The Best Nooptropic Stack – Cognitive Metabolic Enhancers

By on November 13, 2014

As regular readers of this blog may know, I have been experimenting with nootropics (supplements etc that boost brain power) for a while. I’ve tried modafinil, CiLTEP, Piracetam, Bulletproof Coffee, yerba mate and more besides and I’ve had mixed results with them and mixed opinions.

Brain upgrade

Now though, I think I’ve found the sweet spot: I have a nootropic stack that’s allowing me to work harder and for longer and to be more creative.

And when I say it’s working, I’m not kidding. To give you an idea, I normally write 10,000 words a day maximum for my clients and this tends to take me most of the day. For the last two weeks though I’ve been pumping out 15,000-20,000 words a day. And I’ve been retaining a lot of the information much more. In the space of two days I now know a ton about cars and can reel off loads of different manufacturers and statistics off the top of my head. Previously I never tended to actually take much of what I was writing in… As an added bonus I’ve been sleeping better, working out more and feeling more energetic in the mornings. And as for creativity – I’ve had at least two breakthroughs with my apps that have resulted in direct increases in sales.


Brain Energy 1

The stack is built entirely out of ‘cognitive metabolic enhancers’. Read on and I’ll tell you what those are, why they work so well and of course how you can start taking the stack yourself…

The Problem With Nootropics

Most of the nootropics I’ve toyed around with in the past like modafinil and Piracetam work by increasing levels of particular neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically things like dopamine, acetylcholine, norepinephrine etc. These have the effect of increasing attention, motivation and learning while helping you feel more alert and awake. Sounds good right?

Well unfortunately, it’s not entirely a positive story. For starters, we don’t really know 100% how nootropics like modafinil and Piracetam have their effect. If you’re happy taking a supplement that alters brain chemistry without you knowing how, then be my guest. For most people though this is a massive red flag – what other neurotransmitters are being affects?

Another problem is that no one neurotransmitter is ‘better’ than another. For instance, you might think that dopamine is great because it helps you to maintain focus and improves learning and motivation – but consider that it might also reduce creativity (1). In order to be focused and alert we want our brains to be ‘wired’, but actually the precise opposite is needed for creative thinking. It’s when our brains are relaxed that they’re free to explore our connectome (the huge network of neurons) and create unique and new associations. We are most creative when we are engaging our ‘default mode networks’, which is why creativity tends to flow when we’re tired, a little drunk or taking a stroll through the woods. Norepinephrine meanwhile is associated with ‘fight or flight’ and the last thing you want when you’re outrunning a lion is to be daydreaming.

In other words then, creativity and focus are really at polar ends of the spectrum. Increasing certain neurotransmitters will increase one, but it will decrease the other. Hmm… And it’s not like you can really increase or decrease neurotransmitters either – the brain responds to fluctuations in one with fluctuations in others. So when you increase your dopamine this causes an increase in norepinephrine because you brain is saying ‘this is important’. As we haven’t even discovered all the neurotransmitters, there’s no telling what other chemicals are rising and falling in response to nootropics.

Brain Energy 2

Then there’s the small matter of tolerance. If you artificially increase one neurotransmitter in your brain too much, your brain will respond by deciding it needs to create less of that chemical. Suppress the expression of your neurotransmitters and your brain will make more. In the end, a nootropic that gives you desirable short-term benefits can actually give you the opposite effect in the long term. Feel groggy in the morning until you get your first mug of coffee? That’s not because caffeine wakes you up – it’s because you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms (read this)! There’s no reason to think that something like modafinil wouldn’t do the precise same thing. And again, it’s possible that caffeine could actually be blunting your creativity (more here). Apart from anything else, tolerance means that these nootropics become less effective over time.

So in other words, if you rely on nootropics like modafinil then you’ll be cherry picking some ‘abilities’ for your brain while actually neglecting others. You’ll gradually start to build up a tolerance and you’ll be causing long-term changes that you probably aren’t even aware of. Nooot really a good idea.

