Can Athletes Benefit From Nootropics?

STACK Expert Gavin Van De Walle explains nootropics and their possible impact on athletes.

Nootropics is the name given to a broad class of "cognitive-enhancing" supplements. These supplements are touted as having the ability to  increase alertness, cognition and focus. And although evidence on the "brain-boosting" potential of nootropics is limited, proponents point to studies suggesting that some of these compounds may enhance cognitive potential, well-being and learning potential.

Brain Power

Arguably, the brain is the most fascinating organ in the body. It processes, files and receives enormous amounts of information and directs appropriate responses, much like a computer. In fact, everything we do and who we are results from our brains' activity, including our dreams, ideas, memories and behaviors.

How Do They Work?

Nootropics won't instantaneously boost your IQ, but they may boost your brain function. Here are some of the most popular nootropics and what they do.

Alpha-glycerophosphocholine (Alpha-GPC), as the name suggests, contains choline, which helps make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Neurotransmitters help to relay information throughout the brain and body. It's used for its purported cognitive-enhancing properties, and it may improve power output in athletes.

Phosphatidylserine is an important component of the cell membrane and is vital for cognitive function. Supplementing with phosphatidylserine may improve cognition, and even reduce stress in athletes. In addition, one study found that supplementing with phosphatidylserine improved learning ability.

Acetyl L-Carnitine is a form of L-Carnitine and is used for cognitive enhancement. Supplementation with it is associated with a decrease in mental fatigue and neuroprotection. However, although supplementing with Acetyl-L-Carnitine may prevent cognitive decline, the research on its use is limited in otherwise healthy individuals.

Huperzine-A is often used in pre-workout supplements for its association with improved focus. Huperzine-A works by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine (also called the learning transmitter) is used to communicate in the brain and muscles.

Vinpocetine is one of the more common nootropics. It may have the ability to increase blood flow to the brain and improve reaction time. One study in a rehabilitative setting with NFL players found that supplementing with vinpocetine, among other compounds, improved reaction time and processing speed.

The field of nootropics is still emerging and evolving. Some of these compounds show promise, but evidence to support their purported benefits requires more research.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock