Beef Up your Brain with Nootropics

Recently, the idea of improving one’s mental performance is gaining some attention. Why not put effort into our mental performance the same way we put effort into our physical health, right? Nootropics are thought to do just that. An ergogenic aid for the brain. Nootropics refer to any substance or dietary supplement that can enhance cognitive functions such as memory, reaction time, and attention. Some pharmaceutical drugs can be categorized as “nootropics” but require a prescription. Luckily, numerous foods, herbs, botanicals, or dietary supplements can be categorized as nootropics. These are available over the counter and can be found at your nearest supplement or grocery store. Here are a few popular nootropics you may want to add to your daily routine.



Most people would be surprised to learn that they may already be incorporating nootropics into their daily routines. Caffeine is a very accessible nootropic with tons of research to back it up. It is well-accepted that caffeine can increase time to exhaustion during exercise and the number of reps to failure. But its caffeine’s effect on cognitive performance makes it a nootropic. Studies have observed decreases in reaction time and increased attention span and levels of energy. The optimal dose of caffeine is 3-6mg/kg body weight. Most pre-workouts contain 150-300 mg of caffeine.


This herb has its roots in traditional eastern medicine. It is frequently used in dietary supplements that help reduce feelings of fatigue, anxiety, and stress. Ashwagandha is sometimes called an adaptogen since one of its benefits includes helping the body respond to stress. Ashwagandha supplementation improves cognitive performance. In humans, daily supplementation with Ashwagandha reduced cortisol levels and stress leading to improved sports performance. An animal study reported restored memory and motor skill following shock treatment. Dosages range from 300-600 mg a day.


L-theanine is an amino acid commonly found in teas. This nootropic is thought to promote relaxation without getting sleepy. Research suggests pairing L-theanine with caffeine has cognitive-enhancing effects. These include feeling more alert, less tired, and increased focus during challenging tasks. L-theanine dosages ranging from 100-200mg are thought to be effective for cognitive-enhancing benefits.


Aside from being for our health, Omega-3s (DHA-docosahexaenoic acid and EPA-Eicosatetraenoic acid) play a role in brain function. One study reported improved markers of attention and memory following 6 months of supplementation. 450–500 mg of EPA and DHA combined is recommended for both mental and heart health. This can be consumed through foods such as 3-4 ounces of salmon, tuna, or herring. Don’t like fish? Try a supplement. Some experts recommend a higher DHA to DPA ratio for better cognitive benefits.

Nootropics is an exciting new take on enhancing performance in the world of sports nutrition. They can offer athletes a mental edge with sustained attention, decreased reaction time, and a feeling of being more alert. They provide health benefits that extend beyond sports in the form of improved brain function and stress management. As an athlete, it is important to remember that some nootropics may be on the banned substance list. If you have any concerns about the legal status of a certain cognitive enhancer, be sure to check with your team, coach, or mentor. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) publishes a list of banned substances.

By Cassie Evans (MS, RD, CISSN)

Cassie Evans is a registered dietitian and a published researcher. She has studied sports nutrition and completed an internship with the University of Miami Sports Nutrition Team and Nova Southeastern University’s sports performance team. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Sports Science and received her CISSN in 2018. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Human and Sports Performance from the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions.


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