Likewise, nootropics that try to increase brain plasticity are also misguided. Do you really want to increase plasticity indiscriminately? Sure, you’ll learn new skills quicker, but you’ll also learn bad habits quicker and change personality faster. Again, your brain is perfectly adept at knowing when to be plastic – it just needs more energy to do it more efficiently.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not demonizing nootropics generally. After all, we’re all more than happy to mess up our brains with alcohol and bad diets. Nootropics are no worse, at least we’re trying to go in the right direction. All I’m saying is that this isn’t a good long term solution. To me, something like modafinil or CiLTEP is what you use in the short term like a scalpel on very special occasions. If you know you need to increase focus for a few hours, using them once can be very effective and won’t risk building a tolerance.

Your Brain on ENERGY

So what then, is a good way to use nootropics? In my opinion at least, it’s to focus on those nootropics that focus purely on cellular energy. Some of these things aren’t even marketed as nootropics, but they are nevertheless much more effective at increasing all of your cognitive faculties.

Brain Energy 3

The point is, that our brain is perfectly capable of switching between tasks and settings and will increase or decrease nootropics accordingly. Need to focus? Your brain will increase its production of dopamine and norepinephrine naturally. Need to learn? Up goes the acetylcholine. Had a long day? Adenosine and melatonin will make you sleepy. You can’t do this better than your brain already does, so if you try and change the levels yourself you’ll probably only end up sending everything out of whack.

The only time that your brain gets less efficient at altering states is when you are tired. When you’re tired, you will struggle to focus, you’ll struggle to regulate your mood and you’ll struggle to remember anything. The reason we procrastinate in the evening is actually because we’re too tired to resist the temptation. Likewise, we might struggle to provide our brains with enough energy to hold numbers in our short-term memory while performing maths. In fact, you’re even less moral when you’re tired because you don’t have the energy to think about the implications of your actions (2).

We often forget to consider it, but our brain requires energy to work – just like our muscles. And more energy, means better performance. While also happens to be why creatine is such an effective nootropic…

‘Cognitive metabolic enhancers’ is a term I’ve heard used to describe nootropics that increase brain function by increasing the ability of our cells and our mitochondria to produce energy. In short, they make our neurons more energy efficient and that makes our thinking more energy efficient. I’m not sure if this is an official term (I haven’t seen it anywhere else), but I’m going with it…

The Best Nootropic Stack

My own experiments confirm all this to be true. By increasing cellular energy I have found I can concentrate much more effectively for hours. At the same time though I can relax just as easily and daydream just as well to come up with creative ideas. I’m in a better mood all the time, I’m more motivated and I’m remembering more. My brain simply has more energy to do everything better.

Oh and as an added bonus, making your cells more efficient means you burn more fat and have more muscular endurance. I’m also waking up feeling much more energetic and starting work about an hour earlier (I can do that because I’m self-employed).

Brain Energy 4

So what’s this magic stack? The one I have chosen is as follows:

  • Vitamin D
  • MCT Oil
  • Lutein
  • Creatine
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Garlic

Each of these can help to increase energy in your cells but they become even more potent when used synergistically. Vitamin D for instance when taken in the morning helps to improve sleep and supports many metabolic functions (many of us are deficient). MCT oil provides you with immediate short-term energy because it much more rapidly enters the blood stream and provides the brain with ‘ketones’ which are a secondary source of energy that the brain prefers for certain tasks.

Lutein meanwhile, when taken with whole fat milk, has been shown in one recent study to increase our cell’s energy efficiency and is probably the single supplement that I believe is having the biggest positive effect (3).

Creatine recycles used ATP (ADP) so that our cells can re-use it. ATP is our ‘energy currency’ so this means our cells have more immediately available energy. One study has shown that supplementing with creatine can increase short-term memory and performance on IQ tests (4).

