Nootropics – you could say that they’re the “new kids on the block”. They’ve gone and grafted their own exclusive niche within the Supplement industry that is somewhat a ‘gotta know what you’re looking for’-type of deal. But to a lesser known extent, they’re making guest appearances in many of the more ‘forward-thinking’ [Gym] Supplements out there too! Some of you may have even tried them and not realized…
But what do they do? What *are* they? Are they safe? Are there side effects?
All very valid questions. So, let me pour fuel on the fire by giving you an example of what Nootropics are [supposedly] all about: think about the movie ‘Limitless’.
You know the one – the guy takes some sort of “magic pill” that seemingly lets him tap into the otherwise “locked/untapped potential” of his brain. Cue dilating pupils. Enter ‘Beast Mode’. Suddenly he’s making millions of dollars from his insane insights into the Stock Market (that you basically have to be a math/economics/finance/algorithm maestro to suss out); he can learn a new language effortlessly, he’s now more “athletically inclined”, and before he knows it, he’s living a life without limits.
Only… there is a limit. He can’t go all “Neo from The Matrix” unless he gets his dose of ‘NZT-48’ (the [fictional] Nootropic pill that is enabling him to do all of this). Now he’s an addict. His limitless potential to excel at just about anything has come at a price.
Setting the tone pretty grim off the bat, huh? Well, don’t worry – [real life] Nootropics a) don’t enhance your abilities to such an über-embellished extent, and b) don’t [generally] entail any significant degree of addictive properties (this can vary depending on the specific Nootropic being taken).
So, come on then! What are they?
Well, simply put: they’re synthetic compounds (though some are organic) that are able to enhance one’s cognitive abilities (provided you are a healthy individual). They can boost memory, improve learning ability, and aid the brain’s function during stressful conditions.
In essence, their use is designed to help one attain greater “mastery” over their own brain chemistry. You can essentially tap into that which effects your mood and intellect at a biochemical level.
But okay, this is all starting to sound like something you’d take to pass the Bar, or to boost social confidence… How does this tie into Fitness, and why is it in [some of] our Sports/Gym Supplements?
It’s for the same reason that you find such high doses of caffeine in Pre-Workouts – it’s to help you focus on the task at hand, push through, and crush your workout with a level of motivation and determination that might otherwise be inherently devoid.
Are you adamant that you’ll add an extra mile to your run today? Hell-bent on increasing the number of sets and reps to really test your Strength and Endurance? The right Nootropic could help with that.
Let me give you a couple of commercial examples:
One of the least creatively named products we’re going to look at – available at GNC – is…
‘Nootropic’ – by Beyond Raw® Chemistry Labs™ – it contains L-Theanine (an Amino Acid with Nootropic effects) as well as Huperzia Leaf Extract (a.k.a. Huperzine A), which is a compound extracted from the Huperziceae family of herbs.
The latter has been used to treat people with Alzheimer’s Disease as it appears to promote neurogenesis – clearly, massively relevant for such a condition.
You also have…
‘Focus Mode’ – by Evlution Nutrition (yes, that is spelled “correctly”). Their formula also contains L-Theanine and Huperzine, but [among other ingredients] includes Alpha-GPC; Alpha-Glyceryl-Phosphoryl-Choline is a plant-based compound that is a natural precursor to Acetyl-L-Choline, which plays a role in memory, focus and cognitive function (which is also directly affected/targeted by Huperzine).
A slight variant of these formulae can be found in…
‘AminoFocus’ – by RSP Nutrition, which also throws in some Cito-Choline…
And you get a big dose of everything in…
‘Pre-Jym’ – by Jym Supplements. This is Jim Stoppani’s Flagship product, and for good reason! He’s got clinically proven doses of every single ingredient; and on top of ingredients like Alpha-GPC and Huperzine, he’s also giving you a hefty dose of Caffeine.
So, one thing you may have picked up on here is the heavy emphasis on: FOCUS!
For the most part, the majority of Gym Supplements that include Nootropics are looking to enhance your focus in the “Iron Paradise”.
The other thing you might have noticed is the recurring compound that is impacted [in its various forms]: Choline. My warning at this point would be to consult your Doctor if you have any Choline-related health issues (as these could be dramatically affected by consuming any of the Nootropics I’ve listed so far!).
Let’s now consider another “fringe” line of products on the Supplement market…
Things that help you sleep better!
Now, to some this may sound totally irrelevant, but let me just stress the importance of one of the major topics that gets covered in CXP Zen: Rest & Recovery! Inadequate sleep can lead to increased stress [hormone] levels, which can – in turn – have ramifications on your recovery. So, quality sleep is actually crucial, therefore, any Nootropics that can help here are worth consideration.
I first heard of “Sleep Supplements” [that were Gym-related] back when I was living in Spain; a good friend of mine who runs a Gym (Spartan Center) and Supplement Shop had just started stocking Ronnie Coleman’s ‘Resurrect PM’ – this was about half a decade ago (back in 2013)…
The two main ingredients in this product being:
GABA (Gamma-Amino-Butyric-Acid) – a naturally occurring neurotransmitter that helps with nerve signalling.
Phenibut – a Nootropic known for its effects on reducing anxiety and stress [without sedation].
I remember thinking that it all sounded a bit “gimmicky” at the time, but as more and more independent information on Nootropics has become available (at either end of the spectrum – memory-boosting, focus-inducing ones to anxiety-soothing, stress-lowering ones), it has become increasingly apparent that there is something to this.
This is the point at which I want to re-address the issue of Side Effects and Addiction-related problems that can [*possibly*] arise…
See, the one thing you’ll find about the focus-based Nootropics we’ve covered (Huperzine, L-Theanine, etc), is that they are *naturally* occurring compounds (i.e. generally very safe!). But Phenibut – as per my original description earlier – is very much synthetically made – and so, there are possible Side Effects that you should be aware of, the most notable being that extensive use can lead to dependence, and thus, render withdrawal symptoms with sudden discontinuation.
For this reason, it would make sense to consider other products that contain natural/organic compounds such as: L-Theanine, Melatonin and even minerals like Zinc & Magnesium. If you’ve read Bio-Hack Your Sleep – Five Ways to Better Zzzs, then you’ll know that the latter three “ingredients” here are all excellent for helping with Sleep/Rest/Recovery.
So, we’ve considered the Good, the Bad and the Ugly here. There are Nootropics that can help you both in the gym, as well as outside the gym. For the most part, the ones being put out there as Pre-Workout formulas are generally completely safe, and will help you smash through even the most gruelling workouts! (Just be mindful of any containing Caffeine – in case your tolerance is low!).
But as far as your Rest & Recovery go [with Sleep Supplements], this is one aspect that you’ll definitely want to consult your Doctor on beforehand! Again, if you haven’t already checked it out, then my article on “Bio-Hacking Your Sleep” is super useful!
I hope this has opened your eyes a little to some of the more obscure ingredients you’ll find listed on Gym Supplements out there – remember to be prudent, and if they don’t say [on the bottle/tub] what the ingredient does, look it up! (Or better yet, ask your Doctor!).
I should make it clear that I’m not intentionally promoting/advocating the Supplements that I’ve pointed out today – they’re for reference only. If you do happen to try any of them, then I hope they work well for you, and that your performance in the Gym improves as a result!
I’ll catch you in the next article, but in the meantime, remember: Train Hard, and Train Smart!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO