A look at brain waves after pre-workout supplement ingestion suggests it may increase alertness

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Gorodenkoff
Getty Images / Gorodenkoff

Related tags Cognitive health Cognitive function RCT Placebo Clinical trial

A supplement with an ingredient combo including L-theanine, beta-alanine, and theacrine may help users increase brain alertness, researchers concluded after a placebo-controlled clinical trial.

The conclusion came after a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on participants completing a non-physically rigorous, attention-switching task.

“Most studies on energy supplements investigate the effect on exercise performance. We showed that these combinations of ingredients are also ideal for enhancing mental focus, concentration, and energy, even during highly monotonous tasks,”​ Dr. Adam M. Gonzalez, one of the lead researchers in the study, told NutraIngredients-USA.

Dr. Gonzalez is an assistant professor of health professions at Hofstra University in New York. The team that worked with him included researchers from the School of Kinesiology at Auburn University in Alabama. It was published​ in March in the Journal of Dietary Supplements​.

Participant recruitment and supplementation

Twenty-four young adults, both male and female, participated in the study. Inclusion criteria included right-handedness, low-to-moderate caffeine consumption, and being between 18- and 35-years-old.

The main outcome that the researchers were looking at was cerebral-cortical activation before and after supplementation, which can be measured using electroencephalography.

“In layman’s terms, the process requires subjects to wear a hairnet-like cap on the head that records brain waves in different parts of the brain while performing the cognitive tasks,”​ Dr. Gonzalez explained.

The analyzed supplement was Reckless​ by sports nutrition manufacturer Maximum Human Performance, LLC​, which also funded the study.

Among its active ingredients are L-theanine, branded theacrine called TeaCrine by Compound Solutions, branded beta-alanine called CarnoSyn by Natural Alternatives International, creatine monohydrate, a blend of botanical extracts called Spectra by VDF FutureCeuticals Inc., and branded black pepper extract Bioperine by Sabinsa Corp.


Participants were divided into three groups: One supplement dose, two supplement doses, or placebo. All were mixed into 440 mL of liquid.

The electroencephalography test was conducted four times on each participant: Once at the beginning of the study after a five-minute rest, another time during an attention-switching task, a third time during a rest period 30 minutes after participants consumed their intervention drink, and finally, during the attention-switching task after the intervention disk has been ingested.

The task consisted of, in short, 144 trials in which participants were instructed to press the space bar if certain numbers or colors showed up on a screen. It is a standardized attention-switching task first laid out in a report in the Journal of Experimental Psychology ​by Rogers and Monsell in 1995.

Results and significance

Data from the electroencephalography suggested that there was improved brain activity after supplementation compared to the first reading, as indicated by upper-alpha wave inhibition, Dr. Gonzalez said. “Therefore, the supplement may be ideal for enhancing mental focus, concentration, and energy,” ​he added.

In the report, the authors argued, “alpha power has been measured in several behavioral and neuropharmacological studies.”

“Multi-ingredient, pre-workout, energy supplements are among the most popular forms of supplementation. In general, the scientific body of evidence does show support for these supplements in regards to exerting favorable physical and mental outcomes, increasing exercise performance, and even increasing muscular adaptations over time,”​ Dr. Gonzalez said.

“[But] because these supplements contain multiple ingredients in a variety of doses, it is difficult to discern whether the results are attributable to any one ingredient in particular (such as caffeine) or a synergistic effect among the combination of ingredients.”

He emphasized the need for more studies on finished products with multiple ingredients instead of relying solely on single-ingredient studies. “It is important to perform clinical trials on finished products since most are sold and marketed as multi-ingredient, energy supplements. However, more research is also warranted on the synergistic and isolated effects of the ingredients found in these energy supplements.”

Source: Journal of Dietary Supplements
Published online, https://doi.org/10.1080/19390211.2018.1440686
Effects of a Multi-Ingredient Energy Supplement on Cognitive Performance and Cerebral-Cortical Activation
Authors: Marcos Daou, MS, Julia Montagner Sassi , BS, Matthew W. Miller , PhD & Adam M. Gonzalez , PhD

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