Improve your BJJ performance and recovery with these evidence-backed supplements.
Disclaimer: The information included in this article is general in nature and should be used as a guide only. Always consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplements. This is not personal health or medical advice.
Supplements are non-food substances and compounds taken outside the context of a normal diet for improving aspects of health and performance.
The best supplements for BJJ improve some aspect of training, performance, or recovery, allowing you to train harder, compete more effectively, and recover faster.
Supplements that directly improve performance are called ‘ergogenic,’ and have at least a scientifically theorized biological mechanism of action for their effect.
Other supplements aim at supporting recovery or overall health, and would not directly be considered ergogenic, even if they holistically or indirectly improve performance.
Your specific goals and training schedule will ultimately determine the most effective supplement stack for your needs.
This article breaks down the top scientifically-backed supplements widely available to help your BJJ mostly based on the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s exercise & sports nutrition review update from 2018 as well as additional, supplement-specific studies.
We focus on supplements with strong evidence to support their use in athletic performance and minimal known health risks. We have broken our list into supplements to take before training, during training, or after training.
Without further ado, let’s explore the best supplements for BJJ!
Table of contents
- Pre-training supplements
- Intra-training supplements
- Post-training supplements
- How to ensure you buy quality supplements
- About the author and fact checker
Pre-training supplements are taken in the minutes or hours leading up to training or competition in order to improve performance during that acute exercise bout.
The pre-training supplements with the best evidence and safety record according to the ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update from 2018 are caffeine and sodium bicarbonate.
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is an alkaloid compound found in many different plants and can also be synthetically created.
Caffeine is the most widely consumed drug on the planet, with an estimated 90 percent of individuals globally consuming caffeine in some form on a daily basis.
Typically, caffeine is a primary ingredient in energy boosting supplements, pre-workout mixes, and of course traditional beverages such as coffee and tea.
Generally, caffeine is the active component in any supplement marketed as an energy or focus booster that does not specifically say caffeine free.
How does caffeine work?
According to 2015 research in the Current Neuropharmacology journal, there are three primary mechanisms of action responsible for caffeine’s effects:
- Antagonism of adenosine – increases the release of dopamine, noradrenaline, and glutamate, collectively increasing motivation and energy.
- Mobilization of intracellular calcium storage – increases the force of submaximal muscular contractions.
- Inhibition of phosphodiesterases – increases glucose and fat metabolism (requires high caffeine doses)
Researchers think these mechanisms of action collectively account for many of the real-world performance benefits seen in studies on caffeine.
After ingestion, caffeine is absorbed by the body and peak caffeine concentrations occur roughly 20 minutes after consumption. The average half life is 5 hours but varies across individuals. As such, the effects of caffeine last anywhere from 1.5 to 9 hours.
Benefits of caffeine for BJJ
In terms of benefits for BJJ performance, caffeine certainly has promising data.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu requires a combination of mental and physical performance components. This of course includes aerobic endurance, explosive powerful movements, and the cognitive ability to ‘stay in the fight’ while facing physical pressure and aggression from the opponent.
Speaking of physical performance, a 2016 study on elite BJJ athletes found that BJJ athletes who consumed 3mg/kg*bw of caffeine performed better on multiple physical tasks compared to the placebo group.
The same 2016 study also simulated actual BJJ competition following the caffeine consumption of 3mg/kg*bw and attempted to analyze the BJJ specific performance itself.
According to the findings, the caffeine group spent more time performing offensive actions and also had higher blood lactate levels, reflecting a greater performance intensity.
Between objective strength findings and the performance analysis, the case for caffeine being a pre-training performance enhancement looks promising.
Beyond studies on BJJ athletes, a wide range of studies on caffeine yielded the following possible benefits:
- 3% to 15% improvement in time trials among cyclists and other endurance athletes following caffeine consumption
- Moderate evidence for maximal muscular strength and endurance benefit
- Significant improvement for prolonged intermittent sprint ability
You should note that not every single study on caffeine yielded positive results. However, the evidence on the whole suggests caffeine can improve a range of athletic performance measures, including direct performance in BJJ.
Risks of caffeine consumption
Although caffeine is fairly safe, there are some risks associated with its use, particularly at high doses.
Side effects can include anxiety, restlessness, gastric disturbance, heart palpitations, and even death at extreme doses. Note that a dose high enough to cause death would have already resulted in significant gastrointestinal upset.
