It's called "brainpower" for a reason: Energized cognition drives peak mental performance. Active thinking, fast mental processing, quick recall, mental clarity -- all depend on robust brain energy. But boosting brain energy with caffeine and stimulants may lead to "crashes" and low brainpower over the long haul.
- Nootropics for energy may help. These natural cognitive enhancers can increase brain energy in many ways, without the use of stimulants.
As a result, nootropics for mental energy are healthier for the brain while delivering superior brainpower-boosting results. This guide discusses the best nootropics for energy and how they can be stacked to unleash a clean brainpower surge.
Our Modern Mental Energy Crisis
If our rampant coffee intake is any indication, we're amidst a deeply pernicious, pervasive mental energy crisis in 2018. The sort that can't simply be brushed under the rug by two or three or a hundred daily cups of caffeine.
There's no denying that stimulants work. At times, a cup of coffee is just what you need for a quick pop of energized alertness. And prescription stimulant pills and other smart drugs can greatly help those with doctor-diagnosed cognitive issues.
But for long-term, sustainable energy -- the type of energy required for exceptional mental performance, mood, memory, motivation, focus, creativity, and every other positive cognitive measure -- you'll need an energy strategy that:
- Enhances the brain's metabolic pathways to promote clean natural energy;
- Avoids the post-excitement crash typically associated with stimulants;
- Promotes brain performance and brain health without safety risks or side effects
In this nootropic guide, we'll review the metabolic pathways involved in brain energy, the cognitive risks associated with low brain energy levels, and how to enhance brainpower with the best natural nootropics and nootropic stacking strategies for health brain energy production.
The Energy Costs of Thinking
Relatively speaking, the brain consumes an exceptional amount of energy. In fact, despite comprising only an average 2% of total body weight, the brain burns nearly 20% of the body's overall energy reserves. In fact, the brain the most energy-demanding organ in the body.<1>
There are two good reasons for the brain's high energy demands:
- Body Management - At all times, the brain computes and regulates an infinitely complex array of neurochemical signalling, receiving, and processing reactions throughout the body's neural network.
- Brain Maintenance - The brain renews neural tissue with increasing effort over time. Brain cell repair and regeneration -- including neurogenesis, the creation of fresh new brain cells -- consumes a lot of power.
At times, the body's energy supply falls below the brain's optimal metabolic threshold. When the body's energy supply decreases, cognitive performance declines while risk for age-related cognitive problems rises.
Running on Empty: Brain Fog and Mental Fatigue
Brain fuel includes, but is not limited to, glucose, oxygen, fatty acids, amino acids, proteins, and water.
Any metabolic compound that fuels the body also fuels the brain. And when the body runs low on any of its natural resources -- glucose, water, oxygen, etc. -- the brain's ability to function takes a sharp nose dive.
Additionally, not giving the brain adequate down-time (e.g., sleep) to repair and sort itself out threatens the brain's cognitive capabilities.
Two potential outcomes of poor brain energy metabolism include:
- Brain Fog - Often used as a catch-all phrase for any perceptual dip in focus, cognitive clarity, or general thinking; commonly brought on by stress.
- Brain Fatigue - Secondary to general fatigue. May develop into symptoms associated with chronic fatigue and long-term low energy unaffected by rest.
To put this all into more tangible terms, a brain affected by a poor metabolic status may manifest itself into all of the recognizable signs of low energy: lapses in judgment, poor memory, poor motivation, sharply derailed trains of thought ("What was it I'm looking for?")...
Traditionally attributed to old age, such cognitive disruptions seem to affect the young twenty- to thirty-something year old students and workers, who predominantly function on daily sub-optimal sleep levels.<2>
Of course, the best remedies for poor brain energy are better sleep and nutrition. You'll wake in the morning feeling more rested and energetic.
However, to ensure that your brain functions at its fullest energetic capacity at all times, for enhanced levels of brain power, life energy and performance that you can feel, it's smart to adopt a safe, well-rounded stack of nootropics for energy.
How Nootropics Energize the Brain
Many popular nootropics may affect the brain energy budget through direct and indirect bio-pathways. For the sake of this guide, we'll cover the natural nootropics that take a more direct approach to boosting brain energy, and that do so without the subsequent crash and side effects associated with synthetic stimulants.
