Coaches love to say things like, "Mind over matter," or "The first muscle to quit is your mind," with the expectation that it'll help athletes mentally overcome their physical discomforts. And there's plenty of truth to these cliché phrases, which is why cognitive enhancement is just as important as physical enhancement to serious athletes.
- Nootropics for athletes may help physically active competitors and exercisers overcome the mental barriers preventing them from realizing their full athletic potential.
This guide covers not only the key mental aspects of athleticism but also how nootropics may improve the mind-body connection for better motivation, energy, focus, and, ultimately, physical prowess.
How Can Nootropics Improve Athletic Performance?
Can nootropics improve athletic performance? Even if they're primary function is to improve cognitive performance? The answer is yes, considering the deep, mental aspects involved in competitive sport. After all, for many athletes, the mind games prior to game-day are just as important as the actual physical functions involved in executing plays and scoring points.
Not all nootropics may assist with athletic performance. Yet, the best nootropics may work by enhancing the following cognitive benefits:
Energy and Stamina
Without sufficient sleep and energy levels, athletes simply cannot perform. Underlying all competitive physical and cognitive processes is a well-stocked reserve of cellular energy to execute and maintain athletic functions. Stimulants may offer a quick-fix of amped-up energy, yet they often work by compromising long-term health and performance. Plus, many effective stimulants are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for competitive use.
Effective nootropics, on the other hand, improve energy and stamina by naturally enhancing the brain and body's natural energy synthesis pathways. By improving cellular energy (ATP) production and increasing circulatory oxygen flow, nootropics may legally and safely improving athletic stamina while also promoting a healthy anabolic metabolism.
Motivation and Intensity
Every athlete and exerciser experiences low motivation and "going through the motions" stagnation with their workouts every now and then. While poor motivation may be due to any number of psychological factors, nootropics may assist with the neurochemical pathways to motivation, establishing the cognitive foundation for high-intensity training.
Whether due to brain burnout or nutrient deficiency, nootropics may improve motivation by:
- Increasing catecholamine activity - catecholamine neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine) play a key role in sustaining mood and motivation.
- Enhancing energy efficiency - related to the previous section, energy boosting nootropics may help ward off brain burnout and fatigue for better, ongoing mood levels.
Dedication and discipline contribute to a finely tuned athlete. Yet, neither are possible without motivation.
Attention and Multitasking
High-octane team sports require exceptional levels of attention and multitasking, as athletes must mentally process their roles and moves in relation to other players' roles and locations. To pull this off, athletes practice their moves until they become unconsciously ingrained into their performance; otherwise, they throw themselves off by over-analyzing each movement.
By strengthening their cognitive capacity for task-related information processing (or working memory), athletes may better focus on their respective roles without internal and external distractions.
Even in the absence of psychological stress, athletes may experience physical stress as a result of their intense training. The two common forms of stress that negatively impact athletic health include:
- Stress hormone cortisol - triggered by the HPA axis, stress hormone cortisol increases "fight-or-flight" bio-activities, yet may pose significant health risks when chronically activated.
- Oxidative stress - another term for free radical damage, oxidative stress plays a significant role in age-related deterioration.
Adaptogen and antioxidant nootropics may help improve an athlete's stress levels by regulating the stress hormone response and decreasing the negative impact of oxidative stress.
Are Nootropics Legal?
For the most part, yes, nootropics are legal. Natural nootropics that naturally enhance cognition are generally fair game for athletes to use as performance enhancers. Lab-synthesized stimulants, on the other hand, especially those barred by prescription, are generally banned for competitive use. Even reasonably safe stimulants, such as phenylpiracetam, may trigger a positive drug test.
If you're a competing athlete worried about Mind Lab Pro® nootropics safety or legal status, worry not: these nootropics work upon natural, healthy, legal bio-pathways. However, if you have any concerns about the legal status of a certain cognitive enhancer, check with your league's substance policies and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which publishes annual banned substance lists. More on Nootropic Legality.
The Athlete's Mind-Body Connection
As a push away from inefficient modern health models which divide mental and physical health into separate treatment categories, nootropic enthusiasts have reconciled the psychological with the physiological. With that in mind, nootropics may improve physical performance by enhancing the following neurotransmitter pathways:
Dopaminergic Pathway - associated with the reward chemical dopamine, the dopaminergic system manipulates motivation and the pleasure-response, rewarding positive athletic behaviors under healthy dopaminergic conditions.
Serotonergic Pathway - low serotonin contributes to low inhibition, as this neurochemical plays a key role in establishing impulse inhibition and discipline.
Cholinergic Pathway - directly involved in the neuromuscular junction, acetylcholine signals for muscle contraction, operating as the bridge chemical between nervous and muscular tissue.