A lethal dose is estimated to be between 10 and 15 grams of caffeine, which equates to around 100 cups of standard coffee.
The biggest overdose risk comes from concentrated caffeine-containing powders, supplements, and drink formulations, which allow large doses in a small amount of liquid.
The top safety recommendations are to keep daily consumption under 400mg for men and 300mg for reproductive-age women.
These are general recommendations, however, and your individual tolerance and body mass will affect your upper caffeine limit.
Furthermore, individuals with higher body mass would exceed these doses when following the performance guidelines. Regardless, these doses are still well below the amount needed for life-threatening effects in otherwise healthy individuals.
If you take pre-workouts or other caffeinated supplements, be sure to verify the dose ahead of time and start small if you are newer to caffeine use, or if you have prior health issues check with your cardiologist.
Caffeine supplementation protocol
One study from 2019 recommended a dose of maximal benefit as somewhere between 3 and 6 mg/kg*bw in the hour prior to training.
Sodium bicarbonate is a common household chemical and cooking ingredient, and is the active ingredient in baking soda. Supplement-grade sodium bicarbonate is available in tablet form.
What is sodium bicarbonate?
Sodium bicarbonate is a compound made up of a sodium ion and a bicarbonate ion. It is a common ingredient in many baked goods and is safe to ingest in recommended quantities.
Sodium bicarbonate is taken as a supplement to improve performance on exercise lasting 1 to 3 minutes in duration.
How does sodium bicarbonate work?
Bicarbonate ions play a key role in buffering the acid buildup that occurs in high intensity exercise.
The added bicarbonate from supplementation improves your muscles’ baseline buffering capacity, thus increasing absolute output on high intensity activities.
Benefits of sodium bicarbonate for BJJ
Supplementation of sodium bicarbonate improved judo-related performance in judo-specific athletic tests.
Multiple other studies support the efficacy of sodium bicarbonate for improving performance on similar activities.
Given that BJJ involves similar intermittent intense activity, sodium bicarbonate could be beneficial for BJJ performance.
Risks of sodium bicarbonate
Sodium bicarbonate can cause acute gastrointestinal distress, including diarrhea, bloating, thirst, and nausea, especially at high doses.
As such, be sure to experiment ahead of time before taking sodium bicarbonate prior to a major event.
Sodium bicarbonate supplementation protocol
According to the ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update 2018, a protocol for performance improvements is 0.3g/kg*bw 60-90 minutes before exercise, or 5g taken 2 times per day for 5 days.
Intra-training supplements are substances taken during training for performance benefits.
Other than drinking water every 20 to 30 minutes during training, most BJJ training sessions are not long enough to warrant significant supplementation during training.
Electrolyte-carbohydrate supplementation is the main intra-training supplement you might consider for BJJ.
In the context of intra-training supplements, electrolyte-carbohydrate supplements typically refer to sports drinks and similar products that contain glucose, sodium, potassium, and chloride.
What are electrolyte-carbohydrate supplements?
Electrolytes are key chemicals required for virtually all biological activity.
Carbohydrates are the main fuel for the body, ultimately becoming glucose, the simplest sugar and main energy substrate for human activity.
These compounds are consumed intra-training through sports drinks and powders.
How do electrolyte-carbohydrate supplements work?
Electrolytes are lost at an increased rate through sweat during exercise and must be replaced to ensure adequate levels.
Prolonged exercise consumes stored glucose, and replacement of glucose can prevent performance decreases due to lack of readily available fuel.
Consuming electrolyte-carbohydrate drinks during training ensures stable electrolyte levels and a steady supply of glucose for energy.
Benefits of electrolyte-carbohydrate drinks for BJJ
If your BJJ session lasts longer than an hour and involves high intensity, then supplementing with an electrolyte-carbohydrate drink can help prevent dehydration and related performance detriments.
Risks of electrolyte-carbohydrate drinks
Excessive consumption of electrolyte-carbohydrate drinks may cause GI distress.
Furthermore, you could gain weight from the sugar in the drink if you are drinking more than recommended or consuming the beverage outside of the context of exercising.
Electrolyte-carbohydrate supplement protocol
For prolonged intense exercise lasting an hour or more, one study from 2004 recommended consuming between 600 to 1200mL per hour of a solution containing between 30 and 60g of sugar and around 300-600mg of sodium.
Post training supplements are taken after training to aid recovery. Additionally, supplements that require longer term dosing to see an effect have been included on this list, however the specific ingestion timing is less important when taking supplements long term.