These natural cognitive enhancers may boost brain energy by:
Optimizing Mitochondrial Efficiency
These tiny, bean-shaped organelles help create adenoside triphosphate (ATP), the body's primary chemical unit of energy, earning mitochondria the moniker: "Powerhouses of the Body."
Through the catabolic breakdown of basic nutrients, mitochondria converts chemical compounds into ATP, which is used for any number of metabolic functions related to cognitive function, muscular activity, and more.
- Nootropics help maintain mitochondrial efficiency and productivity by neutralizing mitochondria-damaging free radicals, transporting raw mitochondrial material, and maintaining mitochondrial membrane integrity.
Enhancing Neurotransmitter Status
Not all neurotransmitters contribute to an energized cognition. In fact, some brain chemicals accomplish the opposite, neurotransmitters such as GABA, which relaxes the brain and reverses excitatory neurotransmissions. Yet, it may be argued that nootropics that optimize even these "sleep-time" brain chemicals contribute to better brain energy overall, as a rested body is an energized body.
- Nootropics that balance and optimize excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmissions throughout the day and night may reinforce a healthier sleep-wake schedule for overall better energy.
Bolstering Stress Resistance
Stress keeps us up at night. Stress drags us down during the day. When stress runs rampant, many of the body's systems deteriorate, and the brain is no exception. One reason for this is the stress system's activation of "fight-or-flight" pathways, which can rapidly burn through the body's natural energy reserves.
If activated too frequently, the stress response may effectively short-circuit the body's metabolic pathways, leading to metabolic issues with symptoms of fatigue.
Good stress resistance, on the other hand, can help to boost many cognitive functions, including concentration, focus and memory.
Supporting Blood Flow to the Brain
Another bio-pathway that may improve brain energy involves boosting cerebral circulation. Under the theoretical condition that the body is sufficiently supplied with nutrients but the brain is not, it may be the case that the brain simply isn't adequately receiving nourishment from the body.
- Healthy blood flow to the brain ensures delivery of oxygen and glucose, which brain cells "burn" in order to produce energy.
Any nootropics that improve these bio-pathways may help revitalize a brain operating on low energy levels.
In addition, the right combination of nootropics can effectively achieve crash-free mental energy that is healthier for the brain.
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Energy
Citicoline outperforms other nootropic choline sources by providing two nootropic compounds in one.
As opposed to other nootropic choline donors, such as Alpha-GPC, citicoline does more for brain power by supplying both:
- Choline - a precursor nutrient to cell membrane phospholipid phosphatidylcholine and memory enhancing neurotransmitter acetylcholine
- Cytidine - a precursor compound to uridine, a nucleotide base associated with increased energy and synaptic plasticity.<3>
Whereas standard choline supplements may improve acetylcholine status, effectively improving cognitive measures related to memory and learning, citicoline does this while also enhancing the brain's energy capacity via uridine.<4>
Citicoline's combined boost of choline output and synaptic plasticity seems to result in all-around enhanced brain power and improved brain-building activity.
In a clinical study on the administration of Cognizin® citicoline, healthy men and women who received citicoline for six weeks were exposed to MRS testing to determine the nootropic's effect on phosphate metabolites and other energy-related chemical compounds.
- The study's results revealed that citicoline supplementation appeared to significantly enhance mental energy, boosting brain cells' ATP energy production by 13.6%.<5>
In human research, Cognizin® citicoline has been linked with a 13.6% increase in brain cell energy production.
In addition to optimizing function of brain cells' mitochondria, Citicoline may enhance neural connectivity and metabolic production for better brain brainpower, smoother cognition and healthier overall brain function.
As perhaps the best single nootropic overall, Citicoline is always a smart choice for brain supplements -- regardless of your mental energy levels.
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT)
L-tyrosine naturally converts to excitatory, energizing brain chemicals that are depleted under high stress, high activity conditions.
When the body is stressed, the brain burns through catecholamines like there's no tomorrow. Once the catecholamines run dry, the brain turns to the amino acid L-tyrosine to create more catecholamines; and when L-tyrosine runs dry, well... Game Over.
This partially explains why supplementing L-tyrosine (or better yet N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine, the enhanced form) works best under conditions of stress.
Under normal, healthy conditions, the nootropic might help, however the nootropic shines brightest when conditions are rough and energy reserves are low.
