Energy boosters: Which supplements can actually help?

Here’s our list of the top supplements that may give you the mental or physical energy boost you need.

In this article:
  • Supplements for brain energy
  • Supplements for physical energy
  • Supplementing for success

Energy” is a weird term. Literally, energy is a property transferred between systems that allows for the production of work, light, or heat. But when it comes to our bodies, “energy” means much more than physical or chemical work. Energy affects how we feel and perform, how we treat others, and our outlook on life. Energy is perhaps the most important asset that we have, and how we choose to use our limited energy each day is a big decision.

When we want more energy, we can eat, we can exercise, or we can nap. All of these increase energy in different ways.

Supplements provide another avenue to increase energy for those looking for a pick-me-up during the day or a way to really dial in performance. We’ve broken down the research on some of the most popular and effective supplements that could help you optimize your mental or physical energy.

Supplements for brain energy

Brain energy can mean a few things. When we feel tired, this could mean that we are running low on fuel sources for the brain. It could also mean that certain neurotransmitters aren’t functioning properly, or are perhaps “unbalanced” in some way. In either case, low mental energy is never fun and can put a damper on our productivity and enjoyment of life. There’s often not a great explanation for what is giving us “brain drain”, which makes things even more frustrating when we aren’t feeling up to speed.

If low mental energy is a problem, the good news is that there are several supplements that may provide the brain boost you need. Some of these supplements increase attention, focus, and alertness, while others have been shown to enhance fatigue resistance and improve memory and problem-solving ability. Below, you’ll find a list of some research-backed supplements for brain energy.

Caffeine

Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world, and for a good reason. There’s probably no other compound that rivals the brain-enhancing effects of caffeine, and it's why millions of people start their day with a hot cup of coffee, an energy drink, or tea — all of which contain the popular stimulant. Caffeine can also go by its scientific name — 1, 3, 7-Trimethylxanthine (which sounds a lot cooler).

How it works: Caffeine doesn’t literally “give us energy” since it provides no calories or other nutrients. The energizing effects of caffeine are due to its role as an adenosine antagonist (it blocks adenosine binding) in the brain. Adenosine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation. Adenosine levels build up throughout the day, eventually reaching a peak somewhere near bedtime, causing us to feel the “sleep pressure” that drives us to bed.

By inhibiting adenosine binding, caffeine promotes a sense of alertness, giving us the energy boost, mental clarity, and cognitive enhancement we crave.

Sources: You can find caffeine in coffee, tea, yerba mate, chocolate (cocoa), energy drinks, and other products like pre-workout powders and caffeinated chewing gum.

Benefits: The mental energy boost from caffeine has been shown to increase alertness and wakefulness while reducing fatigue and sedation, decrease feelings of mental fatigue during certain types of physical activity, and significantly enhance arousal levels.

Dose and timing: The dose of caffeine you need to experience the nootropic benefits will depend on your habitual caffeine intake and level of tolerance. If you’re used to consuming a few cups of coffee per day, caffeine’s effects may not be as potent at a lower dose. For the caffeine intolerant, 100–200 mg per day seems to be enough for a cognitive benefit. However, a higher dose of 300–600 mg is probably the sweet spot for optimizing brain energy. 

As with all supplements, you should experiment with different doses of caffeine and work your way up (or down) to a dose that works best; overdoing caffeine can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, and elevations in heart rate and blood pressure.

You should take caffeine about 30-60 minutes before desired peak energy levels.

Caffeine + L-theanine

We already covered the energy benefits of caffeine, but combining caffeine with the amino acid known as theanine (or L-theanine) has been shown to be a potent combo for enhancing energy, focus, and attention.

Theanine promotes a state of calmness, relaxation, and focus, without leading to drowsiness or the urge to sleep. For this reason, combining L-theanine with caffeine offers a synergy of “alertness and focus”.

How it works: The relaxation-promoting effects of L-theanine come from its ability to increase alpha-wave activity in the brain. This “relaxed” brain state combined with the alertness provided by caffeine promotes an energetic and focused state without the anxiety and jitters that come from higher-dose caffeine consumption.

Sources: L-theanine is found in green tea, which also contains a small amount of caffeine. You can also purchase L-theanine in supplement form in higher doses than you might get from green tea alone.

Benefits: There’s not a lot of research on the combination of caffeine and L-theanine for mental energy. Some studies have failed to find a synergistic effect of these supplements on cognitive performance or attention, but alertness may increase with the nootropic combo. More research needs to be done to determine other situations where caffeine and L-theanine could benefit brain energy and performance.

