Nootropics For Gaming: The Ultimate Guide

Have you seen the movie Limitless? A story about a guy who takes a pill every day that allows him to use his full brain capacity to work his way up in the world. While the movie may be fantasy, the concept itself isn’t lost in the real world.

Nootropics are gaining immense popularity within the esports and gaming community. And for good reason. While traditional sports have various supplements to aid physical performance, esports is predominantly mental.

Nootropics are not prescription drugs. Doping with prescription drugs such as Adderall has been a major plight on the professional esports scene with players being banned for life for taking banned substances.

Everything I recommend in this article is legal under WADA and will not have you test positive for banned substances.

What Are Nootropics

Nootropics have been coined ‘brain drugs.’ While many supplements are aimed at building muscle or improving your physical health, nootropics are targeted towards your brain function.

Whether that be improving alertness, reducing stress, or even reducing the risk of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s, there is a nootropic supplement that will fit your goal.

Best Nootropics For Gaming

Best Nootropics For Gaming

This is a curated list of the best nootropic supplements for your gaming performance. I have made the list in order from what I believe to be the most effective, and most well-researched at the top.

Caffeine L-Theanine

This is the most common nootropic stack that is used in various supplement products most likely because of how effective it is. What is interesting is that caffeine is used as an attention and alertness enhancer raising overall mental function.

Whereas L-Theanine is the opposite. It reduces stress and anxiety resulting in a relaxing effect [1]. However, when both of these supplements are combined, they work synergistically where caffeine is able to do its job enhancing cognitive function while L-Theanine “takes the edge off” reducing any feeling of jitters [2].

What is it that gives this stress and anxiety-reducing effect? According to the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Therapies, L-Theanine stimulates Alpha Wave brain activity [2].

Alpha brain waves mean you are in a relaxed state feeling calmer and less stressed- without the drowsiness. This occurs just 30-40 minutes after ingestion.

As stress can impair mental performance, such as that during an esports competition, L-Theanine may allow you to perform at a higher level. In fact, one study has shown by increasing alpha brain wave activity, you may also experience an increase in creativity [3].

The combination of caffeine and L-Theanine shows performance improvements whereas supplementing with only L-Theanine may show performance decrements.

One study showed improvements in computer-based reaction time, speed of visual processing, and working memory where L-Theanine alone impaired reaction time when taking 250 mg of L-Theanine and 150 mg of caffeine [4].

Further, increases in alertness and decreases in tiredness and mental fatigue were seen along with reductions in headaches.

These results have been replicated with doses of 100 mg L-Theanine and 50 mg of caffeine where faster reaction times and improved accuracy were seen [5].

This response was seen simultaneously where the caffeine-only condition led to an improvement in either reaction time or accuracy underscoring the nootropic stacks superior ability over just caffeine.

Finally, 97 mg of L-Theanine and 40 mg of caffeine have been shown to improve task switching accuracy, alertness, and reduce tiredness [6].

When dosing the caffeine L-Theanine nootropic stack, a 2:1 ratio of L-Theanine to caffeine is seen as the optimal ratio.

A good standard dose to start would be 200 mg of L-Theanine and 100 mg of caffeine. If you are really sensitive to caffeine, then half that dose.

Take this anywhere from 30-60 minutes before your gaming session or esports tournament.

These are the products I would recommend. Caffeine tablets don’t usually come in 100 mg tablets so you can cut them in half for a smaller dose.

L-Tyrosine

L-Tyrosine is a common ingredient in the majority of pre-workout formulations. It’s a precursor to dopamine, aka the pleasure neurotransmitter and noradrenaline which can be depleted under stressful conditions [7].

This can lead to behavioral deficits in learning, attention, mood, and other cognitive functions. Thus, L-Tyrosine may protect against these cognitive deficits by preventing the depletion of neurotransmitters [7].

In U.S Army personnel, two doses of 50 mg/kg of bodyweight of L-Tyrosine reduced headache, coldness, distress, fatigue, muscular discomfort, and sleepiness when placed in cold conditions at simulated altitude for 4.5 hours a day [7]. Supplementation also improved mood and subjects reported they could think more clearly.

Another cold exposure study found 150 mg/kg of bodyweight of L-Tyrosine protected against cold-induced memory deficit and improved mood [8].