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Athletes
By tackling stress and fatigue, Rhodiola works as a performance enhancer for both brain and body.
Nothing affects mental and physical performance quite like stress. This applies even to non-subjective forms of stress, such as when intensely motivated athletes overwork their bodies to their breaking points. For these athletes, hormonal stress and oxidative stress negatively impact their health and performance, even in the absence of subjective stress. By reducing excess stress hormone cortisol levels, Rhodiola rosea may significantly enhance and protect athletic performance against the harmful effects of high-intensity training.<1>
In a placebo-controlled study on Rhodiola's effects on stress-related fatigue<2>:
- Researchers found a standardized extract of Rhodiola effective at enhancing cognitive performance while decreasing the cortisol stress response. Their conclusion: "repeated administration of
exerts an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance, particularly the ability to concentrate, and decreases cortisol response to awakening stress in burnout patients with fatigue syndrome."
However, even subjectively, Rhodiola rosea supplementation may improve mood and "perceptions of arousal and pleasure" for exercising athletes, as demonstrated by a placebo-controlled study performed on active men.<3> This combination of subjective mood boosts and hormonal stress reduction may help athletes maintain the physical stamina demanded by their unquenchable motivation.
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT)
Ignites intensity during exercise and replenishes mood and focus after an intense workout.
As a natural precursor to catecholamine neurotransmitters, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine plays a key role in sustaining cognitive alertness and clarity under conditions of high stress and activity. Remember that catecholamines (e.g., dopamine, norepinephrine) facilitate positive mood and focus, and so when stress-related activities deplete your catecholamine levels, so, too, does your cognitive performance drop off.
Athletic feats that require heightened levels of attention, awareness, and multi-task processing, even in the face of environmental distractions and bodily discomfort, may improve by L-tyrosine supplementation, as demonstrated by the following studies:
- Study - L-tyrosine improves cognitive function and blood pressure under high-stress conditions effected by loud noise (90 dB).<4>
- Study - L-tyrosine improves working memory (task-related processing) under multi-tasking conditions, which otherwise impair cognitive performance.<5>
- Study - L-tyrosine helps counteract performance decrements related to extended wakefulness (sleep deprivation) and fatigue.<6>
For athletes, particularly sleep-deprived college athletes, supplementing L-tyrosine may work as a sort of "clutch performance" enhancer. While athletic opponents tire out, losing their focus and composure late in the match, L-tyrosine keeps your cognitive performance fresh from start to finish.
Because L-tyrosine replenishes catecholamines depleted by excess activity, you may supplement this nootropic amino acid both as a pre- and post-workout ingredient.
Citicoline (CDP Choline)
One part choline and one part cytidine, citicoline enhances brainpower and the cholinergic connection between mind and muscle.
As opposed to other more straightforward cholinergic nootropics, Citicoline offers a brain healthy supply of choline in addition to brain boosting cytidine. Individually, these two compounds work by:
- Choline - converts to phosphatidylcholine and acetylcholine, the brain chemical associated with memory, learning, and neuromuscular function.
- Cytidine - converts to uridine, the nucleotide associated with enhanced synaptic plasticity and natural ATP energy production.
Remember that within the contact point between nervous tissue and muscle tissue, the neuromuscular junction transfers nervous signals to muscle tissue to signal for muscular contraction. The signalling compound released from nerves: acetylcholine.<7>
By supplying raw choline for acetylcholine synthesis, citicoline may not only enhance the cholinergic pathways of the brain (thereby improving memory, learning, and high-order cognitive processes) but also the neuromuscular function for better muscular performance. Likewise, by supplying raw cytidine for enhanced brain energy production (via an increase in uridine), citicoline may improve cognitive performance measures related to enhanced energy production and synaptic plasticity.
L-Theanine (+ Caffeine)
While not a true nootropic, caffeine may possess performance enhancing benefits when coupled with L-theanine.
Sourced from green tea leaves, L-Theanine is a popular, relaxing amino acid with unique calming effects that simultaneously boost focus while reducing anxiety. Unlike other anxiolytic compounds, L-theanine calms without sedating the mind to the point of cognitive impairment. Rather, the compound actually seems to increase focus, even when not stacked with a stimulant, such as caffeine<8>:
- One report suggests that L-theanine "has a significant effect on the general state of mental alertness or arousal."
However, when paired with caffeine, the duo seems to enhance cognitive performance beyond what each compound may accomplish on their own. As one study observed<9>:
- The combination of L-theanine and caffeine seems to help "focus attention during a demanding cognitive task" at a roughly 2:1 ratio of L-theanine to caffeine.
Not all athletes favor caffeine as a pre-workout compound, and for good reason. Caffeine is not a genuine cognitive enhancing nootropic. Although, it's hard to deny the reliable energy boosts that follow a quick jolt of caffeine. And pairing caffeine with L-theanine may help limit the stimulant's jittery side effects while sustaining its boosts on energy and focus.
