People are really jumping on the “brain enhancer” supplement band-wagon lately.
These brain enhancers are known as nootropics, a word coined by a Romanian dude supposedly for their ability to bend the mind.
Now to be completely honest I am incredibly intrigued by the possibility of improving my mental performance.
As someone who makes their living and builds a career based on their brain power not their muscle power, the idea of getting a little bit of a mental boost from a supplement would be legit.
Interestingly, what a lot of people who are interested in nootropics fail to realize is that, in addition to their cognitive boosting capacity, some of them may increase physical performance.
I mean being smart is great and all but just being smart probably won’t get you strong or jacked.
I know we joke around about being jacked but it’s actually super important. More muscle means less risk of disease and better quality of life as you age.
Ok, so some nootropics actually fulfill the old adage of “two birds, one stone”. Anything that can double dip is worth investigating in my mind. So let’s investigate these intriguing double hitters.
Nootropics and Performance
Some nootropics may directly increase your performance and adaptations from training while others may indirectly increase them by helping you focus while you train.
Alpha-glycerophosphocholine (Alpha-GPC) is a cholinergic compound that is incorporated into brain tissue1 and while it may have some interesting “brain enhancing” benefits, perhaps the more interesting aspect of it is its direct effect on performance.
It appears that Alpha-GPC may do more than just get you one step close to Bradley Cooper from Limitless, because there is some evidence it can increase power. In a small, pilot study demonstrated that Alpha-GPC increased power output 14% over placebo2.
In addition to increasing power, there is one other really interesting aspect of Alpha-GPC as it relates to performance, its ability to enhance production of growth hormone. One study showed that consuming 1 gram of Alpha-GPC acutely increased growth hormone levels 60 and 120 minutes after consumed3.
This has been repeated in another study, where 600 mg of Alpha-GPC drastically increased growth hormone compared to placebo2.
Now we have to be responsible do the whole “science” thing, which means remaining objective and letting the data guide our decisions. We still have one important question to ask about this whole Alpha-GPC growth hormone connection. Does that acute response in growth hormone results in anything meaningful in terms of getting jacked?
The answer is, we just don’t know right now but I am confident enough to bet my lab coat that it isn’t going to hurt!
I know what you are thinking, “Come on man, caffeine isn’t a nootropic”. Well it actually is one of the most well studied and widely used nootropics. It also shows the most robust effects and enhances mental acuity and attention better than all the fancy-sounding new-age nootropics like Aniracetam, Modafinil, Ginkgo biloba and all that other stuff.
I probably don’t need to waste time telling you about the mental benefits of caffeine because this article is more about how these nootropics help you get jacked.
Onto the jackedness. . .
The other major benefit to your super cheap cup of black coffee is that it’s also the most well documented legal workout enhancing supplement on the market.
Much like Alpha-GPC consuming caffeine prior to training can increase sustained power output, essentially meaning you can increase your ability to hammer out sets in the 3-5 rep range.4, 5, 6
If endurance exercise is your thing and you aren’t into weight lifting (which if you are visiting this site you most likely are) caffeine is still probably your best friend. There are a lot of studies showing increases in aerobic capacity from caffeine supplementation.
Besides carbohydrates it may be the best supplement for improving performance in endurance exercise. Funny side story, I had a friend ride his bike from Seattle to Portland and stopped at coffee shops along the way and filled up his travel mug that he had rigged up to a camelback (cyclists are a funny breed of human).
How you should dose caffeine is kind of all over the map. Your genetics and how bad you abuse coffee in your daily life make a huge impact on how much caffeine you should take. Just like any other drug, your body builds up a tolerance and the more you consume on a daily basis, the more you will need to consume in order to see any training benefit.
Additionally, there appears to be a “saturation” limit where you only receive an anti-fatigue benefit and no additional effects from higher levels of caffeine intake.
The recommendations for dosing are to start with 100mg and see how you tolerate it. Most studies use doses around 5mg/kg with ~3mg/kg being the point where you see ergogenic effects.
Phosphatidylserine is often used with the purpose of reducing exercise induced cortisol and to improve attention, both of which are well documented effects7,8. Besides the stress response and neurological effects phosphatidylserine also appears to robustly increase exercise capacity9. The increase in this study was like 20%, which in exercise science is a huge increase.
Now the most interesting thing was there was no real changes in biochemical measures, indicating that it was likely due to better mental focus. It is likely that taking phosphatidylserine can improve performance indirectly by enhancing the athletes focus on the task at hand.
Nootropics are the “brain supplements”. Due to the fact they are marketed towards that they often get overlooked for their effect on physical performance.
Alpha-GPC is interesting in that it has been shown to increase power output and may have some effect on growth hormone. Caffeine is probably the single most effective nootropic on the planet and likely is much better at improving mental and physical performance than a lot of the other more expensive compounds.
Phosphatidylserine, when taken before training, has been shown to increase focus and may improve the quality and length of your training session.
- Changes in the interaction between CNS cholinergic and dopaminergic neurons induced by L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, a cholinomimetic drug.
- Acute supplementation with alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine augments growth hormone response to, and peak force production during, resistance exercise
- Glycerophosphocholine enhances growth hormone secretion and fat oxidation in young adults.
- Effects of caffeine on prolonged intermittent-sprint ability in team-sport athletes.
- Effect of two doses of caffeine on muscular function during isokinetic exercise.
- Dose response effects of a caffeine-containing energy drink on muscle performance: a repeated measures design.
- The effects of IQPLUS Focus on cognitive function, mood and endocrine response before and following acute exercise.
- Blunting by chronic phosphatidylserine administration of the stress-induced activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis in healthy men.
- Effects of phosphatidylserine on exercise capacity during cycling in active males.