Nutritionally reviewed by Diana Lee, RD.
Whether it’s for studying, working out, specific tasks, or menial everyday chores, supplement aficionados are often seeking more nootropics for motivation. Caffeine has long been the go-to for energy and motivation, but nowadays there are more novel and nuanced substances that are arguably more effective and efficient, and that don’t have the famous caffeine “crash” or withdrawal symptoms. Here we’ll examine the mechanisms and effects of some of the best motivation nootropics.
Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are referral links. At no additional cost to you, if you choose to make a purchase after clicking through those links, I will receive a small commission. This allows me to continue producing high-quality, ad-free content on this site and pays for the occasional cup of coffee. I have first-hand experience with every product or service I recommend, and I recommend them because I genuinely believe they are useful, not because of the commission I get if you decide to purchase through my links. Read more here.
Introduction – The Neuroscience of Motivation
Research has shown that highly-motivated people have higher dopamine levels1. Low dopamine levels are generally associated with lower energy levels, less motivation to do things, anhedonia and apathy, depression, compulsive and impulsive behaviors, and poor memory and learning performance. We also know that low dopamine is associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease2.
Dopamine is increased in instances such as solving a problem, learning something new, trying new ideas or exploring an unfamiliar area, eating flavorful and satiating food, doing drugs, etc. People with low dopamine levels are also more likely to engage in reward-seeking dopamine “fixes” like gambling, junk food, drugs, etc., thereby spiking dopamine acutely and downregulating receptors2,3. Dopamine abnormalities are also implicated in ADHD, which is why people with ADHD typically respond well to nootropic stimulant therapy4.
Dopamine is cited often for being the motivation neurotransmitter. But dopamine isn’t the whole story. It’s also believed that a major factor is glutamatergic signaling to activate the dopamine pathway, also known as the “reward pathway” or “pleasure pathway.” Glutamate is a chemical that “excites” or “turns on” the brain. Specifically, we want to stimulate glutamate AMPA receptors, through which we’re more concerned with the efficiency of the dopamine rather than dopamine levels per se, in order to support and enhance that pathway2,5.
Below are some motivation nootropics that can do just that.
The Best Nootropics for Motivation
For all of these except theobromine, I’m suggesting Nootropics Depot (10% off with email signup) as the vendor. They’re basically the gold standard in the supplement industry. They have a proven track record of providing the highest-quality research-backed ingredients with verifiable in-house and third-party analytical testing. They also happen to have great customer service and fast shipping. For a while now, they’ve been the antidote to the issues that have plagued the supplement industry and given it a bad reputation – label inaccuracy, questionable purity and safety, and lack of efficacy. In short, make sure you’re buying from a trusted seller and make sure you know what you’re getting. You could use the list above as your shopping list.
Tyrosine is first on the list of nootropics for motivation because it’s simply the amino acid precursor for dopamine. No tyrosine reserves = no dopamine = no motivation6. L-Tyrosine converts to L-DOPA which converts to dopamine. Tyrosine is also a precursor for noradrenaline which contributes to motivation as well7. Stress, cognitively-demanding tasks, and poor sleep decrease tyrosine stores. We just want to make sure we’re replenishing them and getting enough.
If you’re eating a high-protein diet, you’re probably good to go, as tyrosine is found in high concentrations in meat, dairy, nuts, and seeds. You can supplement tyrosine in capsule form via L-Tyrosine or N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine (NALT). Do so on an empty stomach since amino acids compete for blood-brain barrier transport.
2. TeaCrine® (Theacrine)
I’ve discussed the details of TeaCrine® already. It’s a patented theacrine from Compound Solutions. Think of it as a milder, longer-acting version of caffeine without the cardiovascular effects (increased heart rate and blood pressure), withdrawals, “crash,” and tolerance issues. TeaCrine’s effects can be felt for about 6-8 hours, giving you an all-day energy and motivation boost by modulating dopamine and adenosine receptors. I’d suggest getting capsules from Nootropics Depot on their website.