Probiotics are a popular type of health food supplement that contain purportedly beneficial microorganisms that support digestive and other health measures.
Probiotic supplements are commonly taken to improve gut health and immune function, but have the potential for direct performance enhancement as well.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are typically capsules, powders, or drinks containing one or more strains of bacteria.
The difference between bacterial strains is substantial when it comes to potential benefits, so it is vital to know which strain is in your probiotic supplement if you have a specific goal in mind.
How do probiotics work?
The mechanism of probiotics for improvements are not fully understood and would vary depending on the bacterial strain.
The basic idea is to ingest bacteria known to be important for gut function, with the theory that improving the levels of bacteria would increase their respective benefit.
Benefits of probiotics for BJJ
Some research suggests that probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus acidophilus can benefit your BJJ by potentially preventing the immune system suppression that occurs in response to heavy training.
Mixed evidence suggests that probiotics may benefit various aspects of performance, but other studies did not find improvements.
In terms of research-backed benefits for BJJ, probiotics are commonly used as an immune booster to prevent any training-interrupting-illness.
Risks of probiotics
Side effects of probiotics would vary depending on the strain, but the vast body of research suggests that probiotic supplements are safe.
Probiotic supplement protocols
There are no formal dosing guidelines for probiotics.
The lactobacillus dosing range across several studies was 1 × 109 – 10 × 1010 CFU, which corresponds to a several gram dosing of probiotic pills, depending on the concentration in the supplement.
Note that CFU stands for ‘colony forming unit’ and is an estimate of how many viable bacteria exist in a sample. CFU doses are typically listed on the probiotic supplement label.
The best bet is generally to follow the directions on the bottle or consult your healthcare provider.
Creatine is a widely taken supplement that improves performance in high intensity exercise and promotes increases in muscle mass.
Overall evidence supporting the effectiveness and safety of creatine is very strong, and the supplement is considered as one of the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplements available to athlete for increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found primarily in skeletal muscle tissue. It is a key nutrient typically obtained from a normal diet, largely from consumption of red meat and fish. It is also produced in the human liver from various amino acids.
Most creatine in the body is stored as phosphocreatine, which is a key compound needed for energy production during high intensity exercise lasting short periods. Free creatine is also stored in the body and used to create more phosphocreatine.
Creatine monohydrate is a water-soluble, powdery form of creatine and the most widely studied creatine supplement.
Supplementation with creatine allows much greater creatine ingestion than is typically possible through dietary intake or the body’s natural creatine production.
How does creatine work?
The availability of stored phosphocreatine is an important limiting factor when it comes to high output explosive activities such as scrambles and other exchanges in BJJ.
Studies show that an average 70kg (approx 154lbs) individual averages about 120g (approx 4.2oz) of stored creatine throughout their muscles. However, upper limits of creatine storage are thought to be around 160g (approx 5.6oz).
Supplementation with creatine monohydrate has consistently been shown to elevate stored muscle creatine and phosphocreatine by anywhere from 10 to 40 percent depending on the study, with significant improvements in different related athletic performance measures.
The supplement-boosted creatine stores allow enhanced output on many high intensity tasks for both absolute power output and anaerobic endurance measures compared to baseline creatine levels.
Additionally, athletes supplementing with creatine often see increased rate of muscle gain. This is likely due to the increased weight training work possible through the boosted creatine levels.
Benefits of creatine for BJJ
Given that BJJ involves faster bursts of action followed by lulls, improving anaerobic power and capacity should directly improve the pace and work capacity of grappling athletes as relevant to competition and near-maximal training.
In terms of training, the increased work capacity you may get from creatine can allow you to train harder during your sessions, potentially leading to faster progression from performing more work.
Finally, if you are focusing on building muscle or strength in conjunction with BJJ training, creatine will support your training goals by improving your performance in the weight room.
Risks of creatine consumption
The available evidence suggests that creatine is very safe when taken according to recommended guidelines.
Some users report bloating, and minor GI upset, but overall studies have not shown consistent negative side effects.
Weight gain is a common occurrence, however, so if you need to make weight for an upcoming competition, this is worth considering.
Creatine supplementation protocol
One recommended creatine protocol is to take 5g 4 times per day for 5-7 days as a ‘loading phase,’ followed by a maintenance dose of around 5g/day indefinitely.
Alternatively, you can simply take 3-5g/day for 28 days, but will take longer to reach elevated muscle creatine levels.
