the toilet during the SuperBowl half-time show.)
Examples of popular pre workouts that use a combination of CitMal and arginine, or use arginine in place of CitMal entirely:
To get the maximum trainin benefits citrulline can provide, look for a pre workout which contains between 6-8 grams per serving.
Anything less and you’re being sold short.
Finally, here are some examples of popular pre workouts that contain a full dose of CitMal:
Should You Start Using Citrulline Malate?
I’ll answer that question with a question of my own…
Do you follow either a heavy weights-based training program, or an endurance-based routine?
If you answered yes to either, you should start using citrulline malate.
You can pick it up as part of a pre workout (my choices above will keep you on the right path), or you can pick it up on it’s own. It’s cheap.
It’s one of the few pre workout ingredients that’s genuinely as useful as it claims to be, and it’s the first thing I get clients to look for when they’re ordering a new pre workout.
- Pérez-Guisado, J., et al. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. (2010)
- Alvares, T. S., et al. Acute l-arginine supplementation increases muscle blood volume but not strength performance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. (2012)
- 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)
- 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)