3. Dynamine® (Methylliberine)
Similar to TeaCrine®, Dynamine®, a patented form of methylliberine from Compound Solutions, is another cousin of caffeine without caffeine’s associated negative side effects. Dynamine® is pretty short-acting; its effects will likely be imperceptible after a couple hours8. As such, Dynamine® is perfect for an evening studying or gym session where you don’t want to interfere with sleep. Find options on Amazon here. You can Dynamine® capsules directly from Nootropics Depot on their website.
Another lesser known xanthine is theobromine, found in high concentrations in raw cacao powder. It’s the compound mostly responsible for the euphoria and energy you get from eating dark chocolate9. I wrote a comprehensive review of theobromine here. You can supplement theobromine via a concentrated cacao extract called Chocamine® from Nootropics Depot here.
Adrafinil is simply the prodrug of modafinil, a prescription “wakefulness-promoting” drug commonly known as Provigil. It is useful for shift workers like nurses, truck drivers, etc. who need to stay focused and alert. This means it converts to modafinil in the body. Adrafinil is sold as an OTC supplement, at least for now. It is popular for boosting productivity. Modafinil seems to modulate dopamine and adenosine, among other things. Interestingly, modafinil also appears to be neuroprotective via its antioxidant activity10. You can buy Adrafinil capsules from Nootropics Depot here.
Uridine is found naturally in human cells, in human mothers’ breast milk, and in beer. It has clinical evidence of boosting mood, cognition, motivation, and neurogenesis, and possesses antineurodegenerative properties. The primary method of action for its mood- and motivation-related effects seems to be its modulation of dopamine receptors. Many nootropics users utilize uridine as part of the famous “Mr. Happy Stack” – uridine, DHA/EPA (fish oil), and a choline source.
Triacetyluridine is an effective, bioavailable way of supplementing uridine. It seems to be more bioavailable than uridine monophosphate, thus a smaller dose is needed for the same effect. You can buy triacetyluridine capsules from Nootropics Depot on their website here.
Need to do some creative thinking? Aniracetam is a lipid-soluble nootropic compound of the racetam class. It is structurally similar to but thought to be more potent than the base Piracetam. Aniracetam reportedly enhances acetylcholine activity and activates the aforementioned AMPA receptors11. It also seems to reliably increase levels of both dopamine and serotonin in the prefrontal cortex, which may explain its antidepressant and anxiolytic effects, especially in cases of brain dysfunction, such as stroke victims, or cognitive decline12–15. Anecdotally, Aniracetam boosts mental fluidity and creative thought. You can buy Aniracetam capsules from Nootropics Depot here.
Fasoracetam is one of the newest racetams on the scene. It specifically activates the metabotropic glutamate receptor (MGluR), a receptor that may play a major role in neurodegenerative disease protection16. A study in 2018 showed significant improvement by Fasoracetam for participants with ADHD17. You can get Fasoracetam capsules from Nootropics Depot here.
Noopept is a nootropic created in Russia. It is a dipeptide analog of the base racetam called Piracetam. Noopept has evidence of being potently neuroprotective in models of Alzheimer’s. Noopept reportedly enhances expression of the growth factors BDNF and NGF, and augments dopamine and serotonin, thereby boosting mood, energy, memory, cognition, and motivation18–20. You can buy Noopept capsules from Nootropics Depot here.
Sulbutiamine is comprised of two thiamine (vitamin B1) molecules and a sulfur group. Sulbutiamine has evidence of enhancing synaptic transmission and improving learning, memory, and vigilance21,22. Research also suggests that sulbutiamine modulates the dopaminergic, cholinergic, and glutamatergic transmission systems23.
Anecdotal evidence abounds for sulbutiamine being anti-fatigue and augmenting attention, cognition, energy, and learning. You can buy Sulbutiamine capsules from Nootropics Depot here.