This has been replicated again with doses even higher with two 150 mg/kg of body weight doses, one before each cold-water immersion for a total of 300 mg/kg of bodyweight of L-Tyrosine [9].

L-Tyrosine ingestion before cold stress improved reaction time, working memory and mitigated a subjective score of confusion which was present in the placebo group.

L-Tyrosine has also been shown to improve working memory and accuracy during multi-tasking under mild stress, a skill well used by esports athletes [10].

A 150 mg/kg dose of L-Tyrosine seems to improve performance in creativity tasks as well in healthy adults [11].

If you buy formulated products, they will likely always be underdosed when it comes to L-Tyrosine. Therefore, you must get your own raw ingredients.

A dose of 100-150 mg/kg of body weight (7-10 g for 150 lb person) is the standard dose for improving brain function taken approximately 60 minutes before gaming.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha sounds like a herb that you’d take on a pilgrimage in Peru for psychoactive medicinal healing. However, that is not the case and there is some strong research backing the “King of India” herb.

The benefits of Ashwagandha are most notable for reducing anxiety and stress in healthy humans [14]. One study in healthy adults consumed 300 mg of Ashwagandha twice per day (600 mg total) for 60 days [12].

Subjects showed huge changes in four different markers of stress ranging from 28% to 72% improvements compared to the placebo group which only showed a maximum improvement of 11%.

Similar findings were observed when taking 240 mg once per day for 60 days with improvements in stress, anxiety, and depression in healthy adults [13].

Further, 300 mg of Ashwagandha taken every day for 10 weeks has been shown to improve sleep quality, sleep efficiency, and anxiety in healthy adults [15].

Reducing anxiety and stress while gaming may help to keep and improve focus and accurate decision-making throughout a match.

Taking anywhere from 300-500 mg of Ashwagandha per day seems to be the sweet spot for stress and anxiety reduction.

Rhodiola Rosea

Another herb that has some decent evidence behind it with its notable effects on reducing fatigue and improving cognition.

170 mg of Rhodiola Rosea taken for two weeks has been shown to reduce fatigue under stress of night shift [16]. This has been replicated twice with doses of 185 mg and 144 mg in military cadets and adults with fatigue syndrome [17].

Further, 288 mg of Rhodiola Rosea has been shown to decrease tiredness compared to a placebo [18]. This can be a great addition to your gaming nootropic stack.

Doses of Rhodiola Rosea aren’t crazy high so you can use anywhere from 150-300 mg per day to gain mental benefits.

Ginseng

Traditional Chinese medicine doesn’t usually have much evidence to back up their wild claims. But Ginseng seems to be an outlier in this space and may promote cognitive benefits making it the Chinese medicine nootropic.

Ginseng is a dried root of the plant Panax which is the most widely used form of Ginseng [21]. In fact, Ginseng is the second most sold herbal supplement in the USA. But is the evidence there?

A single dose of 400 mg of Ginseng has been shown to be more effective than doses of 200 and 600 mg for memory and attention [19].

When taken continually, 200 mg of Ginseng a day improved mental health and social functioning after 4 weeks but did not continue through 8 weeks [20].

Larger doses of 50 mg/kg a day have been shown to increase dopamine and noradrenaline similar to L-Tyrosine making it a potentially good nootropic to add to your stack for added benefits [21].

When dosing Ginseng, 200-400 mg before your gaming sessions seems to be the sweet spot for cognitive benefits.

Phosphatidylserine

A compound that is found in fish seems to be potentially beneficial for cognitive function. It seems further supplementation has greater benefits than just trying to ingest Phosphatidylserine purely from food alone.

200-400 mg of Phosphatidylserine appears to improve cognition in college males. Specifically, two 200 mg doses a day increased the speed of calculation and improved the accuracy of right answers by 20% and 13% respectively [22].

Ingesting 400 mg of Phosphatidylserine with 100 mg of caffeine over 14 days resulted in an increased speed and accuracy of answers during the mental test [23].

Mood also improved with supplementation compared to placebo as well as a reduction in perceived fatigue. Whether these changes were due to Phosphatidylserine or caffeine is unknown so we can’t draw a conclusion from this study.