Long term supplementation is considered safe, so once you are loaded, you can keep your creatine maintenance dose going for weeks or months.
HMB, is an over-the-counter supplement that purports to increase muscle growth, improve fat metabolism, and increase strength gains when taken for the medium-to-long term in conjunction with physical training.
HMB is fairly high on the list in terms of providing scientifically backed benefits with minimal risk of side effects and has a number of quality studies supporting its use as an ergogenic aid, including evidence from combat sport athletes.
What is HMB?
Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate, also known as HMB, is a metabolite of leucine, which is one of the essential amino acids needed in the human diet.
HMB occurs naturally when your body breaks down leucine from food or supplements, however direct supplementation with HMB increases levels far above natural leucine metabolism.
How does HMB work?
Scientists do not fully understand the mechanisms behind HMB’s efficacy as a supplement, however one major hypothesis is that HMB improves damaged muscle cells’ ability to produce cholesterol, which is a key function required for muscle cell functioning.
Another top hypothesis is that HMB directly affects the process of muscle protein synthesis through an enzyme-related interaction.
Regardless of the exact mechanisms, the studies on HMB supplementation show real-world results when taken by athletes for several weeks or longer.
Benefits of HMB for BJJ
The benefits of HMB revolve around improvements in aerobic power, anaerobic power, and lean body mass.
A 2017 study looked at 42 male combat sport athletes, half of whom received 3g/day of HMB and half on placebo.
The study included 17 BJJ athletes, and found that HMB supplementations promoted advantageous reduction of fat mass, increased anaerobic peak power and average power.
For obvious reasons, improving these traits should directly improve performance in BJJ, particularly in a competition setting where skill levels are similar, and the intensity is high. Of course, improving these attributes is helpful for recreational BJJ as well to enhance output during drilling and rolling.
A range of other studies have found similar promising results from HMB supplementation, with most studies using at least 3g/day for a minimum of 4 weeks and as long as 12 weeks.
One finding worth highlighting is that combining HMB with creatine may provide greater benefit than either supplement alone.
Risks of HMB consumption
Multiple studies have looked at the safety of HMB and concluded that there is little-to-no risk of adverse effects when supplementing with HMB, and that the compound actually improves a number of other health markers separate from its performance benefits.
This includes studies where animals were fed HMB in an amount equivalent to a 200 pound (90kg) man taking 450g of HMB per day with no ill effect.
Overall, HMB appears to provide substantial benefit when taken over time, and available evidence suggests that HMB supplementation is safe even when taken above the recommended 3g/day.
HMB supplementation protocol
The most widely studied protocol for HMB supplementation is 3 grams per day for at least 4 weeks.
What is beta-alanine
Beta-alanine is a common ingredient in many pre-workout formulas and is also sold as a direct supplement. It is typically taken to improve performance on high intensity tasks.
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is produced in the liver and directly consumed through food. It plays a key role in the synthesis of carnosine, another amino acid vital for performance on high intensity tasks.
Baseline carnosine levels can be significantly elevated through supplementing with additional beta-alanine far above what you would consume in a typical diet.
How does beta-alanine work
Beta-alanine works as an ergogenic aid by directly increasing stored muscle carnosine, among many other possible beneficial effects.
Increased muscle carnosine improves your muscles’ ability to manage the acid buildup that occurs during high intensity exercise. This increases the potential intensity and duration possible when performing this type of activity.
Benefits of beta-alanine for BJJ
Several studies on martial arts support beta-alanine’s effectiveness for improving performance.
One 2017 study on judo athletes found 4 weeks of 6g/day on beta-alanine increased the number of throws per set and total number of throws during the study’s judo simulation.
Another study on amateur boxers found beta-alanine supplementation improved lower body peak power and reduced the drop rate in upper body power seen during bouts of activity.
Although these sports are different to BJJ, they are similar enough to extrapolate that beta-alanine could improve jiu-jitsu performance.
Risks of beta-alanine
The main side effect of beta-alanine is flushing or tingling. Researchers suggest you can mitigate this by spacing out your daily beta-alanine supplementation throughout the day, and that beta-alanine is safe in healthy individuals at recommended doses.
Beta-alanine supplementation protocol
One studied effective dose is typically 4-6g of beta-alanine for at least 2-4 weeks to see beneficial effects.
Sodium phosphate is a supplement taken to improve performance on aerobic activities near the anaerobic threshold.
