The Current State of Caffeine

When looking at a nootropic over an energy drink what are the key differences? How should we treat caffeine? Is one better than the other? How much is too much caffeine?

Oftentimes when a dip in energy occurs throughout the day we look for a short term solution in order to give ourselves another “pep” in focus, mental energy and problem solving skills to perform the given task. The longest held option has been caffeine in the form of Coffee + Tea. Now, becoming even more popular, a slightly new category called “Energy Drinks”

The history of “Energy drinks” can be traced back to the original versions of Coca-Cola, in which it gained the first part of its name by using Coca leaves to give the soft drink a little extra kick. Later, discovering it wasn't the greatest idea to lace soft drinks with cocaine, they were left with second best: caffeine. Obviously there are some stark differences in cocaine and caffeine, there are also similarities. Both labeled as stimulants, their goals are to increase alertness, mental focus, and give the user a boost of energy. I think we all agree the use of caffeine is more acceptable than the use of cocaine on a daily basis, some of the adverse effects are still present.

Most caffeine enthusiasts understand that the time of day in which they choose to supplement with an Energy Drink can have negative side effects on the following day. Meaning it can keep them from getting a restful night of sleep. This cycle has caused many people to now rely on a source of caffeine to do what sleep was originally intended to do. Even though some may claim that they are able to have a caffeinated beverage without its negative effects, this idea known as tolerance, has also shown to have negative consequences in other parts of the human system.

When consulting a nutrition specialist that is helping a client work to “reset” their body, often decreasing the reliance on caffeine can have a profound result in their overall health. With much of this becoming more and more common, people are looking for a source of “Clean” energy. “Clean” energy looks to reduce or eliminate the side effects that come from intense, or prolonged caffeine use.

Enter Nootropics. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a Nootropic as “a substance that enhances cognition and memory and facilitates learning”. The term that was coined by a german Chemist, Dr. Corneliu Giurgea, who was working on creating a sleeping pill, ended with a substance that needed a category of its own. Although the term seems relatively new, the use of organic methods to increase mood and cognition dates back tens of thousands of years in the use of Ginko Leaves, that are among the oldest living trees on earth.

There are five specific criteria that make a substance and nootropic:

  1. Enhance memory

  2. Improve behavior under adverse conditions

  3. Shield the brain from injury by physical or chemical means

  4. Improve tonic cortical/subcortical control mechanisms

  5. Demonstrate a low toxicity and side-effect profile

Due to the above criteria there may be a wide variety of supplements that can be considered a nootropic. Including caffeine… Although due to what many of us know about trying to go without having our morning “pick up” or for others that no longer feel the increase in energy or mental focus from a normal dose of caffeine. We are in need for something that would be safer, and more sustainable without the poor side effects.

Most nootropics are derived from botanicals or nutrients that either have a history of use, or have been tested to show efficacy. Some of the most widely recognized and use nootropics (excluding caffeine) are:

  1. L-theanine: amino acid from green tea

  2. Ashwagandha: a root that has been in use for over 3,000 years

  3. Bacopa Monnieri: an herb widely used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine practices

Ingredients in a nootropic supplement often contain various botanicals and nutrients. This idea of having multiple powerful components inside one product has been known as a “stack”. Most nootropics can be seen to have a “stack” of different substances that will each have their own main purpose, but often provide multiple benefits.

This category of nootropic has gained steam in the wave of people looking to be health conscious, as well as looking to increase their mental performance in times of need. Supplementing with other options that have the less negative side effects is a no brainer to anyone who felt they relied on something like their morning coffee or an afternoon energy drink. As we all know there will never be a replacement for basic lifestyle factors such as sleep, nutrition, and motion. Although understanding the terminology that surrounds new products can give us access to more options to optimize our daily happenings in the best way possible.

About the Author

Trevor James - @trev_james92

Trevor is an NPGL Athlete and 4x CrossFit Regional athlete. He enjoys long, grueling workouts, heavy barbells, and everything in between. He has been a part of the fitness world since before he could drive and his mom had to drop him off at CrossFit after school. Since then, he has been pursuing a journey to become the best athlete, coach, and person he can be.


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