Dosing 200-400 mg is how you should dose this supplement for everyday use.

Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa Monnieri is a herb that is part of the nootropic family. This old Indian herb has slowly made its way into Western culture.

A systematic review was performed (a collection of previous studies to form a more robust conclusion) on Bacopa Monnieri effects on cognitive function [24].

The researchers concluded there is some evidence that Bacopa Monnieri enhances memory recall and this herb could potentially be prescribed as a memory enhancer. There is little evidence for its effects in other cognitive domains.

Taking this nootropic purely for improved memory recall may be beneficial for gamers involved in esports such as LoL or RTS games.

Doses between 300-450 mg are what the research has studied and found effective for memory enhancements.

Binaural Beats

While not exactly a nootropic supplement, Binaural beats have shown through immense research to have positive effects on brain function so I had to include it. Also, it’s free to listen to Binaural beats on YouTube or other platforms so is something you can use after reading this article.

They get their name from having two tones which vary slightly in frequency and are played into each ear when wearing headphones. This creates an auditory illusion where a third tone is heard which is the difference between the two frequencies of tones.

For example, one tone in your left ear is 130 Hz and your right ear is 115 Hz, the Binaural beat is the difference between the two. In this instance, 15 Hz would be the frequency which is known as the beta frequency which ranges between 14-30 Hz.

Other frequencies are delta (1-4 Hz), theta (4-8 Hz), alpha (8-13 Hz), and gamma (30-100 Hz).

A study using beta frequencies for 12 minutes before a mentally fatiguing test increased attention and reduced mental fatigue associated with the task [25].

A similar listening length of 12 minutes in the alpha frequency showed improvements in working memory capacity compared to a control group [26].

Recently, in the Journal of Psychological Research, a meta-analysis was performed which is the highest standard of research you can publish [27]. It pieces together all studies on the topic that meet their strict criteria and pools all of the subjects together creating one big study.

It was found that three variables affected the effectiveness of Binaural beats.

  1. Frequency
  2. When you listen to them
  3. Duration of listening

They concluded that alpha, beta, and gamma frequencies positively influenced memory tasks and attention while theta frequencies negatively influenced memory.

Binaural beats also seem to have a pain-reducing effect. Further, delta and theta frequencies have strong effects on reducing anxiety.

Regarding when to listen to Binaural beats, listening before, and during gaming have the most beneficial effects on cognition.

Interestingly, habituation to Binaural beats isn’t a concern as it would be with caffeine. Meaning listening every day does not diminish its effectiveness. Whereas taking caffeine every day builds a tolerance to the current dose.

The duration you listen should last for 9-10 minutes as they produce stronger effects than shorter time periods. Further, Binaural beats that aren’t masked with music are more effective. Remember, you MUST use headphones.

Here is an Alpha Wave beat:

Beta Wave

Gamma Wave

Summary Box

  • Add these different nootropics to your nootropic gaming stack to enhance your mental function and gain a competitive advantage.
  • All of these supplements are legal.
  • Binaural beats can be your “dark horse” to your gaming performance.

References

1. Lu, K., Gray, M. A., Oliver, C., Liley, D. T., Harrison, B. J., Bartholomeusz, C. F., … & Nathan, P. J. (2004). The acute effects of L‐theanine in comparison with alprazolam on anticipatory anxiety in humans. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental19(7), 457-465

2. Mason, R. (2001). 200 mg of Zen: L-theanine boosts alpha waves, promotes alert relaxation. Alternative & Complementary Therapies7(2), 91-95.

3. Lustenberger, C., Boyle, M. R., Foulser, A. A., Mellin, J. M., & Fröhlich, F. (2015). Functional role of frontal alpha oscillations in creativity. Cortex67, 74-82.

4. Haskell, C. F., Kennedy, D. O., Milne, A. L., Wesnes, K. A., & Scholey, A. B. (2008). The effects of L-theanine, caffeine and their combination on cognition and mood. Biological psychology77(2), 113-122.

5. Owen, G. N., Parnell, H., De Bruin, E. A., & Rycroft, J. A. (2008). The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Nutritional neuroscience11(4), 193-198.

