Over the past month, I’ve used a variety of natural and easily obtainable supplements to significantly improve my focus, memory, mood, and cognition. I have turned my brain into a more effective machine.
The typical reader of this blog probably takes a half-dozen supplements to improve his physical appearance and athletic performance before breakfast, but the idea that you can take actions that will improve your mental performance is simply outside of most people’s reality. Today I invite you, dear reader, to apply the same hack-hungry attitude you use in most areas of your life, to your brain function.
In the future, I will write about my experiences with “heavy” Nootropics. Today’s post is limited to entry-level Nootropics which are:
- Somewhat familiar to Joe Blow on the street
- Available at your local Whole Foods or GNC rather than sketchy online pharmacies
- Unintimidating to a rookie cognition hacker
If I didn’t hate the imprecise and much-abused word ‘natural’, I would have titled this post The All-Natural Nootropic Stack or something similarly gay.
But while the supplements I’m about to recommend are not at all scary or difficult to come by, they all have proven and remarkable effects on human brain function, and 99% of your peers are passing up on the opportunity to use them to gain an edge.
1) Caffeine + Theanine
Caffeine is the ultimate ubiquitous Nootropic. I slam a fat coffee full of cinnamon and raw cocoa every morning and feel great about it. Pill form is fine too.
Caffeine can be paired with L-Theanine for The People’s Stack:
This combination is well-known because it’s safe, effective, and has a very long history of use. This mini stack won’t cause unsafe reactions with any other food or drug you’re taking, and several studies show that it promotes health benefits like optimal lymphocyte function, neuronal cell protection, and my favorite: the reduction of psychological and physiological stress.
When combined, you’ll get the stimulant effects of caffeine without any irritating side effects like anxiety, increased blood pressure, and poor sleep. These common side effects of caffeine are neutralized by the L-theanine, which also serves to enhance attention (beyond what caffeine can normally provide).
Recommended Dose: 100mg or 200mg L-theanine three times per day for general nootropic benefits. For the best results, take 25-200mg caffeine with daytime doses a half hour before you lift.
For those who demand peer review – The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood:
The aim of this study was to compare 50 mg caffeine, with and without 100 mg L-theanine, on cognition and mood in healthy volunteers. The effects of these treatments on word recognition, rapid visual information processing, critical flicker fusion threshold, attention switching and mood were compared to placebo in 27 participants. Performance was measured at baseline and again 60 min and 90 min after each treatment (separated by a 7-day washout). Caffeine improved subjective alertness at 60 min and accuracy on the attention-switching task at 90 min. The L-theanine and caffeine combination improved both speed and accuracy of performance of the attention-switching task at 60 min, and reduced susceptibility to distracting information in the memory task at both 60 min and 90 min. These results replicate previous evidence which suggests that L-theanine and caffeine in combination are beneficial for improving performance on cognitively demanding tasks.
Theanine + Caffeine is also the recommended beginner’s Nootropic stack at the excellent r/Nootropics community. It’s cheap, safe and easy. Pick up a bottle for less than twenty bucks at your local GNC, or order it from Amazon.
Juicing is the most efficient way to increase the quantity of fruits and vegetables in your diet. High fruit and vegetable intake is positively correlated with antioxidant status and cognitive performance in healthy subjects.
A higher daily intake of fruits and vegetables in healthy elderly is associated with an improved antioxidant status in comparison to subjects consuming diets poor in fruits and vegetables, but the impact on cognitive performance is unclear. Healthy community dwellers (45 to 102 years old, n=193) underwent cognitive testing and blood withdrawal for the measurement of antioxidant micronutrients and biomarkers of oxidative stress as well as administration of a food frequency questionnaire to assess the daily intake of fruits and vegetables (high intake HI, low intake LI). Ninety-four subjects of the HI group had significantly higher cognitive test scores, higher levels of carotenoids, alpha- and gamma-tocopherol as well as lower levels of F2 alpha isoprostanes than the 99 subjects of the LI group. Cognitive scores were directly correlated with blood levels of alpha-tocopherol and lycopene and negatively correlated with F2 alpha isoprostanes and protein carbonyls. The results were independent of age, gender, body mass index, education, total cholesterol, LDL- and HDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, and albumin. Healthy subjects of any age with a high daily intake of fruits and vegetables have higher antioxidant levels, lower levels of biomarkers of oxidative stress, and better cognitive performance than healthy subjects of any age consuming low amounts of fruits and vegetables. Modification of nutritional habits aimed at increasing intake of fruits and vegetables should be encouraged to lower prevalence of cognitive impairment in later life.
On the 1-2 days a week I have a few big glasses of fresh carrot/celery/beet/ginger juice, I tend to feel more calm, relaxed and focused. It’s a ‘clean’ energy.
As for a mechanism of action, fresh juice is a quickly-absorbed punch of nutrients that your omnivorous ancestors evolved to consume in large quantities, and of which we generally don’t get enough of today. Consumption of fresh vegetables, juiced or otherwise, will benefit numerous bodily functions, cognition included.
3) Green Tea
High-quality green tea is a natural delivery mechanism for the above-mentioned caffeine + Theanine stack. It’s a light jab compared to the XL coffee with 300mg caffeine + 200mg Theanine roundhouse kick to face.