Dose and timing: 200 mg of caffeine combined with 200 mg of L-theanine seems to be a dose that can provide benefits without any adverse effects of higher caffeine consumption. If you’re thinking of increasing the dose of caffeine (maybe you’re a habitual coffee drinker), increase the accompanying L-theanine dose by the same amount (i.e., if you take 300 mg of caffeine, up the L-theanine dose to 300 mg).

Creatine

Creatine is often thought of as a supplement for bodybuilders, but recently, it’s been gaining attention as a way to boost mental energy and improve brain health. 

In the body and brain, creatine is crucial for helping to generate ATP for energy, especially during highly-tasking cognitive activities or stressful situations like sleep deprivation or stress. When brain energy demand is high, creatine may provide a much-needed boost.

How it works: Supplementing with creatine allows the body to synthesize more of a molecule called phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine provides a phosphate molecule to another compound called adenosine diphosphate (ADP) to produce ATP (energy). Our body’s creatine phosphate stores are somewhat limited, and supplementation may allow us to store a bit more of this energy-dense molecule, guarding against energy depletion.

Source: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/2/586/htm 

Sources: We can get some creatine from food, although in order to achieve a recommended dose for brain benefits, supplementing might be necessary. Creatine can be obtained by consuming animal products like beef, chicken, liver, and kidney. The most common way to get creatine is through supplementation with creatine monohydrate.

Benefits: Creatine seems to significantly increase brain energy, alertness, and resilience during sleep deprivation. Supplementing with creatine could help you be more robust against the occasional all-nighter (but we’d recommend against it!) Creatine supplementation also increases the amount of energy (ATP) in the brain and may benefit brain mitochondrial function. Nervous system fatigue during exercise may also be reduced following creatine supplementation, which suggests that creatine benefits brain energy levels under situations of high physical or mental demand.

Dose and timing: Thy typical protocol for supplementing with creatine begins with a loading phase where creatine is supplemented at a daily dose of 0.3 grams per kilogram of your body weight. After 5–7 days of creatine loading, a maintenance dose of 0.03 grams per kilogram of body weight per day can be continued for however long you desire. These doses have been studied for muscle creatine, and higher and more prolonged dosing strategies might be necessary to increase brain creatine.

Bacopa monnieri

Bacopa is a plant that’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It’s considered a cognitive-enhancing supplement — a nootropic — due to its many effects on the brain.

How it works: Some research suggests that Bacopa can help to regulate and balance levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, and it may help improve neuronal communication and the growth of new neurons.

Sources: Bacopa is an herb, but you’ll typically find it sold as a supplement in capsule form.

Benefits: Take this supplement if you’re looking for a potential boost in memory. Since it is also considered an adaptogen, there may be a benefit of Bacopa for improving levels of brain energy under situations of mental stress or high cognitive load. You might get the benefit of this supplement when working under a tight deadline, for instance.

Dose and timing: If taken in capsule form, a standard dose of Bacopa is 300–450 mg, which appears to provide many of the benefits listed above. It’s likely you’ll need to supplement daily for a few weeks to see the benefits, as most studies on this supplement have used a more chronic supplementation period.

Ginseng

Ginseng is a traditional Chinese herbal medicine, and the most commonly used form — Panax Ginseng — is often used as a supplement for brain health and energy. 

How it works: Ginseng contains bioactive compounds called ginsenosides, which are responsible for many of the beneficial mental and physical effects of ginseng supplementation. It’s not quite known exactly how Ginseng exerts its myriad effects throughout the body.

Sources: Ginseng (or Ginseng extract) can be found in capsule form. You can also find Ginseng teas, but these probably contain a lot less Ginseng than you’ll find in a supplement.

Benefits: Ginseng has wide-ranging benefits for brain energy including the ability to reduce mental fatigue during prolonged cognitive tasks. In other words, it may elevate brain energy levels for longer, especially in situations of high demand. Ginseng supplementation may also enhance alertness and have some mood-improving effects.

Dose and timing: The best dose of Ginseng for the brain energy benefits appears to be somewhere between 200 and 400 mg per day.

Exogenous ketones

In addition to glucose, our brains can use ketones for energy. Exogenous ketones (ketone esters) are a fairly new type of “supplement” to hit the market. Ketone esters are a way to enter a state of ketosis without undergoing prolonged fasting or consuming a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet. These supplements provide the body with ketones or ketone precursors that can be metabolized by the liver into ketones. Most of the commercially-available ketone esters contain the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) or a molecule known as butanediol.