Omega 3 fatty acids increase cell membrane permeability over time, allowing more nutrients and energy to pass through. Omega 3 and coconut oil are particularly synergistic as the latter increases the former in the frontal cortex.

And garlic is a vasodilator which will widen the blood vessels helping more oxygen and nutrients to reach the brain. Training your VO2 max may also boost brain performance.

Brain Energy 5

Brain Energy 6

I’d also like to try experimenting with some other potential cognitive metabolic enhancers including: l-carnitine, CoQ10, beta-alanine and lipoic acid. I’ll let you know how those go in future posts. I also mentioned that I would very occasionally use another nootropic as a ‘scalpel’ for days when I *really* am working to the clock. My ‘scalpel’ of choice in these scenarios is CiLTEP but I don’t take it regularly.

 

So anyway, there you go. From my experimentation and research this is the best way to boost your brain power with smart drugs and to improve your overall health too. It’s safe, it’s natural and it has a number of other wonderful effects. To me, that’s what a nootropic stack should be like. Try it and let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Subscribe Below to Stay Up to Date!

Mailing List

About Adam Sinicki

Hi there! My name is Adam Sinicki, I'm an entrepreneur, psychology graduate and amateur bodybuilder interested in fitness, self improvement, technology and transhumanism. I run an online business (NQR Productions) which allows me to live the lifestyle I want: getting time to hit the gym and to work on my projects and apps. Stick around and I'll be sharing my experiments and adventures in brain training, bodybuilding, productivity, business and technology.
  • Martha

    What about doses and expected time tables to see a difference?

    • thebioneer

      Hi Martha,

      Just go with the recommended doses for all these things as per the supplement and mix and match to your comfort. For the coconut oil I have about 1-2 teaspoons in my coffee and the lutein needs 15-20mg daily taken with full fat milk to aid absorption. With creatine I don’t bother with the ‘loading’ or ‘cycling’. I have 400IU of vitamin D and about 6mg of odourless garlic extract.

      Check out this link for more on the lutein: http://www.thebioneer.com/can-lutein-help-burn-fat-supercharge-energy-levels/

      The lutein will take about 6 weeks to kick in, creatine can take a couple of weeks until you have built up a supply. The others will take a couple of days, though the MCT oil is pretty immediate.

      If you try out the stack, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Thanks!

      • Martha

        I’ll assume that you mean you put the MCT oil in your coffee. :) I will do some research and look into doing this… if I do, for sure I will let you know. Thanks.

  • Adam Black

    OK i know a little it about this subject.

    I’m glad its working for you , but none of these are neurotropics. Its just Nutrition and supplements,

    Modafinal and Ritalin are not Nootropics. They are psychiatric medications. Its a bad idea to abuse them as you discovered. They are not designed for regular use by people without deficiencies.

    There are lots of other Nootropics that are.

    I dont think garlic is much of Vasodilator .
    If thats is what you want I have the perfect natural brain supplement for you, one that literally with flood your brain with blood, like a hard run

    Plain ole Vitamin B3., niacin.

    It has to ber real niacin. Do not use the time-release crap becuase they cause liver damage.

    The Deactivated form ( Niacinamide ) has other good uses ( you take 1000 mg as a mental stabilizer ) But it has zero effects on vasodilation. Niacin is mixed with other supplements to prevent its flush.

    This is a mistake. The Flush has health benefits. The trick is only take a very small amount. How small? I’d start with 10-25 mg and very slowly work up to 300 mg.

    You build up a tolernace over days and weeks . Stopping for a few days will allow you to re-set.

    If you take more than you need , the flush ( which is massive vaso-dialation ) can be itchy.
    It will go away in 25 mins or you can take an anti-histamine. If you take too much, it looks and feels like temporary sunburn

    If you take it before you exercise, even a small amount will give you a full body flush.

    Niacin is a good activator for supplements; because increased circulation, will allow whatever else you take, to penetrate your tissues.

