This is part 4 of a multi part series. Part 1 was the ESPN radio interview. Part 2 looked at the history of Ethical Cheating or Ergogenic Aids and some of the disgusting food choices. Part 3 discussed coffee and caffeine.
Let’s go over some of the common products you can buy today over the counter and NOT test positive, and remember this is only a short list.
Here are some of the food groups, common sources, chemical names, and classification (in no particular order):
- coffee, caffeine, stimulants
- RedBull, 5 Hour, Vitalyze, phenylalanines including Tyrosine & Taurine, nootropics
- baking soda, TUMS, sodium bicarbonate, beta alanine, lactic acid buffers
- Viagra and other Nitric Oxide products including L-Citrulline Malate and L-Arginine, vasodilators
- Quercetin (new product… discussed briefly here)
- IHT or Intermittent Hypoxic Training methods (tents, chambers, masks, etc.) to increase erythropoietin (EPO) levels and therefore increase red blood cells.
I think it’s fair to say the market for Nootropics is a billion dollar industry and I’m just as guilty as the next consumer who buys them, and therefore endorsing them (the legal stuff, that is).
The term Nootropics was coined in 1972, and falls under the category of a large group of drugs and supplements known as “smart drugs”, cognitive enhancers, and stimulants. WARNING: Some Nootropics will test you positive. Some are masking agents for steroids too.
On the “effective end” of the scale, the most common Nootropic by prescription is Piracetam and Vinpocetine. Piracetam appears to be effective for improving cognition in Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia patients, and is extremely popular in Europe and Asia.
There is also another class of Nootropics called Dopaminergics (more below), and these are substances that affect the neurotransmitter dopamine such as Tyrosine (see article here). You can call these “low end” or “mid range” as they are simply supplements you buy off the shelf (not behind the counter).
And finally, for stimulants acting as a Nootropic, common products are amphetamines, modafinil, and caffeine (click here for that article). Students are notorious for abusing these, and for good reason. How can you study when you are half asleep?
Modafinil was created by the French firm Lafon to fight narcolepsy and sold in the USA by Cephalon under the name Provigil. Modafinil is extremely popular for the treatment of ADHD (Attention-Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder) in children and adolescents. It is also on the list of banned substances, which is why they use the ADHD (aka, the “get out of jail card”) excuse when caught with traces of modafinil. Names like Kelli White and Justin Gatlin probably come to mind.
Modafinil also reduces the perception of effort required to maintain a workload, and does NOT stimulate the entire Central Nervous System (CNS) unlike amphetamines. No wonder it’s the drug of choice, but it will test you positive.
A word on DHEA
Even DHEA, which is banned, is abused. Older people take DHEA as anti-aging and anti-cancer benefits, but primarily to help cognitive enhancement. We’ve heard enough of LaShawn Merritt by now.
DHEA has another double function: it has been claimed to block cortisol’s catabolic (i.e. breakdown) effects on lean muscle tissue. Cortisol is a catabolic induced stress hormone causing tissue breakdown. The bad news is exercise has been shown to significantly raise serum cortisol levels. Thus, DHEA has been shown to block some acute effects of stress induced cortisol release, hence the anti-aging properties.
So DHEA helps keep your lean muscle mass, as opposed to building mass like steroids.
Whether or not LaShawn Merrit took DHEA separately for these two benefits, or if he really used ExtenZe, no one knows for sure except LaShawn Merritt.
Back to the Legal Stuff
Let’s go back to the class of Nootropics called Dopaminergics (the legal stuff!)
Phenylalanines claims to promote energy, delay fatigue, increase mental alertness, elevates mood, and enhances concentration. Some even claim they give you wings, making references to RedBull.
Tryptophan (and serotonin) has a sedative effect, and this is released during a high exertion exercise, like 400 meter sprinting, as well as long runs. Moreover, high amounts of Tryptophan can be found in turkey and warm milk… the two foods that allegedly can make you sleepy (whether it crosses the blood-brain barrier remains controversial).
Phenylalanine uses the same active transport channel as tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier, and, in large quantities, interferes with the production of serotonin.
Thus Phenylalanine competes with tryptophan, and it explains why Tyrosine is one of the most popular ingredients in “mental alertness” supplements and drink and pills. I am sure there were military experiments where they tried to drip feed Tyrosine though an IV unit. Scary.
In the past, I’ve used SNAC’s Vitalyze (containing DL-phenylalanine, L-Tyrosine) and Biotest’s Powerdrive (containing L-Tyrosine). Vitalyze is in pill form, and Powerdrive is in powder form which I prefer as a drink.
I will rarely drink Red Bull (containing Taurine), because I find it way too sweet, but nowadays I take 5 Hour energy shots (containing Taurine, Tyrosine, L-Phenylalanine, and Caffeine) because of zero sugar and has only 4 calories. The tiny bottles are also very portable. At least I take only one shot, not two shots like David Oliver.
Some people “stack” nootropics, such as taking Vitalyze or Tyrosine WITH a 5 hour shots. Good luck sleeping that night. You can Google for different “stacks” to find a variety of cocktails.
Gatorade Tiger Focus, when it was available, contained Theanine, the same amino acid as in Green Tea in trace amounts.
If you are going to take this supplement, I recommend it on an empty stomach to help speed up the absorption into the bloodstream.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine deserves an honourable mention because it enhances memory and increase cellular energy in distance runners. I know several elite runners who supplement with Acetyl-L-Carnitine.
As I warned from day one, the list of supplements you can take is as big as the size in your wallet.
Further studies and articles on Nootropics:
- Delaying Physical and Mental Fatigue with Phenylalanines, Tyrosine
- Gatorade Tiger Focus Discontinued – Big Surprise?
- Gatorade Tiger Woods Focus, Theanine, and Green Tea
- 5-Hour Energy Shots Drinks
- Pre-Competition, Energy, Focus and Mental Alertness Drinks
- What are Amino Acids?
- Sports and Energy Drinks: The Complete Guide (Part 4) (links to all 4 parts)
- Why So Many Energy Drinks These Days?
- Tryptophan Benefits – Good or Bad?
- The Top 5 Supplements to Take (or Top 3 if you’re on a Budget)