Top 8 legal performance-enhancing nutritional supplements for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters

Supplements are frequently a subject of debate in the health and wellness sector as well as amidst high-performing athletes. With the great abundance of choices on the market today, it is effortless to purchase the wrong nutritional supplements. False marketing is rampant [1], and athletes often steer away from using dietary supplements due to prior unsatisfactory purchases.

Do not let this happen to you! Not all supplements are made the same nor have identical effects between individuals. Here are eight nutritional supplements backed by research that are worth trying to elevate your athletic performance as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu martial artist.

1. Beetroot or beet juice


Beet juice may not be the tastiest beverage on the planet, but when it is used as a nutritional supplement to enhance athletic performance, it may just be worth it. Beets are a great source of inorganic nitrate and are used by some of the highest-performing athletes globally for the performance-enhancing benefits of nitrate conversion into nitric oxide within the human body. Beetroot dilates the blood vessels in muscles during athletic activity. This results in a decreased need for oxygen which reduces the amount of oxygen used and increases energy output and energy production [2,3]

Its efficacy was researched by a limited number of scientifically valid clinical trials with conflicting results regarding its ability to enhance athletic performance. There are, however, no known nor reported adverse effects and boasting no zero safety concerns in short-term use at the recommended amount of about 2 cups; there’s no harm in trying it out personally. One potentially worrisome, but not dangerous, effect of beet juice consumption in these quantities is the potential for urine discoloration due to the red pigments in beets [4].

Research has shown that beet juice or beetroot may improve not only athletic performance but endurance too. These results were derived from time trial and time-to-exhaustion tests in aerobic athletes like runners and swimmers and are relative to the effects of a placebo [5]. It may be worth a try, at least, even though more research must be conducted to name beets as a dietary supplement with performance-enhancing capacity formally.


2. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)

As an athlete, you unquestionably have come across nutritional products boasting about their massive branched-chain amino acid content. This fancy term is a grouping term used to describe three essential amino acids called leucine, isoleucine, and valine [6]. These amino acids are metabolized by the human body deep within the mitochondria of the skeletal muscle to produce excess energy during athletic activity and exercise [7,8,9].

The FDA reported no known safety concerns when 20 grams of BCAAs were ingested daily for up to 6 weeks [10,11,12]. These numbers are derived from moderately active athletes, and the numbers fluctuate with activity level. It should be heeded, however, that there are no known nor reported adverse side effects of BCAA consumption from reasonable intake amounts.

There have only been a limited number of short-term clinical trials performed to evaluate the performance-enhancing traits of BCAA consumption in athletes, but most weightlifters and gym enthusiasts swear by their efficacy. Research has shown little evidence of the ability of branched-chain amino acids in the enhancement of endurance related activity like running, biking, and swimming but has shown the much higher potential for performance enhancement by building muscle mass and strength during training [13,14] - essential improvements for increased performance as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter.


3. Caffeine


If you do not know what caffeine is, you are likely reading the wrong article. Most caffeine users indulge in this chemical to stay alert and awake because it is readily available in most coffees and energy drinks. When it comes to caffeine as a performance-enhancing supplement; however, its benefits are far and wide and are worth learning more about. Caffeine is known to reduce the perception of muscular and physical pain at the same time as reducing the perceived effort of muscular exertion [15,16,17].

Studies have shown that this supplement is reasonably safe when consumed in moderation and with responsibility. An athlete can safely consume up to 400-500mg of caffeine per day according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a number 

that fluctuates with age and body mass [18,19,20]. Unlike the previous supplements, caffeine has some known adverse effects. These are primarily insomnia, restlessness, nausea, and rapid heart rate, but the effects of drugs vary from person to person. Caffeine is mildly addicting, and can even be lethal if 10-14 grams of pure caffeine gets ingested at one time [21].

Caffeine has been the subject of numerous research studies and clinical trials in an aim to pinpoint its efficacy as a performance-enhancing nutritional supplement. The results of these scientific studies have primarily shown that caffeine has excellent effectiveness in the improvement of performance both in endurance activities like running and intermittent, long-duration, and intense athletics activities like soccer and, well, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu [22].


4. Creatine


Creatine is another commonly used and well-known nutritional supplement of high-performing athletes. It is usually found in most protein powders and mass gainers but also can be purchased in its pure powder form. Creatine works by increasing the supply of energy within the muscles for short-term athletic activity [23].

Studies have found few safety concerns with creatine supplementation when consumed responsibly by adults. The typical recommendation for creatine intake begins with a loading dose of 20 grams daily for seven days, followed by a reduction to 3-5 grams daily for up to 12 weeks [24,25]. Creatine supplementation often results in minor weight gain because of the extra water the body will retain. Furthermore, some adverse side effects have been reported, such as nausea, diarrhea, and muscle cramps. These unwanted side effects can be minimized by carefully measuring creatine intake and adjusting dosage quantities relative to specific body mass index (BMI) and personal tolerance.

Creatine has been shown in scientific studies to have a common benefit in athletic performance. This performance enhancement is most beneficial in high-intensity athletic activities such as that of a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter or weightlifter. Research further promotes the use of creatine for athletic performance enhancement by generating results showing increased strength, power, and maximum muscle contraction [24]. Creatine over time will aid in adapting to different high-intensity exercise regiments, but little evidence supports the value of creatine in endurance sports like biking, running, and swimming.