    Even a small amount of niacin ( 5-10 mg ) in every stack, can make them seem more effective. If you dont overdue it ( itchy flush ) , its calming, yet the extra blood to brain clears grogginess.

    • thebioneer

      Hey Adam, thanks for contributing and for the info re: niacin! I actually have quite low blood pressure, so sounds like that might give me dizzy spells but I’ll look into it! I chose garlic extract because it’s weaker and because it also has thermogenic effects making it synergistic with some of the other items on this list.

      I’m not really sure what your definition of nootropic is. Generally it’s agreed that a nootropic is anything that is thought to improve one aspect of cognitive ability – be that a food, medication or supplement. Modafinil certainly falls into this category as it enhances focus. It may have detrimental effects (I believe) but so do many others. The mechanism of action (while not fully understood: http://www.thebioneer.com/how-modafinil-works/) is similar to other substances classified as nootropic, it has since been marketed as a nootropic and it has been used by the military for their fighter pilots.

      Now I don’t personally recommend it, same as you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a nootropic by most definitions! And seeing as most people call it one, calling it anything else would only cause confusion. Likewise, something ‘just’ being a supplement or food doesn’t preclude it from being a nootropic. In part, I prefer the items in this stack *because* they’re natural.

      • Rayn

        Do you think the bulletproof coffee method plus lutein would replace the need for whole milk? Or do you have the whole milk + lutein as a later day pick me up of sorts. I’m pretty dairy intolerant outside aged cheese and butter/ghee.

        • thebioneer

          Hey Rayn,

          Thanks for posting! Well the whole fat milk is really just for improving absorption of the lutein, so yeah the butter and oil in bullet proof coffee should do the same thing! Actually though the lutein isn’t so much a ‘pick me up’ style supp – you need to keep using it to build it up in the body much like creatine. You can read the full post on that here: http://www.thebioneer.com/can-lutein-help-burn-fat-supercharge-energy-levels/

          The coconut oil is probably the only thing on this list with a noticeable ‘immediate’ effect. Though I’ll occasionally use CiLTEP when I have a very research heavy day.

          Hope this helps and good luck!

          • Rayn

            My roommate loves the CiLTEP, I’ll warn him on the daily use stuff though.

            That MCT Oil, holy crap, it’s like brain overdrive. I was so skeptical about it being easily noticeable but wow! The bulletproof coffee also helps with the morning nausea I have from all my pills/vitamins, but I do still get nauseous with just coffee.

            When I don’t have time for coffee I’ve been using the Smart Caffeine stack with L-Theanine, I also use it for an afternoon think-me-up.

  • Val Locksley

    You have an intriguing opinion. I watched your YouTube and you mentioned that you eat a lot of tuna. How can you have such a deep understanding of all of this, yet ingest massive amounts of mercury every day?

    I understand your focus vs. creativity theory. But people have ingested caffeine from coffee and tea for thousands of years, caffeine messes with neurotransmitters — dopamine, and studies show that people who do so in moderate amounts are healthier. Do you believe that precursors to dopamine — such as tyrosine — might cause health issues when taken in small to moderate amounts for years? I have been taking “Brainergy” and am concerned about the long term damage of tyrosine.

    • thebioneer

      I have always eaten tons of tuna and don’t find there’s any detrimental effect for me from mercury. Apparently people vary in their sensitivity to it, so perhaps I’m just lucky. Still, canned tuna has less than ‘white tuna’ and most people can get away with eating it daily without any problems. If you notice symptoms of mercury poisoning, just stop :-)

      Caffeine does seem to have protective effects against alzheimer’s etc., though it also has negative impacts too: http://www.thebioneer.com/caffeine-affects-neurotransmitters-profoundly-changes-brain/

      Here is a link to a study on dopamine (and thus caffeine) potentially blunting creativity: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0010670

      Caffeine has temporary effects and you can recover from withdrawal very quickly. I drink it all the time despite not always loving the idea of it… The point I was making there really was just that elevating single neurotransmitters results in benefits in some domains and not others – so I think it’s a flawed ‘objective’ as it were.