According to a few key clinical studies, L-tyrosine has been found to improve cognition and mental performance under several stressful scenarios.<6,7> However, with regards to brain energy, one clinical study stands out:
L-Tyrosine enhances cognitive performance during extended wakefulness.
In this placebo-controlled clinical study, participants performed various performance tasks and mood assessments while staying awake for a continuous 24 hours. Half of the participants received L-tyrosine and the other half received placebo. By the end of the study, the people that received L-tyrosine demonstrated significant improvements on cognitive performance otherwise impaired by sleep deprivation.
- The researchers' conclusion: "tyrosine may prove useful in counteracting performance decrements during episodes of sustained work coupled with sleep loss."<8>
For the nootropic users with a heavy, demanding workload, L-tyrosine may help sustain the additional energy and stamina required to finish that last assignment, that last set, that final exam.
L-Tyrosine -- especially as advanced N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT) -- is an ideal nootropic for both enhancing mental energy during stress and sleep deprivation, and "recharging the battery" to help restore mental energy during downtime.
This powerful adaptogen complements pro-energy nootropics well with its potent anti-fatigue bio-activities.
Traditionally used by Siberian farmers and soldiers to withstand the harsh living conditions of Siberia, Rhodiola rosea is a highly bio-active adaptogen herb with profound mental and physical performance-enhancing benefits.
As an adaptogen, Rhodiola's primary role involves helping the body adapt to stress, essentially lessening the damaging impacts of stress hormone cortisol and other stress-related byproducts throughout the body.<9>
Rhodiola rosea's adaptogenic bio-actions include:
- Regulating the HPA axis - Or the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis, the stress hormone loop that controls our response to stressors.<10>
- Supporting neurotransmitters - Namely the brain chemicals dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, by inhibiting the enzymes that break down these neurotransmitters.<11>
By inhibiting the negative effects of stress hormones and enzymes, Rhodiola seems to improve energy -- not directly, but by inhibiting the pathways that promote fatigue and fog.
Rhodiola Rosea has been shown in human research to reduce mental fatigue
Similar to L-tyrosine, Rhodiola improves mental performance and energy by ameliorating stress-induced fatigue; only instead of replenishing "burnt out" neurotransmitters, Rhodiola reduces the steps leading up to the burn out altogether.
As such, Rhodiola may synergize with the previously listed nootropic ingredients, creating more effective brain energy-boosting results.
Amino acid nootropic raises Alpha brain waves to promote energized alertness and relaxation at the same time.
If there is an energy-boosting nootropic that is the opposite of a stimulant, the amino acid L-Theanine might just be it. Unlike the jittery, stimmed-up effects of caffeine, L-Theanine works by optimizing Alpha brain waves. The result? A clean, relaxed state of energized mental alertness.
In addition, L-Theanine helps to minimize the jittery side effects of caffeine while still keeping its energy and focus enhancements.
- L-Theanine appears to make energizing stimulants work even better while delivering its own complementary benefits for clean, stim-free mental energy.
Among its many other brain-boosting activities, PS appears to enhance the way the brain utilizes glucose for energy production.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid nootropic that is prized for its multitasking brain bioactivities, which culminate in far-ranging cognitive benefits. PS is famously known as the most research-backed nootropic for memory performance.
A lesser-known research-backed PS benefit: Brain energy enhancement.
Human research on study subjects with brain degeneration concerns linked phosphatidylserine supplementation to:
- 20.3% increase in the basal ganglia/thalamus brain energy metabolism
- 19.3% increase in the visual cortex brain energy metabolism
Maritime Pine Bark Extract
This antioxidant-rich complex may enhance mental energy by encouraging healthy blood flow to the brain.
While it has not been studied for mental energy, specifically, Maritime Pine Bark Extract has been shown in research to stimulate release of Nitric Oxide (NO).
Nitric Oxide in turn signals for blood vessels to relax and widen, thereby promoting healthy circulation throughout the body.
As part of this circulation-boosting Nitric Oxide activity, Maritime Pine Bark Extract is believed to promote healthy blood flow to the brain.
- Robust cerebral circulation helps ensure delivery of the oxygen and glucose that are absolutely essential for healthy brain cell energy metabolism.
B-vitamins are nutritional essentials for healthy brain energy production at a cellular level.
B-Vitamins appear to support brain energy metabolism both directly and indirectly.
