Last updated on February 13th, 2019
Nootropics are one of the latest categories of supplements to emerge onto the market. The term ‘nootropic’ has been around since the 1960’s but more recently the associated ingredients have begun to show up in training supplements, fat-burning and weight management products, and of course as ’smart drugs’ in their own right. (read part 1 working out and our mind)
Originally there were a set of characteristics which a compound had to possess in order to be called a nootropic. The word itself can be loosely translated from Greek as meaning ’toward the mind’ or ‘of the mind’ and all of those traits were in some way related to improving cognitive function.
The man who synthesized the first nootropic – Corneliu Giurgea – developed a compound called Piracetam, which then spawned an entire group of nootropics called the Racetams.
Since then, many different substances have found their way into smaller groups of the supplements. Caffeine is a classic example of a highly available supplement considered to have positive effects on cognitive function, but which does not technically fall under the original notion of a nootropic.
Benefits of Nootropics
As already mentioned, the original intended application of nootropic compounds was to serve cognitive enhancement. This is why today many academics, students and anyone who needs an extra gear in the brain department, might use one. They are called smart drugs, amongst other things, for good reason.
There is however a lot more to this group of supplements than first meets the eye. Supplement companies and manufacturers understand this more than anyone. A good supplement should have good ingredients at effective dosages, but a really great one must include a blend of synergistic ingredients which together form a greater whole than the sum of its parts.
Here, the true power of modern nootropics is being discovered as muscle-builders, dieters, academics, engineers, scientists, code writers and gamers – to name just a few groups – are getting into them.
The point is that the brain is central to everything everybody does, and keeping it ticking over at optimal functional capacity can help maximize the person’s potential regardless of the activity.
Benefits of nootropic supplementation can include:
- Heightened cognitive function
- Extra focus and drive while exercising
- Increased fat-burning and higher metabolic turnover (particularly with ingredients that double-up as fat-burners anyway)
- Enhanced working memory formation
Different Mechanisms of Nootropics
The various groups of the nootropic compounds exert different effects in order to benefit the user. Often, different ingredients can be combined to compound or augment the effects of each other.
There are several different compounds in the Racetam family. The first was Piracetam which is now a prescription-only drug in many countries. Others include Aniracetam, Oxiracetam, Pramiracetam and Phenylpiracetam. Their modes of action seem to differ from one to another but it is generally accepted that they interact with synaptic messaging in the brain.
They appear to speed signal transmission up, which would essentially mean the user can think and process faster. The side effect of this is that the brain turns over the neurotransmitter acetylcholine a lot quicker. For this reason Racetams are often taken alongside cholinergics.
Cholinergics directly or indirectly increase the levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. This compound is essential for memory formation and muscle contraction, amongst other functions. Overall, cholinergics are considered highly beneficial to healthy cognitive function.
Examples of Cholinergic ingredients include:
- CDP Choline
Compounds that go well with Cholinergics include:
- Uridine: a nerve growth stimulator that goes particularly well with Alpha-GPC and exerts synergistic effects
- Bacopa Monnieri: herbal ingredient that improves working memory – also synergistic
Cholinergics are becoming more and more popular amongst the bodybuilding and general fitness community. Increased focus, drive, motivation and faster muscle contractions are excellent benefits to the user as part of a pre-workout or intra-workout supplement.
Along with ingredients taken for physical energy, cholinergics are adding a whole other level to the customer’s workout experience.
As with vasodilators used by weight lifters to widen the blood vessels in order to get more blood and oxygen to the working muscles, there are similar substances for the brain.
The stuff between our ears also benefits from more blood, oxygen and nutrients, and so will perform at a higher level of output accordingly.
It should be said that a vasodilator on its own has limited use. While it will shuttle more fuel to the brain, the fuel will run out quicker. They should therefore be used as part of a supplement ‘stack’ which includes ongoing nutritional intake.
Examples of Cerebral Vasodilators include:
- Ginkgo Biloba
Compounds that go well with Cerebral Vasodilators include almost anything of beneficial value to the brain. The vasodilator is simply a mechanical action to get more volume through it. Turnover of nearly everything else will be hastened as a result.
