Part 1: FOCUS
Over the next 3 issues, we will show you that the success of today’s best preworkout supplements goes far beyond stimulants. In fact, the key ingredients in the most innovative preworkout formulas are not stimulants at all. In this issue, we will hone in on stimulant-free ingredients that support focus in the gym. Having a high level of focus when you workout is a fundamental element of workout intensity. Maintaining focus and intensity from workout to workout is the key to superior gains in strength and muscularity. Below we have summarized 6 essential focus-boosting ingredients found in todays best preworkout formulas.
What is it? It is a plant that grows in cold climates that is used to boost energy and treat fatigue, enhance physical and mental performance, stimulate the nervous system, and fight depression.
How does it increase focus? It is a potent herbal adaptogen— which, simply put, means it increases the body’s ability to handle stress and fatigue by maintaining hormonal homeostasis. Adaptogens generally increase energy and focus by increasing brain neurotransmitter concentration. Biochemically, Rhodiola Rosea inhibits monoamine oxidases (MAO), which are enzymes that break down brain neurotransmitters involved with focus– like serotonin, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Thus, when you take Rhodiola, there is an elevation of these neurotransmitters and you feel an increase in focus and attention.
Dosing: Because Rhodiola inhibits monoamine oxidases, it may interact with certain prescription drugs. The average dose should be between 200 mg and 400 mg per day of a product that is standardized to contain the active rosavins and salidrosides in a 3:1 ratio.
What is it? Tyrosine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is the precursor to the production of many neurotransmitters (i.e., norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine).
How does it increase focus? The neurotransmitters norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine are intimately involved in controlling motivation, mood, focus, and anxiety. Furthermore, they regulate lipolysis (fat burning) and weight-loss. Exercise and stress from caloric restriction (while dieting) can severely impact the turnover of these neurotransmitters, making levels decline. It has been suggested that this decline is due to rate the of neurotransmitter production being limited by tyrosine availability. As such several studies have shown that taking a tyrosine supplement can combat the adverse effects of severe stress, such that measures of mental and physical performance, reaction time, mood, and fatigue all improve greatly. For example, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that subjects who supplement with tyrosine for a four-week period showed significant improvements in focus and alertness after exhaustive exercise, compared to the placebo.
Dosing: Take 1-3 grams, 30 minutes prior to training.
What is it? A plant extract derived from the Huperzia serrata, which is a species of fir clubmoss that is found in Southeast Asia and India.
How does it increase focus? Huperzine A inhibits enzymes (esterases) that break down ACh in the brain. In the brain, ACh is a very important neuromodulator involved in wakefulness, attention, and focus. When you take Huperzine A, less ACh is broken down, so there is more ACh around to stimulate the brain. Several studies have shown that taking Huperzine A results in increases in memory and focus.
Dosing: Take 50 mcg of Huperzine A, 3 times per day. Make sure to take one dose 30-60 min prior to training.
DIMETHYLETHANOLAMINE (Deanol Bitartrate or DMAE)
What is it? DMAE is a biochemical precursor to acetylcholine (ACh) in the brain. Do not confuse this with the stimulant DMAA, as this is a completely different non-stimulant compound.
How does it increase focus? DMAE is best known scientifically for its positive effects on focus and alertness. Research has shown that supplemental DMAE optimizes brain acetylcholine levels to resolve attention deficits and age related memory loss. Other research has also shown that DMAE acts as a potent antioxidant, which scavenges specific free radicals associated with impairments in focus and attention.
Dosing: 100-200 mg, 2 to 3 times daily, with one dose 30 minutes prior to training
What is it? An extract from the seeds of the periwinkle plant (Vinca minor) that enhances memory and focus.
How does it increase focus? It increases blood flow to the brain, thus improving focus, concentration and alertness. It’s also a powerful antioxidant and enhances the delivery of glucose to help fuel the brain. Studies have also shown that vinpocetine taken prior to exercise improved peripheral blood flow and oxygen utilization.
Dosing: Studies show that taking 10-20 mg three times per day with meals (total of 30-60 mg per day) works best. On training days take one dose 1-hour before working out.
GREEN TEA EXTRACT
What is it? Green tea is made from extracts of the naive leaves of C. sinesis, the same species used for black tea. However, because green tea is non-fermented and non-oxidized it retains unique and beneficial components that are not available in black tea.
How does it increase focus? Green tea contains high concentrations of pharmacologically bioactive polyphenols including, epigallocatechin, epicatechin, epicatechin gallate, and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Although green tea has caffeine, green tea extract is caffeine-/stimulant-free and contains a standardized concentration of high potency EGCG. Although green-tea extract is commonly categorized as a fat-burner and antioxidant, many are surprised to find out that green-tea extract is also a potent focus enhancing supplement. A study published in Brain Research concluded that EGCG supplementation reverses anxiety, which enables a higher level of focus and attention. The EGCG in green tea extract has also been shown to normalize cortisol, dopamine, norepinephrine, and 5-hydroxytryptamine in stress conditions—all of which are involved in modulating our depth of focus and attention.
Dosing: Be sure to buy a product that has been standardized for EGCG. Take 200–400 mg of standardized EGCG, 30-60 minutes prior to training.