Energy Boosting Supplements
Dwayne N. Jackson, PhD
Feeling energetic requires optimizing the mind and body for action—but common daily stressors can leave you feeling drained. Typical “energy vampires” include psychological stress, physical stress, and poor sleep habits—all of which contribute to low motivation, diminished energy, and the infamous “brain fog” many people experience.
Today, most supplement companies attempt to override states of low energy by loading up their “energy-boosting” formulations with stimulants aimed at promoting focus, intensity, strength, and power. Although we agree that pick-me-ups, like caffeine, are excellent performance enhancers, research suggests that optimizing energy levels requires more than simply “jacking” yourself up on stimulants. As such, we have outlined the top supplements, in three unique categories, aimed at promoting a holistic mind-body approach to energy optimization.
An adaptogen is a supplement (generally herbal) that supports the body’s capacity to handle stress and fatigue by maintaining hormonal balance. Busy schedules, heavy training, performing in extreme environments, and dieting, are just a few examples of daily stressors that can rob us of energy. This class of supplements has been noted to increase strength, energy, stamina, endurance, and improve mental clarity.
Ashwagandha (or Indian ginseng) is a perennial flowering shrub that is commonly used in Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine in India. In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse”, as it is believed to produce vigor and strength in those who take it. Backed by several randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical trials, Ashwagandha has been shown to promote a healthy response to everyday stress, support normal levels of mental clarity and focus, and enhance exercise and sports performance.
A recent study investigated the effects of taking an Ashwagandha root extract supplement on muscle mass and strength in healthy young men undergoing an 8-week weight-training program. In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study, the researchers reported that those who took Ashwagandha root extract had a 433% increase in testosterone levels and remarkably greater increases in upper and lower body strength, upper body muscle size, and fat loss compared to placebo . Another study showed that taking Ashwagandha root extract led to a 32.74% reduction in perceived stress during weight loss, a 22.2% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, and a significant reduction in uncontrolled and emotional eating behaviour compared to the placebo group .
As with most herbal supplements, choose extracts that have been standardized to their active component and list this on the label. In the case of Ashwagandha, products should be standardized to % withanolides. Based on the research, we recommend taking 300 mg of Patented KSM-66 Ashwagandha extract, standardized to 5% withanolides (15 mg of withanolides) upon waking and before bed.
Rhodiola Rosea Extract
Extract from the roots of Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen that acts to increase the body’s resistance to stress, exhaustion and fatigue. In clinical studies, mental work capacity, attention, task performance and overall mood improved with Rhodiola rosea supplementation.
In a randomized double-blind and placebo-controlled study, participants with chronic fatigue syndrome received either Rhodiola rosea or placebo for four weeks. Those who received Rhodiola rosea had significant improvements in symptoms of fatigue and in tests of attention. As well, waking cortisol responses were significantly blunted in those who received Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo. It was concluded that anti-fatigue effect of Rhodiola rosea extract increases mental performance, particularly the ability to concentrate and decreases cortisol response to awakening stress in burnout patients with fatigue syndrome .
The average dose should be between 150 mg and 500 mg per day of a product that is standardized to contain active rosavins and salidrosides in at least a 2:1 ratio.
A stimulant is a substance that raises levels of cellular activity in the body. They are generally associated with nervous system excitement. When taken in optimal doses, stimulants make you feel invigorated, motivated, and focused.
Since caffeine is a well-documented central nervous system stimulant, then it is no surprise that it has profound positive effects on energy and focus (like most stimulants). Caffeine non-selectively blocks adenosine receptors. In the brain, adenosine binds to nerve cells and makes them slow down in their activity. Caffeine is structured much like adenosine, so nerve cells readily allow caffeine to bind to their adenosine receptors, thus blocking the inhibitory action of adenosine on nerve activity. As such, the caffeinated brain is chock full of hyperactive nerve cells, an environment perceived by the pituitary as an emergency which results in adrenaline release from the anterior pituitary. As well, caffeine intake results in increased dopamine levels in the brain, giving the user a sense of well-being.
A meta-analysis published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports showed that caffeine dampened perceived exertion during and after exercise by 5.6% compared with placebo . Ingesting caffeine before a workout has been shown to significantly improve endurance in aerobic and anaerobic sports. It has been postulated that aerobic performances benefit from increased free fatty acid mobilization, thus improving time to exhaustion. However, for short-duration anaerobic performances (like weight training) scientists speculate that the caffeine-induced increase in dopamine signalling in the basal ganglia has the greatest effect on time to exhaustion. Nonetheless, all of this means that you can push harder and for longer by ingesting caffeine before training.