6. Giesbrecht, T., Rycroft, J. A., Rowson, M. J., & De Bruin, E. A. (2010). The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness. Nutritional neuroscience13(6), 283-290.

7. Banderet, L. E., & Lieberman, H. R. (1989). Treatment with tyrosine, a neurotransmitter precursor, reduces environmental stress in humans. Brain research bulletin22(4), 759-762.

8. Shurtleff, D., Thomas, J. R., Schrot, J., Kowalski, K., & Harford, R. (1994). Tyrosine reverses a cold-induced working memory deficit in humans. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior47(4), 935-941.

9. Mahoney, C. R., Castellani, J., Kramer, F. M., Young, A., & Lieberman, H. R. (2007). Tyrosine supplementation mitigates working memory decrements during cold exposure. Physiology & behavior92(4), 575-582.

10. Thomas, J. R., Lockwood, P. A., Singh, A., & Deuster, P. A. (1999). Tyrosine improves working memory in a multitasking environment. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior64(3), 495-500.

11. Colzato, L. S., de Haan, A. M., & Hommel, B. (2015). Food for creativity: tyrosine promotes deep thinking. Psychological research79(5), 709-714.

12. Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian journal of psychological medicine34(3), 255-262.

13. Lopresti, A. L., Smith, S. J., Malvi, H., & Kodgule, R. (2019). An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine98(37).

14. Pratte, M. A., Nanavati, K. B., Young, V., & Morley, C. P. (2014). An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine20(12), 901-908.

15. Langade, D., Kanchi, S., Salve, J., Debnath, K., & Ambegaokar, D. (2019). Efficacy and safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root extract in insomnia and anxiety: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Cureus11(9).

16. Darbinyan, V., Kteyan, A., Panossian, A., Gabrielian, E., Wikman, G., & Wagner, H. (2000). Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue—a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty. Phytomedicine7(5), 365-371.

17. Ishaque, S., Shamseer, L., Bukutu, C., & Vohra, S. (2012). Rhodiola rosea for physical and mental fatigue: a systematic review. BMC complementary and alternative medicine12(1), 1-9.

18. Spasov, A. A., Wikman, G. K., Mandrikov, V. B., Mironova, I. A., & Neumoin, V. V. (2000). A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen. Phytomedicine7(2), 85-89.

19. Kennedy, D. O., Scholey, A. B., & Wesnes, K. A. (2001). Dose dependent changes in cognitive performance and mood following acute administration of Ginseng to healthy young volunteers. Nutritional Neuroscience4(4), 295-310.

20. Coleman, C. I., Hebert, J. H., & Reddy, P. (2003). The effects of Panax ginseng on quality of life. Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics28(1), 5-15.

21. Kennedy, D. O., & Scholey, A. B. (2003). Ginseng: potential for the enhancement of cognitive performance and mood. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior75(3), 687-700.

22. Parker, A. G., Gordon, J., Thornton, A., Byars, A., Lubker, J., Bartlett, M., … & Kreider, R. B. (2011). The effects of IQPLUS Focus on cognitive function, mood and endocrine response before and following acute exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition8(1), 1-6.

23. Wells, A. J., Hoffman, J. R., Gonzalez, A. M., Stout, J. R., Fragala, M. S., Mangine, G. T., … & Robinson IV, E. H. (2013). Phosphatidylserine and caffeine attenuate postexercise mood disturbance and perception of fatigue in humans. Nutrition Research33(6), 464-472.

24. Pase, M. P., Kean, J., Sarris, J., Neale, C., Scholey, A. B., & Stough, C. (2012). The cognitive-enhancing effects of Bacopa monnieri: a systematic review of randomized, controlled human clinical trials. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine18(7), 647-652.

25. Axelsen, J. L., Kirk, U., & Staiano, W. (2020). On-the-spot binaural beats and mindfulness reduces the effect of mental fatigue. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement4(1), 31-39.

26. Kraus, J., & Porubanová, M. (2015). The effect of binaural beats on working memory capacity. Studia Psychologica57(2), 135.

27. Garcia-Argibay, M., Santed, M. A., & Reales, J. M. (2019). Efficacy of binaural auditory beats in cognition, anxiety, and pain perception: a meta-analysis. Psychological Research83(2), 357-372.

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