The 3 Best Nootropics for Mental Energy
Nootropics are widely known for enhancing specific cognitive abilities such as concentration, learning capacity, memory and mood.
But many nootropics can also work more generally by increasing mental energy, which in turn optimizes all aspects of physical and cognitive performance.
What Is Mental Energy?
Mental energy is a very old concept that has only recently been understood in quantifiable scientific terms.
As long ago as the 4th century Aristotle referred to mental energy as potentiality, and early psychoanalysts including Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung described it in terms of psychological motivation.
But the concept of mental energy remained largely theoretical until neuroscientific research discovered the link between brain metabolism and cognitive capacity.
Studies done in the 1990s and early 2000s indicate that mental energy is far more than a metaphor or concept, but is in fact a measurable function of brain metabolism.
Noted neuroscientist Harris Lieberman summarized these findings in a 2007 Nutritional Neuroscience review, in which he defined mental energy as “the ability or willingness to engage in cognitive work.”
Mental energy can be effected by a variety of factors that impact brain metabolism, including food, sleep, drugs, stress, and disease states.
An individual’s available mental energy can actually be scientifically measured by cognitive performance tests, mood questionnaires, electrophysiological techniques, and brain scanning technologies.
How Mental Energy Impacts Cognitive Function
The amount of available mental energy has a direct impact on both physical and cognitive performance.
When the brain is operating at less than optimal levels of oxygen uptake and glucose metabolism, the result is fatigue, reduced motivation, and impaired physical and mental capacity.
Studies show that keeping the brain functioning at high levels so that glucose and oxygen absorption are optimized is particularly important for learning and other high level cognitive functions.
This is because the brain uses more glucose and oxygen during challenging mental tasks. Increasing mental energy by improving brain metabolism with interventions such as diet, exercise, and meditation can significantly boost cognitive capabilities.
How Nootropics Increase Mental Energy
Most nootropics work by modulating the release and uptake of various neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that carry signals throughout the brain and body.
By stimulating the production of acetylcholine, dopamine, glutamine, epinephrine, and other neurotransmitters, nootropics directly enhance the specific cognitive functions with which these important chemicals are associated.
Some nootropics also work indirectly by stimulating overall brain function, which in turn increases mental energy.
Nootropics can accomplish this by acting as vasodilators that expand blood vessels and increase blood flow, while others speed up neural activity by modulating the action of chemical receptors in the brain.
Some of the most popular and effective nootropic mental energizers are described below.
The Best Nootropics For Mental Energy
1. Caffeine / L-Theanine
Caffeine and L-Theanine, both of which are components of tea, work together to create a nootropic combination or “stack” that enhances mental energy and provides a calming yet stimulating lift.
Studies in which healthy volunteers took 100 gm of caffeine both with and without the addition of 50 gm of L-theanine showed that while caffeine alone improved alertness, the addition of theanine improved mood, speed and accuracy of performance on cognitively demanding tasks.
How it works: Caffeine is a known neural stimulant that works by blocking the adenosine receptors that cause brain activity to slow down and create feelings of sleepiness.
This action enhances brain energy by keeping neural activity high, but can create feelings of anxiety or nervousness which may adversely effect cognitive and social performance.
L-theanine stimulates the production of Gamma Amino-Butyric Acid or GABA, a calming neurotransmitter that inhibits nervous activity. Taken together, caffeine and theanine are synergistic; the caffeine prevents brain activity from slowing down, and the L-theanine prevents caffeine’s negative side effects without compromising its desired action.
The caffeine / L-theanine stack can be an excellent introduction to nootropics; it’s safe, affordable, and readily available, and the results, sometimes described as a “clean and lucid focus,” are proven.