5. Betaine (trimethylglycine)


Betaine (also known as trimethylglycine) is yet another powerful nutritional supplement seldom known by athletes. It plays a vital part in the body’s natural production of creatine who’s benefits can be found above [26]. Furthermore, betaine has been shown to increase the nitric-acid levels in the blood and cellular water retention in the muscles [26].

Betaine is a safe supplement with no reported adverse side effects when consumed responsibly. Though 20 grams daily may be too much betaine for the typical athlete, consumption at this rate for up to 6 weeks has been studied and has resulted in no safety concerns [28]. Betaine’s safety, when considered in combination with its research findings on the effect it has on athletic performance, makes it a nutrient worth consideration for performance-enhancing supplementation.

Many researchers have taken to experimenting with this supplement because of its safety. Results are consistent from study to study showing great potential for enhanced athletic performance in endurance training [27]. These results consistently result in both performance improvements during endurance activity as well as during high-intensity interval training when consumed before physical exertion.


6. Protein


Protein is in most foods that you eat, with higher concentrations in muscle promoting foods like meat and milk. Science has shown time, and again, that protein is highly effective at building stronger muscles when combined with adequate athletic training. Furthermore, protein supplementation aids the body in maintaining muscle, and even repairing muscle tissue damaged from intense athletic training [29].

Protein is safe, inexpensive, and effective at increasing performance levels in athletes. A typical dosage recommendation for a BJJ fighter consists of up to 2g/kg of body weight, though this number can fluctuate based on personal goals and preferences [5]. Very few people report any adverse side effects caused by protein supplementation. This lack of official reports, however, does not rule out the possibility of GI upset or nausea. An effective way to minimize these is to carefully titrate up to your desired dose rather than directly jumping into the maximum dose for high-performance athletes.

Ask any athlete, and they will likely support the supplementation of protein in addition to a healthy, well-rounded diet. Scientists have published countless articles on the efficacy of protein in performance enhancement and the community at large agrees that protein

optimizes performance when used correctly. The significant finding among research is that protein supplementation drastically improves muscle response during vigorous exercise and subsequent recovery times, making protein essential for any BJJ artist [30].


7. Sodium bicarbonate


This supplement may seem unfamiliar to you but is more commonly known as baking soda. It likely is in your kitchen at this very moment. Widely used to keep the freezer dry, it is readily available at your local pharmacy in tablet and capsule formulations. Sodium bicarbonate assists the body in disposing of harmful hydrogen ions, which frequently result from intense athletic activity. Sodium bicarbonate is beneficial to athletic performance because by reducing metabolic acidosis, it results in less mental and muscular fatigue [31].

Care should be taken when consuming sodium bicarbonate for performance enhancement. Frequently reported unpropitious side effects include the typical GI upset and nausea, though these unfavorable effects can face mitigation by careful dosing and responsible intake. Studies have shown no concern for safety when ingested in the short-term in quantities of up to 300mg/kg of body weight [31,32].

Though athletic studies of this supplement are plentiful, most have only focused on the short-term benefits of this chemical. Their findings remain consistent, however, and have shown minor to moderate gains in athletic performance resulting from sodium bicarbonate supplementation. Studies on sodium bicarbonate have primarily been focused on high-intensity interval training and have shown sodium bicarb to be especially beneficial when used by trained athletes [32].


8. Tart or sour cherry


Supplementing with tart or sour cherry may not be the most appealing prospect in this list but remains a viable option if alternative nutritional supplements have shown little results in your training. Tart and sour cherry are imbued with phytochemicals that when digested help facilitate the enhanced recovery of muscles from extreme exercise by not only reducing the feeling of muscular pain and tension but reducing inflammation as well [33,34,35].

Science has few safety concerns for the consumption of tart or sour cherry for performance-enhancing reasons in athletes. Few users report any adverse side effects, though not everyone appreciates the taste and texture of juices and powders high in tart

or sour cherry content. No safety concerns have arisen from the few clinical trials evaluating their efficacy. The recommended safe dose is about a ½ quart of juice or 480 mg of freeze-dried Montmorency tart-cherry-skin powder daily for up to 2 weeks [33,34].

The number of clinical experiments and evaluations of athletic supplementation with tart or sour cherry that have been performed up to date are limited, and their results are somewhat conflicting with each other. It is safe to say that more experimentation must be done to evaluate the efficacy of this supplement on aerobic performance. Take heed, however, with the fact that among the various research results scientists have more or less agreed that these nutrients assist athletes with active recovery, reduce muscle soreness, and mitigate the inflammatory effects extreme exercise can have on lung tissue.



Similar to taking on a new diet (have you read our article on keto?) it is essential for any athlete to research and evaluate the risk of nutritional modifications before trying them out. Any athletic nutrient supplementation should be approached with titration (gradually building up to the optimal dosage) and its effects evaluated daily. Please consult with your physician if you suspect a supplement may not work for you or if you have any underlying conditions that may be exasperated by nutritional supplementation.

Athletes should carefully examine the nutrition labels on all nutrition products before their purchase and consumption. What you see, unfortunately, is not always what you get. Many products are not FDA approved, which means are not necessarily in conformance with dietary guidelines and have not been evaluated by an outside source for their truthfulness in labeling. Misbranding and unfair labeling are rampant in the athletic supplement market.



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Thomas Grylka

Thomas is a recent college graduate and a content writer for the Jiu-Jitsu Times. He earned his brown belt in Wa Shin Ryu Jujutsu under Gregory M. Kane during his time as a student at UConn.

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