Many studies support its use for performance increases in endurance activities, although they sometimes differ on the specifics.
What is sodium phosphate?
Sodium phosphate is a mineral salt composed of a sodium ion and phosphate ion. It is widely available as an over-the-counter supplement.
How does sodium phosphate work?
Phosphate ions play a key role in many biological processes. Supplementation with sodium phosphate in particular is thought to improve oxygen transport and uptake, resulting in direct improvements in aerobic performance.
Benefits of sodium phosphate for BJJ
Sodium phosphate improves performance on aerobic activities. Given that BJJ has a major aerobic component, especially during longer duration matches, sodium phosphate could improve that aspect of BJJ performance.
Risks of sodium phosphate
High intake of sodium phosphate can pose health risks from electrolyte imbalances and can cause bloating, cramps, abdominal pain, and nausea.
As such, limit your sodium phosphate to the recommended dose.
Sodium phosphate supplementation protocol
The ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review suggests that a 1g dose 4 times per day for 3 to 6 days is sufficient to see performance increases. The benefit will dissipate following cessation of supplementation.
Cannabidiol, known as ‘CBD’ is a popular supplement for both oral and topical use. Generally, athletes take CBD for recovery, soreness, and inflammation reduction.
In terms of being a widely available supplement, CBD is relatively new to the market. As such, robust evidence for its efficacy is lacking, although preliminary data does show some promise.
Depending on where you live CBD might not be legally available or only available with a prescription, so check your local laws before trying to purchase it.
Of all the supplements on our list, CBD is the least supported by research. However, we included it because of its current popularity in the BJJ community.
What is CBD?
CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid extracted from the cannabis plant. Given the largely recent shift in laws around cannabis, commercial CBD is a fairly new phenomenon.
Many companies produce CBD-containing products ranging from capsules, tinctures, and topical creams or ointments.
How does CBD work?
CBD has a range of purported benefits, including some that may benefit athletes.
CBD may cause a reduction in inflammation from exercise induced muscle damage, potentially improving recovery and reducing muscle soreness. The precise mechanism is not fully understood.
Benefits of CBD for BJJ
Although research is required to fully understand the effects of CBD for athletic-related considerations, CBD may be beneficial for BJJ athletes in reducing soreness and inflammation from training and may mitigate brain damage from impacts.
Other potential benefits of CBD include reduced anxiety and improved sleep, which can have secondary performance benefits for recovery and mental well-being for BJJ.
Risks of CBD
CBD can cause liver damage at high doses or when combined with certain prescription medications.
Furthermore, some individuals may be allergic to CBD or become excessively sleepy after taking it.
Although CBD appears to be safe for most healthy individuals, there is not enough research to fully understand any possible side effects.
CBD supplementation protocol
There is currently no research-supported best protocol for CBD supplementation. CBD users will have to consult with their healthcare provider about different CBD products to explore any benefits and dosing requirements.
How to ensure you buy quality supplements
In many countries, the supplement industry is not regulated by any government organizations (ie the FDA in the United States), and supplements can be tainted with harmful chemicals or may not actually contain their purported ingredients.
Third-party testing by reputable organizations is the best way around this. Third-party testing companies put supplements through rigorous lab examination to ensure quality and purity. You can look for their label on the bottle when purchasing supplements.
A few examples of reputable third party testing organizations:
Supplements to avoid
The following are a few common supplements the ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update from 2018 found to have “Little to no evidence to support efficacy and/or safety”– you should consider avoiding these for health reasons or just to save yourself money.
- Ephedra/ephedrine (safety issues)
- L-arginine (lack of efficacy)
- Carnitine (lack of efficacy)
- Glutamine (lack of efficacy)
Supplements for BJJ: the bottom line
If you are looking for a little extra training boost, consider purchasing some of the discussed supplements from a reputable manufacturer after consulting your healthcare provider.
On a final note, Supplements are not a cure all or replacement for healthy living.
You should focus first and foremost on a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and avoiding excessive alcohol and other potentially harmful substances.
Jordan is a BJJ addict and strength and fitness coach. He’s a purple belt and regularly competes in gi and no-gi. He currently trains at 10th Planet Tucson in Arizona. Jordan is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and NASM Certified Personal Trainer. You can follow him on Instagram.
Fact-checked by Brenda Peralta
Brenda Peralta is a registered dietitian with more than five years of experience. She’s a health coach, sport nutritionist, ISAK 1 certificate, and diabetes educator.