Do Athletes Take Nootropics? (According To Experts)

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: November 29, 2023
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Working as a coach, I’ve encountered many clients using nootropics to sharpen their focus and increase mental performance.

As natural nootropics are generally legal and fair game for athletes, these cognitive enhancers are increasingly popular amongst the sporting community.

I dove into three weeks of research in order to gain further insight into how athletes use such supplements, and this is what I found.

Quick Summary

  • Athletes take nootropics to enhance their mental performance and physical abilities in sports.
  • Nootropics work by improving neurotransmitter levels and blood flow to the brain, thereby boosting cognitive functions crucial for athletic performance.
  • According to study in the journal Nutrients, nootropics enhance athletic performance by increasing neurotransmitter levels and blood flow to the brain, as well as supporting the central nervous system.
  • In my opinion, careful and informed use of nootropics can be a game-changer for athletes seeking to optimize their mental and physical performance.

Do Athletes Use Nootropics?

Man holding nootropic supplement while holding a glass of water

In my coaching experience, I've seen athletes use nootropics to naturally boost their brain energy and physical abilities.

Tracing the roots of nootropic use in sports reveals a fascinating history, marked by notable instances and endorsements from famous athletes, illustrating how these cognitive enhancers have evolved as a staple in athletic performance enhancement.

Nootropics, or smart drugs, enhance athletes' reaction time and decision-making abilities, crucial for sports that demand quick thinking and high attention levels.

These supplements, containing ingredients like magnesium, address nutrient deficiencies and mental fatigue, thereby improving focus, motivation, and overall brain function, leading to better performance in fast-paced sports situations.

What’s more, nootropics can help athletes master their technique and perfect the skill that they strive for by improving cellular energy production and boosting circulatory oxygen flow.

Sportspeople may also take nootropics to avoid physical to reduce the negative effect of oxidative stress and regulate the stress hormone (cortisol) response.

What Are The Benefits Of Nootropics For Athletes?

Holding a variety of nootropics pill

From what I've observed, the benefits of nootropics for athletes are improved memory, energy levels, and overall mental and physical performance.

Nootropic supplements are believed to eliminate free radicals from the body, which improves blood flow to the brain, and in turn, will enhance cognitive performance, such as the processing speed of information, creativity, focus, and mood in healthy adults [1,2].

Nootropics can be crucial for athletes, helping to reduce mental fatigue and enhance learning, endurance, and recall abilities, thereby improving decision-making and performance in competitions.

Additionally, as catecholamine neurotransmitters (dopamine and norepinephrine) are essential for stress reactions as well as maintaining mood and motivation, athletes might utilize nootropics to raise their catecholamine activity.

However, it is essential to keep in mind that you won’t immediately get results and that nootropics take time to witness noticeable results because the substances need to penetrate the blood-brain barrier to stimulate improved mental capabilities.

Exploring the intersection of nootropics and mental health in sports, it becomes clear how these supplements can influence an athlete's stress levels, anxiety, and overall mental well-being, factors as crucial as physical prowess in competitive sports.

How Do Nootropics Work?

Holding white pill close up image

Nootropics work by boosting neurotransmitter levels, blood flow to the brain, and your central nervous system, according to the Nutrients [3].

Some examples of the critical nootropics ingredients for athletes are:

  • N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT) - L-Tyrosine can support cognitive energy under stressful situations and avoid energy crashes by increasing the rate of noradrenaline synthesis [4].

“I think you could make the argument that tyrosine supplementation can make the more rigorous or laborious aspects of that workout a little bit more tolerable from a subjective perspective.”

- Erix Trexler, Fitness Expert

  • Magnesium - Magnesium is believed to protect brain cells and improve memory and learning abilities by regulating unique chemicals called neurotransmitters, according to the study published in PubMed [5].
  • Bacopa monnieri - Previous research proved that this herb could help significantly boost reaction time and overall cognitive health [6].
  • Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) - L-Carnitine can support learning, mental clarity, and memory by increasing acetylcholine production. It also increases dopamine and, as a result, improves motivation [7,8].
  • Taurine - It can decrease oxidative stress and neuroinflammation, resulting in improved cognitive function, based on the research published in PubMed [9].
  • L-Glutamine - L-Glutamine can help to support mental energy by reducing inflammation [10].
  • Caffeine - It can boost focus, alertness, and motivation by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. Its long-term use is proven to decrease the risk of cognitive decline [11].
  • B Vitamins - B6, B12, B1, B3, and B2, can prevent cognitive decline and boost neurotransmitter production [12].
  • Choline - Choline is required for neurotransmitter acetylcholine production and plays an important role in brain health function and improving athletic performance [13].
  • Phosphatidylserine (PS) - is believed to be efficient in helping athletes reduce exercise-induced stress and avoid physical decline that can occur from excessive exercise by minimizing spikes in the steroid hormone cortisol [14].
  • Ginkgo Biloba - Ginkgo biloba extract has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties, which may be helpful in boosting working memory and information processing speed, according to the Neurotherapeutics [15].
  • Rhodiola Rosea - Previous research proved that Rhodiola rosea could help prevent a decrease in physical performance, fatigue, and feeling of weakness caused by stress thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects [16].

Related Article: Are Nootropics Safe?

Natural Nootropics for Athletic Performance

Holding supplement from the container

In my experience, natural nootropics, which enhance cognitive functions and build neurotransmitter pathways, have provided significant benefits to the athletes I train.

They improve focus, boost exercise capacity, and alleviate fatigue. These supplements also reduce oxidative stress from intense physical activity, helping athletes maintain energy throughout their workouts.

Natural nootropics are often found to be safe alternatives to synthetic products.

Nootropics side effects should be rare if consumed within recommended doses, and with proper monitoring, side effects should be rare.

For example, exceeding the accepted dose of caffeine content (400 milligrams) can cause many adverse effects, including:

  • Dependence [17]
  • Anxiousness [18]
  • Insomnia [19]
  • Heart problems [20]

Another cognitive enhancer often reported to cause adverse effects when exceeding the recommended dose is Gingko Biloba.

This latter has been proven to occasionally cause stomach upset, headaches, and blood thinning, according to the Nutrients [20].

While natural smart drugs are not banned in sports, synthetic nootropics are banned, which can disqualify competitors from sporting events.

To stay up with the rules of competition, athletes must research dietary supplements banned by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), such as phenylpiracetam, the first synthetic nootropic.


Do Nootropics Help With Sports?

Yes, nootropics help with sports because they can support healthy brain function by protecting the brain from damage and improving communication between neurons. Nootropics can help improve focus and motivation, all of which are essential for enhancing physical performance.

Are Nootropics Legal?

Yes, nootropics are legal as they are considered dietary supplements by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that they do not have to prove that nootropics are effective or safe before selling them.

How Do Nootropics Affect The Brain?

Nootropics affect the brain in a variety of ways, but most seem to boost blood flow and cell growth in the brain. This helps keep the brain healthy and functioning at its best. Some of the most popular include caffeine, L-Theanine, and Bacopa monnieri.


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