As always, we recommend taking between 100-400mg in a single dose 30-60 minutes pre-workout. Adjust dose based on tolerance and body mass. Remember, caffeine is a stimulant, so more is not always better.
Although theacrine was discovered way back in 1937 in tea leaves (Cameillia sinensis), it has been only recently introduced to the supplement world. Theacrine (l,3,7,9-tetramethyluric acid) is a special compound that shares a similar chemical structure to caffeine—thus it shares some of caffeine’s positive energizing effects. Theacrine is unique, however, in that it promotes improvements in energy and mood, but without over the stimulation—- or what we commonly refer to as “jitters”.
In recent years, it has been shown to have several interesting pharmacological properties, including anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving action, antidepressant effects. Theacrine’s energizing effects are primarily due to its “caffeine-like” actions— i.e., blocking adenosine receptors and inhibiting dopamine reuptake. As such, theacrine stacks very well with low doses of caffeine, and you get all the energizing benefits of both with little to no jitters.
Look for theacrine in pre-workout formulas or as a standalone energy booster. Although dosing guidelines are not well established, 100-200 mg taken 30-60 minute pre-workout has been shown to improve fatigue, anxiety, energy, motivation to exercise, and concentration. NOTE: Theacrine is not sold on its own from VITAMIN SHOPPE, but it may be included in formulations (especially pre-workout)— I forecast that by the time this is published Vit Shoppe will likely have a few theacrine products. However, If you want to take this section out, I am totally cool with that.
Nootropics are commonly referred to as, “smart drugs”. This class of supplements improves brain function, memory, clarity, creativity, and focus.
Alpha GPC (L-Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine)
Alpha-GPC is a choline-containing supplement that has been shown to be pharmacologically active at higher doses. Alpha-GPC supplementation increases choline levels in the brain and body much better than any other supplemental source of choline.
Why boost choline levels?
Choline has been an area of focus of many supplement studies concerned with human performance. Most of this research has focused on long-duration exercise, as choline depletion is thought to play a role in fatigue . Choline is a precursor to the production of acetylcholine (Ach), which is a neurotransmitter responsible for producing the action potentials that stimulate a muscle to contract. Alpha-GPC is of interest for nootropic purposes, as it appears to have cognitive-enhancing properties and can decrease the rate of cognitive decline in the elderly . Alpha-GPC has also been shown to enhance growth hormone production in young and older subjects .
As a brain booster, take 200-450 mg of alpha GPC, 3 times per day, with one dose 30-60 minutes before training and another immediately before bed.
Magnesium is an essential macroelement, meaning that it must be acquired in the diet in relatively large amounts. It is known to help keep the heart beating regularly, it maintains bone health, and supports the immune system. Magnesium is involved in numerous processes that affect muscle function including oxygen consumption, energy production and electrolyte balance .
Magnesium deficiencies are common in North American diets, and this essential element is lost in sweat during exercise and when we urinate. Research shows that magnesium intake less than 260 mg/day for male and 220 mg/day for female athletes leads to magnesium deficiencies . Athletes who restrict diet are especially vulnerable to an inadequate magnesium status. The relationship between magnesium status and exercise has received significant research attention. This research has shown that exercise induces a redistribution of magnesium in the body to accommodate metabolic needs. There is evidence that marginal magnesium deficiency impairs exercise performance and amplifies the negative consequences of strenuous exercise (e.g., oxidative stress).
Magnesium threonate is a special form of magnesium that is easily transported across the blood-brain barrier to increase brain magnesium levels (11, 12). This is in contrast to most magnesium supplements that increase blood/body levels of this element, but change very little at the level of the central nervous system. This unique effect of magnesium threonate has been shown to improve synaptic density, which has been shown to improve cognitive performance [12, 13].
If you are looking to give brain-boosting magnesium threonate a try, we recommend taking 2000 mg in a single dose immediately before bed. This may seem like a large dose, but since it is a compound, this will yield 144 mg of elemental magnesium.
Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial Wankhede, S., Langade, D., Joshi, K., Sinha, S. R., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2015). Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 43.
A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). Indian journal of psychological medicine, 34(3), 255.
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