Much of the focus on pre-workout supplements is on burning fat and building muscle. Important, yes, but I’ll focus here on supplements that enable athletes to perform their best.
For most athletes, caffeine is the pre-sport supplement of choice, often in the form of an energy drink loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. Using caffeine mixed with such a nasty form of carbohydrate, negates most of its ergogenic effect.
I’m all for caffeine as an ergogenic aid, and its effectiveness has been supported by research.
In the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, sport scientists at Coventry University in the United Kingdom studied the effects of taking caffeine one hour before a bench press workout. The researchers said, “Caffeine ingestion enhances performance in short-term resistance exercise to failure and may favorably change the mood state response to exercise compared to a placebo.” In my experience I’ve found it preferable to augment caffeine supplementation by adding the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine to support the adrenal glands so as to prevent a caffeine “crash.”
Caffeine may be the most commonly used pre-training supplement, but athletes involved in sports that require high technical skills should consider other supplements as well. Athletes involved in high-skill activities such as hitting a baseball, sinking a three-pointer or landing a dismount from the balance beam can derive specific benefits from supplements that enhance focus and elevate neutral drive. Here are seven brain nutrition supplements that will do just that:
1. Acetyl-L-Carnitine. Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) improves cognition, may increase dopamine activity, and enhances cerebro- and cardiovascular blood flow. Dosage used is about between 1.5 to 2.0 grams before workouts. According to Dr. Sinatra, 2.4 grams is the maximum dose to be used at one sitting. Higher dosages are often associated with bowel distress.
2. Bacopa Monnieri Leaf Extract. This herb’s capacity for free-radical scavenging and its protective effect on DNA cleavage may explain its reported ability to facilitate cognition and to counteract the effects of aging, inflammation and stress. Bacopa is neuroprotective, meaning it protects the nervous system, and it has been shown to improve memory and learning.
3. Citicholine Sodium. Research at Harvard showed that citicoline supplements help improve focus and mental energy. Here are some of the other benefits of citicoline supplementation:
• Favors healthy cell communication
• Aids in the storage, release and activity of most neurotransmitters and their respective receptors
• Increases the production of acetylcholine, which is essential for optimal learning and sharp memory acquisition
• Enhances brain glucose metabolism
• Stimulates the release of dopamine, which is an important drive and mood regulator
Dosage used is about between 100 to 800 milligrams before workouts. When combined with brain enhancing herbs, 100 milligrams suffices.
4. Glycerophosphocholine (GPC). This supplement, which I find especially valuable for older athletes, helps the nervous system to calm down by diminishing sympathetic nervous activity. It raises levels of acetylcholine, which functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain and helps regulate muscle contractions in the rest of the body. It improves mood, memory and focus, and supports other neurotransmitter systems such as dopamine, norepinephrine and GABA. Dosage used is about between 800 mg to 1,600 mg 45 minutes before workouts. Even if its source if often soy, there is no problem as a potential allergen. It is a phospholipid, not a soy protein.
5. Ginkgo Biloba Leaf Extract. This product contains two main bioactive constituents: flavonoid glycosides and terpene lactones, which provide effects that are neuroprotective, stress alleviating and/or memory enhancing. The mechanisms of action may be through its antioxidant, antihypoxic and microcirculatory actions. Basically, ginkgo biloba keeps the brain protected, well fed and oxygenated. And when combined with bacopa, ginkgo biloba helps to repair specific damage to the brain and the auditory nerves caused by listening to such devices as MP3 or iPod players at high volume.
6. Gotu Kola. A popular medicinal herb used for thousands of years in China, India and Indonesia, gotu kola improves mental clarity. It is used in Chinese medicine to deal with depression and anxiety. It is known as “the herb of centered calmness.” As a side note, members of SWAT teams and Special Forces, love the combination of Ginkgo Biloba (150 mg) and Gotu Kola (120 g)for its impressive effects on improving small arms shooting accuracy.
7. Phosphatidylserine. Phosphatidylserine (PS) supplementation has been shown to positively influence neuronal membranes, cell metabolism and specific neurotransmitter systems. Numerous studies and trials have demonstrated that PS exerts significant benefits in cognitive functioning, including memory, learning, vocabulary skills and concentration.
Where should you start? Because each of these brain boosters has positive effects, you could receive maximal results by taking all of them individually. One option, especially for those on a budget, is combining the following supplements: bacopa monnieri leaf extract, citicholine sodium, ginkgo biloba leaf extract, and gotu kola. Another option is this combination: ACL, bacopa monnieri leaf extract, GCP and PS. Make sure to keep the PS at a low dose (100-200 mg) pre-workout, as too much will impact on training drive. You could also try alternating between these two formulas to see what works best. All these products can be taken either by themselves or with a pre-competition or training snack.
Anybody who has trained seriously in the weightroom knows the effectiveness of pre-workout supplements. I recommend that other athletes discover the advantages of these supplements and give themselves a competitive edge.