If you often feel sluggish, you’re not alone. Whether it’s because of the stress of a traffic-clogged commute, the aftermath of a restless night of tossing and turning or even a diet that’s come off the rails, many people battle lagging energy levels all too often. Of course, lifestyle changes are in order first and foremost — reducing stress, eating right, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep are paramount to your long-term health and vitality. But as part of that equation, supplements can help with a short-term bump, allowing you to vigorously power through anything from a workout to a late-afternoon business meeting. The following 10 ingredients, available by themselves or in various formulations at The Vitamin Shoppe, can lead the way to more energy now.
1. Caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant, can improve alertness, feelings of pleasure, memory, attention span and hand-eye coordination while helping diminish fatigue in the short term. “As a performance enhancer, caffeine will decrease a person’s perceived level of exertion, thereby allowing one to exercise harder for longer,” says Dr. Jason Barker, N.D., who counsels athletes at Rocky Mountain Natural Medicine in Denver. His stance is buttressed by several studies concluding that consuming caffeine before or during exercise can prolong time to exhaustion. “Caffeine does not contribute to dehydration as previously thought, especially in habitual users,” Barker adds.
Dose: Take about 200 milligrams once or twice daily. As an ergogenic aid, try 1.5 milligrams per pound of bodyweight one hour before your activity. If you are pregnant or nursing or have heart disease, diabetes or any anxiety disorders, speak with your physician before taking caffeine supplements.
2. Green-tea extract, derived from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis shrub, has some natural-occurring caffeine to pep you up. There’s also a healthy dose of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), “a compound that has been shown to increase 24-hour energy expenditure and stimulate fat burning by inhibiting the breakdown of norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter involved in regulating metabolic rate and fat metabolism,” says Dr. Ronald Hoffman, M.D., director of the Hoffman Center and a medical adviser to The Vitamin Shoppe. The fat-burning boost is likely why several studies have found that green-tea extract can delay exercise fatigue and reduce abdominal fat. EGCG is also a very potent antioxidant, which helps combat various diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, to name a few.
Dose: Take 250 to 500 milligrams of green-tea extract two to three times daily, preferably with meals.
3. Carnitine is a natural compound that’s vital for helping fatty acids enter the energy-producing center of cells (called the mitochondria) found in the brain, heart and muscle tissue. There, they are oxidized to provide these cells the energy required for various tasks, including exercise. If you’re prone to copious amounts of physical exertion, it’s a good idea to keep your carnitine stores replete.
Dose: Take 500 to 1,000 milligrams about 30 minutes before you exercise.
4. Guarana (pronounced gwa-ra-NAH) is a plant native to the Amazon forest in South America. As a supplement, it can perk you up because the seeds of the bright-red fruit of the guarana plant contain more caffeine (4 percent to 8 percent) than coffee beans (1 percent to 2.5 percent). Plus, they supply the alkaloids theophylline and theobromine, which also have stimulatory effects. To date, much less research has been conducted on guarana than coffee, but initial reports are that it can improve alertness and memory, boost mood and metabolic rate, fight mental fatigue and may elevate fat metabolism during exercise. For these reasons, guarana is becoming a popular addition to energy drinks.
Dose: Take 200 milligrams of guarana extract with breakfast and again with lunch, if desired. Those who are pregnant or have heart disease, insomnia, hypertension or diabetes are generally not encouraged to supplement with guarana.
5. Tyrosine is an amino acid that boosts the production of the thyroid hormone thyroxine and several important neurotransmitters, including epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are involved in mood, cognitive function, stress response (“fight or flight”), appetite, alertness and general get-up-and-go. It’s thought that the daily stress ubiquitous in American life, lack of sleep and heavy exercise can dwindle tyrosine levels and, in turn, the aforementioned neurotransmitter levels. “By providing adequate tyrosine, the negative effects of stress on the brain and body might be prevented, thereby enhancing mental and physical performance,” Barker says. It also may help turn your snack-pack into a six-pack because research suggests that norepinephrine can ramp up the metabolic rate and the usage of fat for energy production.
Dose: Take 500 milligrams of L-tyrosine once daily between meals on an empty stomach.
6. Coenzyme Q10 is a compound present in the mitochondria of cells, where it’s involved in the production of adenosine triphosphate, otherwise known as ATP. ATP serves as the cell’s major energy source and drives many biological processes, including digestion, muscle contraction during exercise and muscular protein production. Considering its role in energy metabolism, it’s not surprising some studies have found that supplementing with coenzyme Q10 may increase time to exhaustion during exercise. Coenzyme Q10, which supplementally you may find in ubiquinone form or the more active and bioavailable ubiquinol form, also functions as an important antioxidant, helping mop up disease-causing free radicals.
Dose: Take 100 to 200 milligrams of ubiquinone or 50 to 100 milligrams of the more bioavailable form, ubiquinol, daily with a meal containing some fat, for optimal absorption of fat-soluble coenzyme Q10. “Anyone taking cholesterol-lowering drugs should take ample amounts of coenzyme Q10 because these meds interfere with its production in the body,” Barker says.
7. Royal jelly is a gelatinous secretion from the glands of the heads of worker bees, which serves as the sole food for the queen bee. High in protein and B vitamins involved in energy metabolism, an animal study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology found that royal-jelly supplementation delayed fatigue during intense exercise by decreasing the accumulation of lactic acid and ammonia while reducing the depletion of muscle glycogen — the main energy stores for exercising muscles.
Dose: Take 300 to 600 milligrams 30 minutes before you exercise. Those allergic to bee and bee products, as well as anyone who is pregnant or nursing, should abstain from royal jelly.
8. Alpha-lipoic acid is a compound found in virtually every cell in the body, including muscle cells, where it functions as an essential cofactor for numerous mitochondrial enzymes involved in energy (ATP) production from carbohydrates, protein and fats. Additionally, “as a water- and fat-soluble antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid can work all over the body to stymie free-radical cellular and muscular damage,” Hoffman says. As a bonus, creatine users should note an International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism study that reported that ingesting alpha-lipoic acid with creatine increased muscle creatine levels more than when creatine was consumed on its own.
Dose: Take 100 to 300 milligrams daily with meals or creatine.
9. B-vitamin complex (which includes thiamin, riboflavin, B-6 and B-12) is employed in metabolic pathways involved in making energy from carbohydrates, fats and protein in muscle cells. B vitamins are available in many different foods, but taking a supplement is good energy-level insurance.
Dose: Once daily, take a supplement with about 400 micrograms of folate, 100 micrograms of vitamin B-12 and biotin, and 100 milligrams of thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6 and pantothenic acid.
10. Ginseng has been used for eons as an aphrodisiac, tonic and stimulant. “As an adaptogen, ginseng helps your body recover faster from energy-sapping stress,” Hoffman explains. Researchers from California State Polytechnic University report that the herb can give you more energy during exercise. After taking ginseng twice daily for 30 days, subjects in this study, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, could cycle more than seven minutes longer than those taking the placebo. Ginseng may enhance adrenal gland function during exercise, giving a boost to your game.
Dose: Take 500 to 1,000 milligrams before breakfast and dinner.