Arginine and citrulline supplementation in sports and exercise: ergogenic nutrients?

Med Sport Sci. 2012:59:18-28. doi: 10.1159/000341937. Epub 2012 Oct 15.


Dietary L-citrulline malate supplements may increase levels of nitric oxide (NO) metabolites, although this response has not been related to an improvement in athletic performance. NO plays an important role in many functions in the body regulating vasodilatation, blood flow, mitochondrial respiration and platelet function. L-Arginine is the main precursor of NO via nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity. Additionally, L-citrulline has been indicated to be a second NO donor in the NOS-dependent pathway, since it can be converted to L-arginine. The importance of L-citrulline as an ergogenic support derives from the fact that L-citrulline is not subject to pre-systemic elimination and, consequently, could be a more efficient way to elevate extracellular levels of L-arginine by itself. L-Citrulline malate can develop beneficial effects on the elimination of NH(3) in the course of recovery from exhaustive muscular exercise and also as an effective precursor of L-arginine and creatine. Dietary supplementation with L-citrulline alone does not improve exercise performance. The ergogenic response of L-citrulline or L-arginine supplements depends on the training status of the subjects. Studies involving untrained or moderately healthy subjects showed that NO donors could improve tolerance to aerobic and anaerobic exercise. However, when highly-trained subjects were supplemented, no positive effect on performance was indicated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arginine / administration & dosage*
  • Citrulline / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Tolerance / drug effects*
  • Exercise Tolerance / physiology
  • Humans
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / drug effects
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism
  • Sports Medicine / methods*
  • Task Performance and Analysis


  • Citrulline
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Arginine
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase