The name may sound a bit quirky, but nootropics are supplements designed to optimize mental performance. We're not just talking about the energy and motivation you can get from stimulants like caffeine, although that can help, too. Some nootropics also may improve reaction time, mental focus, cognitive function, and neuromuscular communication.
While nootropics are sometimes called "smart drugs," that's a bit of a misnomer, since nootropics don't increase your intelligence per se. They just help your nervous system work better. "Smart drugs" also doesn't take into account the physical effects nootropics can have.
When you take a nootropic supplement, you might not feel it working physically. It doesn't give you a tingle. But nootropics can support the mind-body connection, the mind-muscle connection, and athletic performance alike. Here are five supplements worth trying for brain function.
What it does: Research with athletes has found that this nootropic can enhance the ability to complete mentally difficult tasks. If you're playing a sport and you're able to execute your strategy cleaner and faster, you're improving your game. In addition to improving mental performance, nitrosigine has physical benefits, too.
Ideal dose: 1.5 grams. Supplements often contain 500 milligrams-1.5 grams of nitrosigine.
What it is: Cognizin is a form of citicoline, which is turned into acetylcholine.
What it does: This nootropic supplement can help your nerves function efficiently. If you can enhance how fast your nerve impulses fire, you can enhance reaction time, mental focus, and cognitive function.
Ideal dose: 200-1000 milligrams
3. Caffeine and L-Theanine
What it is: Caffeine is a stimulant; L-theanine has a relaxation effect.
What it does: L-theanine is used with caffeine to enhance cognition while lessening the potential jittery side effects of taking caffeine on its own. This nootropic combination allows your body and brain to be more relaxed while simultaneously promoting a quicker reaction time, enhanced pain threshold, and the ability to do more work. It can help you feel more focused and waste less energy while achieving your goals.
Caffeine: 100-200 milligrams
L-theanine: 50-250 milligrams
What it is: Theacrine is an alkaloid. It can act as a stimulant, without having over-stimulatory side effects.
What it does: This nootropic can improve your reaction time and ability to multitask. It can be combined with caffeine, nitrosigine, or cognizin. These supplements don't interfere with its function, and studies show it even has a synergistic relationship with caffeine.
Ideal dose: 125-200 milligrams
5. Vitamin B12 and Iron
What it is: Vitamin B12 and iron are micronutrients found in meat. They're not technically nootropics, but having adequate levels of these nutrients in your body can help brain function similarly to nootropics. Being vegetarian or vegan increases risk of deficiency in these micronutrients, and lifting or playing sports on top of that can make a deficiency worse. Since your body needs B12 and iron, they're unlikely to create side effects unless you take too much.
What it does: These nootropic-like nutrients are important for the nervous system. They improve communication between the nervous system and the muscular system—the mind-body connection.
Vitamin B12: 2.4 micrograms*
Iron: 8 milligrams for men, 18 milligrams for women*
Nootropics are only one piece of the puzzle. Want to learn more about how nutrition can improve your overall performance and physique? Check out our Bodybuilding.com All Access course, Foundations of Fitness Nutrition, co-hosted by the author, Douglas Kalman Ph.D., RD.
*Recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for supplements can vary based on age, gender, pregnancy, and lactation. For more information, check out the National Institutes of Health's vitamin and mineral fact sheets.