Nerve Growth Stimulators
These pretty much do exactly what their name suggests. By increasing nerve growth in the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the brain, more pathways are added through which transmissions can be exchanged. It’s like getting more bandwidth from your internet service provider. Who doesn’t want that?
Examples of Nerve Growth Stimulators include:
- Uridine: excellent choice that can actually be converted from CDP Choline
- CDP-Choline: mentioned earlier in the Cholinergics, it’s eventually converted to Uridine
Compounds that go well with NGSs include:
- Cholinergics are almost essential: if you’ve got more ‘neuro-bandwidth’ then it makes sense that you will need more neuro-transmission.
Strictly speaking they don’t check all the nootropic boxes, but stimulants can be some of the strongest cognitive enhancers of all, if only for the fact that their effects are relatively short-term.
Stimulants can do many things for us, including the following benefits:
- Improved concentration and focus
- Increased energy and power
- Enhanced performance: caffeine and synephrine are good examples of ergogenic supplements.
Some stimulants can indirectly improve muscle growth and physical composition via energy pathways such as cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). Studies suggest that even testosterone levels in men can be increased with increased cAMP activity.
Examples of Cognitive Stimulants include:
- Caffeine: principal ingredient in many supplements including nootropics, fat-burners and pre-workouts. The reason is simple, it works. The only issue with caffeine is that the user can become tolerant to its effects with consistent use.
- Synephrine: powerful and safe cousin of ephedrine.
- Yamabushitake (Lion’s Mane)
Compounds that go well with stimulants:
- L-Theanine: perfect to stack with caffeine and synephrine. L-Theanine takes the harsh edge off the stimulants, but enhances their cognitive benefits.
- Bacopa Monnieri: impressive effects similar to L-Theanine with stimulants but also enhances working memory.
Hopefully it’s obvious that most of the nootropic types come from the natural world. It’s true that some have to be synthesized but they are largely safe, and none of the products we would recommend have any known negative side effects worth mentioning.
Some examples of natural, herbal or plant derived nootropic compounds are:
- Lion’s Mane: nerve growth stimulator
- Ginkgo Biloba: cerebral vasodilator
- Bacopa Monnieri: working memory enhancer
- Huperzine-A: cholinergic acetylcholine booster
- Vinpocetine: cerebral vasodilator
- L-Theanine: highly synergistic with stimulants
- Caffeine: cognitive stimulant, performance enhancer, thermogenic fat-burner
Working Out and Burning Fat with Nootropics
There are many reasons why nootropics can benefit those who want to get the most out of their workouts and fat loss goals.
Some of the ingredients enhance cognition for sure but they can also double or even triple as:
- Thermogenic fat burners
- Energy enhancers
- The cognitive enhancing effects can improve mental focus, drive and muscle-mind connection, thereby improving physical output via cerebral input.
- Improvements in the user’s mood can help both exercise enthusiasm and resistance of junk food while dieting.
There are many more intricate and indirect reasons why physiological improvements can come by way of Nootropic supplementation.
In short, when both the Body and Mind are well nourished and supported with additional supplementation, it can help the user reach his or her objectives much sooner.
Tailor Made Nootropic Supplements
In tha past it has largely been up to the consumer to make sense of all the different ingredients and purchase them individually. They would then have to research and extrapolate from that research the appropriate dosages and mitigate any potential mistakes by cross-referencing with other documents and papers written on the subject.
Companies have since started to manufacture capsule based supplements which contain a blend, or recipe, of different nootropic compounds in order for the potential customer to relax and make purchases without the responsibility or concern associated with figuring it all out themselves.
Onnit is one of the leading manufacturers of cutting-edge supplements today, and their nootropic supplements are arguably at the forefront of the relatively young market.
Alpha Brain is Onnit’s flagship product and is arguably the best selling nootropic supplement available. We review this product in the next instalment of this series of articles.
You may have wondered whether taking a nootropic supplement could provide any benefit to your everyday life, and indeed your body image and athletic goals. You might not have even heard of them before.
The message we try and get across is that while supplements should only ever be a bonus to an established base of healthy nutrition and exercise, they can help unlock an additional chunk of potential that you may not have known you had. And, for a little money each month compared to some things you have to buy, we think they are well worth it.
We only recommend supplements that have been tested and found to be effective for us.