When it comes to getting the best pre-workout, you need the best ingredients. If you’re looking to get the best pump, you should definitely look into getting a pre-workout with citrulline in it.
I mean, it’s a great ingredient that works well when it comes to you earning that muscle pump you’re looking for!
However, there is more than one form of citrulline out there, and not every company uses the same form. So, which citrulline is the best?
That’s what I’m here to help you figure out.
We’re going to dig into what citrulline is and how it works. I’m also going to teach you about the differences between the two main forms of it, L-Citrulline and citrulline malate. (Hint: There are more differences than you'd think!)
Let’s get started, shall we?
What is Citrulline?
Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid that helps the body break down ammonia. At least, that’s its main purpose in your body.
We don’t want ammonia to build up because it can become toxic to the nervous system, even in fairly low amounts (1). So, if it’s toxic, then why does ammonia naturally build up in the body?
You see, amino acids differ from carbohydrates and fats, because amino acids contain nitrogen. When your body breaks down amino acids, that leftover nitrogen forms ammonia.
As these compounds build up in our system, they need to get broken down into urea, so we can pee them out. That’s where citrulline comes in.
I don't want to bore you by going into a full-on science lesson, so I’ll keep it simple.
Citrulline plays its part in the urea cycle by getting converted into arginine. So, if you remember anything from this section, let it be this.
Citrulline converts into arginine inside the body when ingested. This process can play a key role in your ability to get those crazy "pumps" in the gym. But how?
How Does Citrulline Increase Muscle Pumps?
This is where the process gets interesting.
But first, let me backtrack a second...
I mentioned earlier that citrulline gets converted into arginine. That is the way citrulline increases muscle pumps.
Now, if that’s the case, how does arginine increase muscle pumps?
Arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide is a strong vasodilator, which simply means that it opens up the blood vessels more.
Think of your blood vessels like a hose that constantly has water running through it. Now, imagine if the diameter of the hose got much bigger.
It now would have the ability to move more water through the hose with less pressure. That’s how nitric oxide works on your blood vessels, and that’s how you get muscle pumps too.
Your blood vessels dilate and deliver more oxygen-rich blood to your muscles right where you need it. That’s also why you may notice the veins in your arms increasing in size during your workout and popping out more.
If that’s true though, then why would you take citrulline in order to get more arginine? Why not just take more arginine?
That’s a valid question. I asked that question when I first learned about this process too, and the answer is pretty interesting.
Arginine actually has more obstacles when it comes to absorption than citrulline does. For instance, arginine tends to get broken down by an enzyme called arginase before it makes its way into the blood too.
...and since we already know that citrulline converts into arginine once it’s in the body.
We can draw the conclusion that, theoretically, taking citrulline could increase arginine levels more than taking arginine. Believe it or not, that’s actually what studies show as well (2).
Therefore, by taking in citrulline, you create more arginine. Then, that arginine that your body made from citrulline gets broken down less than taking arginine itself.
As a result, more of the arginine your body produced from citrulline can convert into nitric oxide. This can, in turn, increase blood flow to your working muscles.
The increase in fluid entering the muscle makes your veins pop, and your muscles begin to swell. That is one of the main ways you are able to get a great pump from your workout.
Science is pretty cool, isn’t it?
Now that you know how citrulline works. I think it’s time we cover the difference between pure L-Citrulline and citrulline malate.
L-Citrulline vs Citrulline Malate
L-Citrulline is pure citrulline.
If you’re wondering what the “L” means, you’re not alone. I had no idea for a long time, but it just means it’s a left-handed amino acid.
The left-handed amino acids are the ones your body normally uses, so we use L-Citrulline.
Citrulline malate means the citrulline is bound to malic acid. I’ll get into what malic acid does and how it helps in a minute.
For now, I’m going to take a second to cover the different benefits of each.
As we’ve covered, L-Citrulline has the benefit of increasing nitric oxide production. This opens the blood vessels and allows more oxygen-rich blood to enter your muscle cells.
That has the potential to create a massive pump in the muscle due to fluid, which causes swelling. This doesn’t just give you a pump in the gym though.
Increasing nitric oxide, in turn, increases how much oxygen can get into your muscles. After all, oxygen is needed for your muscles to perform properly.
This also has the potential to help you gain muscle too (5).
This may be due to more nutrients getting delivered to the muscle. It could also be from helping to increase protein synthesis and muscle fiber repair (5).
In addition to that, L-Citrulline has shown promise in helping to lower blood pressure, and in allowing you to perform at higher intensities for longer (4). That helps to improve overall performance in your workouts, and is one reason why it’s so popular.
It may also benefit muscular endurance due to buffering ammonia during exercise (7). Keeping ammonia levels lower could help you do more work before the muscle fatigues.
There’s a whole list of benefits to L-Citrulline supplementation, but what about citrulline malate?
Citrulline Malate Benefits
Remember, citrulline malate is citrulline bound to malic acid. Some might claim that companies use it so they can give you less citrulline to save money, but they’re way off base.
Malic acid can help regulate energy, improve cardiac function, and reduce fatigue (3). When citrulline and malic acid are bound together, they can both help enhance performance.
One study showed that citrulline malate increased levels of grip strength and muscular power. It also showed the ability to sustain that power for longer (6).
I’d say that’s a pretty powerful ingredient!
Citrulline buffers ammonia, and increases the flow of oxygen to your muscles. Don't forget, it helps you get a nice pump too!