How it works: When you take an exogenous ketone supplement, the liver metabolizes the various molecules into ketone bodies, which can then be delivered to the brain and used as an energy source — literally increasing brain energy levels. In situations where glucose availability in the brain is low or brain energy demand is high, exogenous ketones are a valuable energy source.

Sources: Several companies are currently selling exogenous ketone supplements. Some of the different types include ketone monoesters, ketone di-esters, and supplements that contain butanediol. Some people consider medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) to be a type of ketone supplement.

Benefits: The same benefits that have been shown for the ketogenic diet on brain health and energy are likely similar — and perhaps greater — for exogenous ketone supplements. Biohackers swear by a daily dose or two of exogenous ketones for inducing a hyper-focused “flow state” all day long. There’s plenty of evidence that increasing ketones in the body also increases the brain’s use of them for energy, but unfortunately, there haven’t been many studies directly investigating the benefits of exogenous ketones for mental resilience, memory, or cognitive performance.

Dose and timing: Most ketone supplements come in doses ranging from 10 g to 25 g in a single serving. For optimal brain energy benefits, take one serving of exogenous ketones about 60 to 90 minutes before you need the boost.

Supplements for physical energy

We all know what low physical energy feels like — lethargy, a loss of motivation, and decreased performance in the gym or at work. Like poor mental energy, low physical energy can deprive life of its joy and prevent us from being our best selves. 

Several supplements have been shown to help improve physical energy — whether by literally increasing the body’s ability to produce and use energy, or by increasing feelings of vigor, motivation, and drive.

Creatine

We’ve already talked about the benefits of creatine for brain energy, but creatine is probably the most well-evidenced supplement for increasing physical energy and performance. Creatine is a supplement that literally increases the body’s ability to produce energy.

How it works: Supplementing with creatine provides the body with a larger store of creatine and creatine phosphate, which it can then draw upon to help produce energy (ATP) for the muscles during high-intensity exercise; think of activities like sprinting, jumping, and lifting heavy weights where power output is very high for a short period of time.

Sources: You can find creatine as a supplement in the form of creatine monohydrate. There are lots of other “varieties” of creatine available, but most experts agree that there are no advantages to supplementing with different forms of creatine.

Benefits: Supplementing with creatine can increase your work output and fatigue resistance during several types of exercise — from endurance running to rowing to bench press. It’s the top supplement you should be taking if you want to increase your energy levels during training, which could allow you to do more work, progress faster in your training regimen, and reach your goals quicker. Creatine has also been shown to reduce the amount of muscle damage during exercise and enhance the muscle recovery process.

Dose and timing: The evidenced-based way to maximize your body’s creatine levels is to take a larger “loading dose” of 0.03 grams/kg of body weight for 5 days, and then take a daily maintenance dose of 2.5 to 5 g. If you plan on supplementing for the long haul, the initial loading dose might not be necessary.

Caffeine

Caffeine — everyone’s favorite drug — is not just good for improving brain energy and reducing mental fatigue. Research consistently shows that caffeine is one of the top supplements for increasing physical energy and exercise performance. Caffeine is the “productivity hack” that everyone agrees on, even though everyone likes to get their fix in different ways.

How it works: Caffeine boosts “energy” by blocking the fatigue-inducing effects of adenosine in the brain. This is why your body feels primed and energized after a cup (or two…or three) of coffee. However, some research has suggested caffeine might actually work directly in the muscle to increase the use of fat for energy and increase the muscle's ability to contract and generate power. Caffeine may also increase levels of adrenaline (epinephrine) in the body, which is another reason you feel so energized after taking it.

Source: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fspor.2020.574854/full 

Sources: You can find caffeine in coffee, tea, yerba mate, chocolate (cocoa), energy drinks, and other products like pre-workout powders and caffeinated chewing gum.

Benefits: Whether it’s during a strenuous workout or after a poor night of sleep, caffeine will allow you to feel less tired and perform with higher energy levels. Muscle strength, muscle endurance, focus, and alertness have all been shown to improve after caffeine ingestion.

Dose and timing: If you’re a habitual caffeine user, you might need a dose of 300–400 mg of caffeine to experience the benefits. However, giving yourself a few weeks of little to no caffeine intake actually seems to reset your caffeine tolerance. Most people can see the energy increase from caffeine with a dose between 100 and 200 mg. As far as timing goes, peak levels of caffeine usually occur 30–60 minutes after ingestion.