- Direct brain energy support: Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that is required for cell energy metabolism. This role is especially crucial within brain cells, given that the brain consumes 20% of the body's energy budget.
- Indirect brain energy support: As a dynamic trio, Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 help to regulate homocysteine metabolism. In doing so, these three Bs help to manage a risk factor for arterial integrity and circulation concerns -- indirectly supporting blood flow to the brain that is associated with mental energy and healthy cognitive performance.
Although B-Vitamins' nootropic effects may not be felt as an intense mental energy surge, they nevertheless are critical for supporting overall brain health -- making them must-have ingredients in the best nootropic supplements.
Read about the 2017 Mind Lab Pro® formula upgrade that added these B-Vitamins as BioGenesis™ here.
For additional B-Vitamin support beyond what Mind Lab Pro® supplies for cell energy, brain health and more, consider taking a high-quality multivitamin like Performance Lab® Whole-Food Multi, which also features BioGenesis™ nature-identical vitamins and minerals.
Mind Lab Pro® nootropics for energy support cognitive vitality across non-stimulant pathways -- for a clean, peak-performing mindstate known as 100% Brainpower™.
Synthetic stimulants boost energy in short, jittery bursts, often followed by harsh crash.
- Mind Lab Pro®'s 100% Brainpower™ is a different kind of mental energy: Clean, natural, exhilarating mental energy, where you feel your brain firing on all cylinders.
Mind Lab Pro® also supports and sustains that brainpower surge with a superior-quality, non-stimulant stack of premium nootropics, only.
As the World's First Universal Nootropic™, Mind Lab Pro® goes far beyond energy -- its innovative formula design optimizes the whole brain. Uniquely supporting a supercharged, peak-performing brain, Mind Lab Pro® helps you do everything better -- no matter who you are, or what your lifestyle may be.
Stack Mind Lab Pro® + Performance Lab® Energy for Superior Mind-Body Vitality
Mind Lab Pro® is the ultimate nootropic supplement for stimulant-free mental energy. But what if you want physical energy, too?
- Performance Lab® Energy by Opti-Nutra is a stimulant-free vitality supplement that stacks well with Mind Lab Pro®.
Performance Lab® Energy works by optimizing cells' powerhouse mitochondria to support efficient ATP energy synthesis.
Taking Mind Lab Pro® together with Performance Lab® Energy forms a potent complementary supplement stack for increasing energy naturally in both body and mind.
The result: Benefits for energized mental clarity, intensified workouts, enhanced fat metabolism and more.
Performance Lab® Energy Ingredients
Acetyl-L-Carnitine, R-Lipoic Acid (Bio-Enhanced®), Coenzyme Q10 (MicroActive® Q10), PQQ (BioPQQ®), Black Pepper Ext. (BioPerine®, 95% piperine)
- Performance Lab® Energy supports ATP energy production, mitochondrial function and overall metabolic efficiency. Promotes clean, crash-free vitality at a cellular level, energizing body and mind without using stimulants.*
Performance Lab® Energy and Mind Lab Pro® are both Opti-Nutra Quality.
- Raichle ME, Gusnard DA. Appraising the brain's energy budget. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2002 Aug 6; 99(16): 10237-10239.
- Hershner SD, Chervin RD. Causes and consequences of sleepiness among college students. Nat Sci Sleep. 2014; 6: 73-84.
- Wurtman RJ et al. Synapse formation is enhanced by oral administration of uridine and DHA, the circulating precursors of brain phosphatides. J Nutr Health Aging. 2009 Mar; 13(3): 189-97.
- Fioravanti M, Buckley AE. Citicoline (Cognizin) in the treatment of cognitive impairment. Clin Interv Aging. 2006 Sep; 1(3): 247-51.
- Silveri MM et al. Citicoline enhances frontal lobe bioenergetics as measured by phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy. NMR Biomed. 2008 Nov; 21(10): 1066-75.
- Mahoney CR et al. Tyrosine supplementation mitigates working memory decrements during cold exposure. Physiol Behav. 2007 Nov 23; 92(4): 575-82. Epub 2007 May 22
- 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.
- Hung SK et al. The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine. 2011 Feb 15; 18(4): 235-44.
- 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.
- van Diermen D et al. Monoamine oxidase inhibition by Rhodiola rosea L. roots. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Mar 18; 122(2): 397-401.