Often supplemented for mood boosts, B vitamins support hundreds of metabolic pathways across the brain and body.
B vitamins, namely Vitamin B6, play a key role in athletic health, hence vitamin B6's contribution to ZMA, a popular sports nutrition aid comprised of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6.
As a nootropic, vitamin B6 helps synthesize catecholaminergic and serotonergic neurotransmitters, balancing mood and heart rate. For physical activity, B vitamins' role in converting food to glucose, a simple energy fuel source ready for ATP energy conversion, may help increase exercise stamina for better workouts. Likewise, B vitamins' roles in mood-related brain chemical synthesis may help sustain mood and motivation for better exercise and game-day intensity.
Vitamin B6, in particular, seems to improve the body's sensitivity to certain genetic expressions related skeletal muscle growth, thereby improving anabolic muscle building and repair.<10>
While rare, B vitamin-deficiency poses great performance impairing risks to athletes that may be easily avoided by supplementing a well-rounded B vitamin complex. Not to mention that B vitamins co-facilitate the catecholaminergic synthesis pathways involving L-tyrosine, as listed above.
Mind Lab Pro® supplies some of the best nootropics for athletes, optimizing the mind-body connection for better health and performance.
Athletes need sharp minds to execute impressive athletic feats. While not traditionally viewed as sports nutrition supplements, nootropics can help sharpen minds to highly competitive levels.
- Mind Lab Pro® nootropics may help with various aspects of competitive cognition, making it a strong choice for all types of athletes.
Whether you play hockey or chess, Mind Lab Pro® helps amplify the basic cognitive functions required of all competitive thinking. Energy, intensity, attention, stress resistance, and many more cognitive pathways that affect athleticism improve with a smart nootropic stack.
Stack Mind Lab Pro® + Performance Lab® SPORT Pre-Workout for Enhanced Mind-Body Connection
Mind Lab Pro® serves one of the best nootropic supplements on the market in 2019, thanks to its Universal Nootropic™ design.
Yet, for more comprehensive sports performance, try stacking Mind Lab Pro® with Performance Lab® SPORT Pre-Workout:
- Performance Lab® SPORT Pre-Workout by Opti-Nutra is a stimulant-free pre-workout supplement works by increasing natural cellular energy and oxygen utilization.
Together, Mind Lab Pro® and Performance Lab® SPORT Pre-Workout further boost the mind-body connection for athletes, unlocking 100% Brainpower™ for total body control.
Performance Lab® SPORT Pre-Workout Ingredients
Creatine (Creapure® pH10), Cordyceps Super™ (50% polysaccharides), L-Citrulline, L-Glutamine (Ajinomoto®), L-Carnosine (N-beta-alanyl-histidine), Himalayan Pink Salt, Maritime Pine Bark Extract (95% proanthocyanidins)
- Performance Lab® SPORT supports better energy, stamina, and oxygenation, increasing exercise performance for better game-day execution.
Mind Lab Pro® and Performance Lab® SPORT Pre-Workout are both Opti-Nutra Quality.
- Walker TB, Robergs RA. Does Rhodiola rosea possess ergogenic properties? Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Jun; 16(3): 305-15.
- Olsson EM et al. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 2009 Feb; 75(2): 105-12.
- Duncan MJ, Clarke ND. The Effect of Acute Rhodiola rosea Ingestion on Exercise Heart Rate, Substrate Utilisation, Mood State, and Perceptions of Exertion, Arousal, and Pleasure/Displeasure in Active Men. J Sports Med (Hindawi Publ Corp). 2014; 2014: 563043.
- Deijen JB, Orlebeke JF. Effect of tyrosine on cognitive function and blood pressure under stress. Brain Res Bull. 1994; 33(3): 319-23.
- Thomas JR et al. Tyrosine improves working memory in a multitasking environment. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1999 Nov; 64(3): 495-500.
- Neri DF et al. The effects of tyrosine on cognitive performance during extended wakefulness. Aviat Space Environ Med. 1995 Apr; 66(4) :313-9.
- Gibb AJ. Choline and acetylcholine: what a difference an acetate makes! J Physiol. 2017 Feb 15; 595(4): 1021-22.
- Nobre AC et al. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008; 17 Suppl 1: 167-8.
- Giesbrecht T et al. The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness. Nutr Neurosci. 2010 Dec; 13(6): 283-90.
- Suidasari S et al. Dietary vitamin B6 modulates the gene expression of myokines, Nrf2-related factors, myogenin and HSP60 in the skeletal muscle of rats. Exp Ther Med. 2017 Oct; 14(4): 3239-3246.