The malate helps to increase ATP (energy) production to improve strength and power. Put them both together and you’ve got quite a few benefits.
Studies show that citrulline malate can help to increase your overall work capacity in the gym by as much as 19% (8). That’s a major difference in the world of exercise science!
Simply put, citrulline malate is effective, and can truly make a difference in your workouts.
So, Which One is Better: L-Citrulline or Citrulline Malate?
That’s honestly a fairly tough question.
It’s not an easy answer either, since there haven’t been enough comparison studies between the two.
There is more evidence for L-Citrulline on its own, but that’s not to say that means it’s actually better.
One thing to keep in mind is that you get less citrulline in the overall dosage of citrulline malate gram for gram. If your pre-workout says “citrulline malate 2:1” that means 2 grams of citrulline for every gram of malic acid.
So, 6 grams of citrulline malate is actually 4 grams of l-citrulline and 2 grams of malic acid. This is one area L-Citrulline has a leg up, because 6 grams of L-Citrulline is all citrulline.
So, when choosing which one to get, it comes down to what you’re looking for.
If you are curious about which one will enhance blood flow more, I would choose L-Citrulline. If you want to boost overall performance more, I would choose citrulline malate.
Also keep in mind that many pre-workouts, like Project-1, have other ingredients on top of citrulline malate to maximize blood flow. Doing this gives you the added benefits of the malic acid, but can help increase the pump you get even more!
What Else You Should Know About L-Citrulline Vs. Citrulline Malate
While L-Citrulline and citrulline malate are both similar, they are not the same.
Yes, they can both help increase blood flow, reduce blood pressure, and improve performance. But, citrulline malate though, in my opinion, can provide that little extra benefit of better performance ... making it even more worth it. Plus, when you throw in other vasodilators, like in Project-1, you can truly get the best of both worlds.
And look, I understand ... getting big pumps in the gym is ideal, and we all love to see and feel it while working out.
But, that’s not the most important thing when it comes to getting results.
In fact, if you want to lose body fat, the key is in your nutrition...
If you want to build muscle, the key is in your nutrition too...
Really, there’s no way around it ... nutrition is key.
But, with muscle growth, you also need to work out hard and increase the volume over time. It’s not a bad idea to switch up your workouts over time to make that happen.
That’s where the 1st Phorm App can help out. The app is designed to give you every resource you need to earn the best results possible!
We give you an advisor to coach you and teach you everything you need to know. We all need someone to hold us accountable, and you get that with an advisor!
They also teach you nutrition and supplementation, and can help with your workouts too! Within the app itself, you track your food, workouts, and progress all in one spot!
If you’re serious about wanting to make some changes, don’t overlook the 1st Phorm App. I promise: you get out exactly what you put in.
If you use every tool we give you, and put in the effort ... in time, you’ll be exactly where you want to be!
If you have any questions about the app or anything else for that matter, reach out to us! We have a full team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Certified Nutrition Coaches who are happy to help for FREE! Just give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 or send us an email at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com anytime.
(1) Mohiuddin SS, Khattar D. Biochemistry, Ammonia. (Updated 2023 Feb 20). In: StatPearls (Internet). Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541039/
(2) Agarwal U, Didelija IC, Yuan Y, Wang X, Marini JC. Supplemental Citrulline Is More Efficient Than Arginine in Increasing Systemic Arginine Availability in Mice. J Nutr. 2017 Apr;147(4):596-602. doi: 10.3945/jn.116.240382. Epub 2017 Feb 8. PMID: 28179487; PMCID: PMC5368575.
(3) Qiang F. Effect of Malate-oligosaccharide Solution on Antioxidant Capacity of Endurance Athletes. Open Biomed Eng J. 2015 Oct 19;9:326-9. doi: 10.2174/1874120701509010326. PMID: 26998183; PMCID: PMC4787273.
(4) Bailey SJ, Blackwell JR, Lord T, Vanhatalo A, Winyard PG, Jones AM. l-Citrulline supplementation improves O2 uptake kinetics and high-intensity exercise performance in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2015 Aug 15;119(4):385-95. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00192.2014. Epub 2015 May 28. PMID: 26023227.
(5) Villareal MO, Matsukawa T, Isoda H. l-Citrulline Supplementation-Increased Skeletal Muscle PGC-1α Expression Is Associated with Exercise Performance and Increased Skeletal Muscle Weight. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2018 Jul;62(14):e1701043. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201701043. Epub 2018 Jun 25. PMID: 29797700; PMCID: PMC6099278.
(6) Glenn JM, Gray M, Jensen A, Stone MS, Vincenzo JL. Acute citrulline-malate supplementation improves maximal strength and anaerobic power in female, masters athletes tennis players. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016 Nov;16(8):1095-103. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2016.1158321. Epub 2016 Mar 28. PMID: 27017895.
(7) Takeda K, Machida M, Kohara A, Omi N, Takemasa T. Effects of citrulline supplementation on fatigue and exercise performance in mice. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2011;57(3):246-50. doi: 10.3177/jnsv.57.246. PMID: 21908948.
(8) Kiani AK, Bonetti G, Medori MC, Caruso P, Manganotti P, Fioretti F, Nodari S, Connelly ST, Bertelli M. Dietary supplements for improving nitric-oxide synthesis. J Prev Med Hyg. 2022 Oct 17;63(2 Suppl 3):E239-E245. doi: 10.15167/2421-4248/jpmh2022.63.2S3.2766. PMID: 36479475; PMCID: PMC9710401.