4) Dark Chocolate
Chocolate is delicious and scrumptious, and this is reason enough to eat it. But now you have an excuse to crush it on a daily basis:
Cognitive function in the elderly is improved by ingesting high levels of natural compounds found in cocoa called flavanols. The study included 90 individuals with mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. Subjects who drank a cocoa beverage containing either moderate or high levels of flavanols daily for eight weeks demonstrated greater cognitive function than those who consumed low levels of flavanols on three separate tests that measured factors that included verbal fluency, visual searching and attention.
5) Omega 3
If you live in North America and pay less than twenty bucks for your steaks, you are almost certainly Omega-3 deficient. There are a dozen reasons to supplement with fish oil capsules, and high among them is this:
Omega-3 supplementation is associated with an improvement of attentional and physiological functions, particularly those involving complex cortical processing. These
findings are discussed in terms of the influence of Omega-3 on the central nervous system
6) Ginseng and Ginkgo Biloba
The mechanism and strength of these two inscrutable little Chinaman pills are in dispute, but they are inexpensive enough that they are worth a month or two of experimental addition to your daily pill cocktail.
Panax ginseng (G115) improves aspects of working memory performance and subjective ratings of calmness in healthy young adults.
We conclude that acute administration of Ginkgo biloba is capable of producing a sustained improvement in attention in healthy young volunteers.
Sauce 1 and Sauce 2. I will not claim to have experienced anything extremely obvious from the inclusion of either of these boys to my morning pill cocktail, but their low price plus my assessment of the evidence leads me to keep stocking them.
Creatine Monohydrate has been used by bodybuilders for decades to get bigger and stronger. It has little or no adverse side effects, provided you aren’t an idiot, take a reasonable dose, cycle, and hydrate. It will make you jacked, but it’s also valuable as a cognitive enhancer:
Creatine supplementation is in widespread use to enhance sports-fitness performance, and has been trialled successfully in the treatment of neurological, neuromuscular and atherosclerotic disease. Creatine plays a pivotal role in brain energy homeostasis, being a temporal and spatial buffer for cytosolic and mitochondrial pools of the cellular energy currency, adenosine triphosphate and its regulator, adenosine diphosphate. In this work, we tested the hypothesis that oral creatine supplementation (5 g d(-1) for six weeks) would enhance intelligence test scores and working memory performance in 45 young adult, vegetarian subjects in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over design. Creatine supplementation had a significant positive effect (p < 0.0001) on both working memory (backward digit span) and intelligence (Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices), both tasks that require speed of processing. These findings underline a dynamic and significant role of brain energy capacity in influencing brain performance.
A follow-up study with a sample size of twenty found no effect, but in my experience, the addition of Creatine created the second greatest boost to my perceived mental clarity, after Theanine. Seeing as it’s also a valuable supplement for lifters to get pahmped and smash through plateaus, picking up a tub of Creatine is a no-brainer.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there you have it. A cheap and effective Nootropic stack that will make you noticeably smarter, quicker, and more focused within a week. It won’t scare your girlfriend. It won’t bankrupt you. It will expose you to little or no risk of adverse side effects. It’s just good, clean, cognitive enhancing fun.
Can you even imagine how much a 5-20 point increase in functional IQ will have on your life? in theory, we should be willing to pay our life savings for such an edge. In practice, we’re letting massive opportunities slip through our fingers because inertia and self-limiting beliefs are holding us back from the reality of easily available cognitive enhancement.
The decision is a complete no-brainer. You can have each of the above supplements in your cupboard within a week, for less than a few hundred dollars. I recommend phasing them in one at a time, with a week or two between new supplements to allow you to observe the effect of each.
Is there a placebo effect at play in all of this? Of course. But an effect is an effect, and there is enough peer-reviewed, double-blind research on the above Nootropics to convince me that it’s far more than that.
Some people will tell you that you should just be yourself and be happy with who you are. To them I say: Fine. You go ahead and be your average, sub-optimal self. But I am a man who seeks an edge. I am a man who will use whatever advantages are available to me. I am a man who believes that it is my responsibility to do all I can with what I have, and that failing to squeeze all available potential from my mind and body would be a dereliction of that duty.
All of the above supplements can be purchased at your friendly neighbourhood nutrition store, or ordered on Amazon:
Green Tea and Dark Chocolate, I purvey at my local hippie grocery store.
I encourage you to take this article as your starting point in your journey deep into the rabbit hole of human cognitive enhancement. I have barely scratched the surface of this topic, and the next in the series – in which I review fun toys like Modafinil, Piracetam, and Lysergic acid diethylamide – will still leave a lot of ground uncovered. The human brain is a beautiful, remarkable machine. Let’s have some fun and see what this baby can do.
Here are a few sources to get you started:
This thread on Bodybuilding.com
Bulletproof Executive: Upgrade Your Brain
Bold and Determined: How I Became Mighty With Modafinil
Serious and experienced commenters only please. What are your experiences with Nootropics? What products are you most interested in checking out? Artificially enhanced super-genius operators are standing by.