Rhodiola

Rhodiola is another plant that’s considered to be an adaptogen — capable of increasing the body’s stress resilience. In fact, traditional uses of the herb were to enhance vitality among Nordic kings. 

Stress and stress hormones can be major energy depleters when they’re chronically high, and supplementing with adaptogens like Rhodiola may have the ability to increase the body’s energy levels and physical performance by reducing the effects of stress on the body.

How it works: Rhodiola appears to reduce the release of cortisol during stress, and it may also have an effect on reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. While many of these effects have been shown in the brain, the benefits very likely extend to the rest of the body.

Sources: Extracts of Rhodiola are sold in capsule form and can also be consumed as a tea. However, to obtain a beneficial dose, the extract is likely your best bet.

Benefits: Multiple studies have shown that Rhodiola supplementation has potent fatigue-reducing effects. Rhodiola can also improve mental and physical energy and performance. These effects are particularly noticeable during stress.

Dose and timing: Supplementing daily with 50–100 mg of Rhodiola extract can be effective for general energy enhancement and fatigue reduction. An acute dose of Rhodiola between 300 and 700 mg may be effective when you need a short-term but potent solution for low energy or stress management.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that’s considered to be an adaptogen — a supplement with stress-relieving and resilience-enhancing effects.

How it works: How Ashwagandha works in the body is still an area of investigation. Still, studies have shown that this herb probably works its magic by reducing inflammation and improving the function of our mitochondria. Ashwagandha may also have benefits for cardiovascular function that could help to explain its energy-giving effects.

Sources: Ashwagandha is taken as a supplement in the form of a root extract.

Benefits: One science-backed benefit of Ashwagandha supplementation is the ability to reduce anxiety and increase energy levels during stressful or demanding situations. This is where the adaptogenic properties of Ashwagandha shine. Stress can really reduce the body’s ability to perform well, so supplementing with Ashwagandha may provide a much-needed boost in times of need. Ashwagandha supplementation may also increase aerobic endurance capacity and reduce day-to-day symptoms of fatigue.

Dose and timing: A dose between 250 and 1,000 mg may benefit physical energy and performance. Most studies have split the total daily amount into a morning and a nighttime dose.

Taurine

Taurine is an ingredient in most energy drinks. We have a significant amount of this amino acid in our heart and muscles, but supplementing with taurine has become popular due to its supposed effects on increasing energy levels in the body.

How it works: Inflammation and oxidative stress can significantly reduce the ability of the brain, heart, muscles, and mitochondria to function properly. Taurine has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body, which likely explain its benefits for energy and performance.

Sources: The most common source of taurine is as an ingredient in energy drinks, though taurine capsules are another way that you could supplement with taurine.

Benefits: It’s not hard to notice the energy increase that comes from consuming an energy drink, but this could be due to a direct effect of taurine or other ingredients like caffeine and carbohydrates. Studies that have directly investigated the benefits of taurine have found small improvements in aerobic endurance, but overall, more studies are needed to solidify the energetic properties of taurine.

Dose and timing: For physical energy and performance, take a 1- to 6-gram dose of taurine about 1 to 2 hours before you want the effects to kick in. To see a benefit, you probably don’t need to supplement every day with taurine — only whenever you need it.

Closing thoughts: Supplementing for success

No discussion of supplements is complete without the disclaimer that all compounds are going to affect everyone differently. Some of us may “respond” to certain supplements, while others might take them and experience nothing. Similarly, the dose that works for one person might be ineffective or too high for someone else. That’s why experimenting is important. While most of the supplements above have a very low risk profile, it’s always best to talk to a healthcare provider before starting a new supplement routine.

Whether you want to reclaim your energy or find ways to enhance the limitless energy you already have, there’s probably a supplement out there to meet your needs. With the help of personal data integrated with platforms like Basis, you can even observe and quantify how a particular supplement is affecting your sleep, physical and mental performance, and daily energy rhythms. The time is now to take control of your energy. Below, you’ll find a recap of our top supplements for brain and body energy. Choose wisely!

Top supplements for brain energy
  • Caffeine
  • Caffeine + L-Theanine
  • Creatine
  • Bacopa Monnieri
  • Ginseng
  • Exogenous Ketones

Top supplements for body energy
  • Creatine
  • Caffeine
  • Rhodiola
  • Ashwagandha
  • Taurine

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