      I seriously doubt l-tyrosine would cause you any long term damage – it’s only an amino acid after all. Again though, that’s elevating dopamine which is again focusing on one neurotransmitter over others. I wrote a more recent post on the subject here that may interest you: http://www.thebioneer.com/true-optimal-mental-performance-stop-discriminating-against-neurotransmitters/

      Thanks for reading and good luck :-)

  • Gav

    This is one of the very few balanced nootropic articles I’ve come across.

    I’ve experimented with various nootropics over the years and agree wholeheartedly – what you gain in one area, you lose in another.

    I also believe that most nootropics leave a ‘footprint’ of some sort, in that after you take them you are – usually only fractionally – a different person to the pre-nootropic person. The longer you take the nootropic however, the larger the footprint left behind. This is at least my own experience.

    One thing I am interested in related directly to the above article, which you may or may not agree with, are Nerve Growth Factor stimulants, like Lion’s Mane. I like the concept that you will still be ‘yourself’, but may learn and retain new material more easily.

    Really though, this is a one of the few genuinely good, balanced ‘self improvement’ (if you’ll forgive the generic term) websites I’ve come across. Please, keep up the good work.

    • thebioneer

      Thanks a lot for the kind words, glad you enjoyed the post 😀 I’ll definitely be keeping it up! You may find my latest post interesting BTW – it’s on whether ‘flow states’ may be overhyped (similar to the way that some nootropics – in my opinion – have been).

      Nerve Growth Factor stimulants are definitely interesting! I think harnessing brain plasticity through training and mental discipline (I love CBT) is probably one of the most effective ways to see actual improvements in cognitive function. Something like Lion’s Mane or acetyl-l-carnitine could definitely be an interesting aid in that goal (valproate is the interesting one there but isn’t really safe to play around with).

      To be honest though I haven’t done that much research on NGF stimulants yet. There’s always the risk with increasing plasticity that you could pick up side bad habits just as easily as good. Also I think I saw something about NGF causing other nerves to grow leading to itching and some side effects in rats. Whether Lion’s Mane would increase NGF to that degree or not I’m not sure. I’ll definitely look into this all in detail for a future article, thanks for mentioning it! Have you used it? What were your experiences?

  • vsync

    I’ve been taking all these stuff for weeks now, minus MCT Oil and Garlic (which I eat raw) and haven been feeling the same without significant change. Been taking Lutein with milk every morning for weeks. Does nothing for me.

    What actually does have a big effect, at least for me, is 100-200mg of Huperzine-A. but the effect doesn’t happen if I take it daily it seems. I take it like once-twice a week. I’ve tried daily for weeks and it doesn’t seem to do much after few days, I just feel the same.

    I’ve read about Modafinil and would like to give it a try.

  • NootropicNovice

    Hi Adam, I’ve found your site really useful and really appreciate the thought you give to things and the clarity of your explanations. I have rather a selfish question… What do you make of the pre-made stack Optineuro? (Here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01110BSN0?keywords=optineuro&qid=1455099121&ref_=sr_1_2&sr=8-2)

    It’s pretty expensive and I don’t know if it has the dosages right (100mg of Bacopa per thee tablets, for instance). There’s a lot in there and I’m fairly new to nootropics, but I like what you say about not privileging certain neurotransmitters at the expense of the rest (I’m highly ambivalent about my experiences with modafinil). My work needs to be creative, but I also rely almost completely on self-motivation rather than external deadlines and pressures, which sounds great, but it requires a steely commitment, focus and drive which, I’ll be honest, I don’t always have!

  • NootropicNovice

    Hey, I think you might be on to something here! I’ve had some good initial effects with PQQ and Coq10…I feel more energised, more focussed, but it all feels natural. Still early days, though

    Have you managed to experiment yet with the other supplements you mention here (l-carnitine etc)? Looking forward to hearing more!