I’m a huge fan of mushrooms. Remember the dopamine pathway? The conversion of tyrosine to L-DOPA is mediated by the rate-limiting enzyme tyrosine-hydroxylase. Cordyceps has evidence for enhancing the expression of that enzyme and augmenting the dopaminergic system24. If you want a multi-mushroom blend, go with Thrive 6 from Freshcap Mushrooms. I wrote a comprehensive review of it here. If you just want Cordyceps, you can get capsules from Nootropics Depot here.
12. Lion’s Mane
Similarly, the research has shown that Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) specifically modulates dopamine levels, induces nerve growth factors (NGF), and ameliorates cognitive impairment and symptoms of depression25–28. Lion’s Mane is also included in the Thrive 6 blend, or you can buy it alone in capsule form from Nootropics Depot here.
- 1.Treadway M, Buckholtz J, Cowan R, et al. Dopaminergic mechanisms of individual differences in human effort-based decision-making. J Neurosci. 2012;32(18):6170-6176. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6459-11.2012
- 2.Salamone JD, Correa M. The Mysterious Motivational Functions of Mesolimbic Dopamine. Neuron. Published online November 2012:470-485. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.10.021
- 3.Barron AB, Søvik E, Cornish JL. The Roles of Dopamine and Related Compounds in Reward-Seeking Behavior Across Animal Phyla. Front Behav Neurosci. Published online 2010. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2010.00163
- 4.Blum K, Chen A, Braverman E, et al. Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2008;4(5):893-918. doi:10.2147/ndt.s2627
- 5.Qi J, Zhang S, Wang H-L, et al. A glutamatergic reward input from the dorsal raphe to ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons. Nat Commun. Published online November 12, 2014. doi:10.1038/ncomms6390
- 6.Berke J. What does dopamine mean? Nat Neurosci. 2018;21(6):787-793. doi:10.1038/s41593-018-0152-y
- 7.Jahn C, Gilardeau S, Varazzani C, et al. Dual contributions of noradrenaline to behavioural flexibility and motivation. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2018;235(9):2687-2702. doi:10.1007/s00213-018-4963-z
- 8.Murbach TS, Glávits R, Endres JR, et al. A Toxicological Evaluation of Methylliberine (Dynamine®). Journal of Toxicology. Published online October 27, 2019:1-25. doi:10.1155/2019/4981420
- 9.Baggott M, Childs E, Hart A, et al. Psychopharmacology of theobromine in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2013;228(1):109-118. doi:10.1007/s00213-013-3021-0
- 10.Gerrard P, Malcolm R. Mechanisms of modafinil: A review of current research. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2007;3(3):349-364. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19300566
- 11.Testa B, Mayer JM. Hydrolysis in Drug and Prodrug Metabolism. Published online June 17, 2003. doi:10.1002/9783906390444
- 12.Shirane M, Nakamura K. Aniracetam enhances cortical dopamine and serotonin release via cholinergic and glutamatergic mechanisms in SHRSP. Brain Research. Published online October 2001:211-221. doi:10.1016/s0006-8993(01)02939-0
- 13.Nakamura K, Tanaka Y. Antidepressant-like effects of aniracetam in aged rats and its mode of action. Psychopharmacology. Published online November 1, 2001:205-212. doi:10.1007/s002130100849
- 14.Nakamura K, Kurasawa M. Anxiolytic effects of aniracetam in three different mouse models of anxiety and the underlying mechanism. European Journal of Pharmacology. Published online May 2001:33-43. doi:10.1016/s0014-2999(01)01005-6
- 15.Nakamura K, Shirane M, Koshikawa N. Site-specific activation of dopamine and serotonin transmission by aniracetam in the mesocorticolimbic pathway of rats. Brain Research. Published online April 2001:82-92. doi:10.1016/s0006-8993(01)02096-0
- 16.Crupi R, Impellizzeri D, Cuzzocrea S. Role of Metabotropic Glutamate Receptors in Neurological Disorders. Front Mol Neurosci. Published online February 8, 2019. doi:10.3389/fnmol.2019.00020
- 17.Elia J, Ungal G, Kao C, et al. Fasoracetam in adolescents with ADHD and glutamatergic gene network variants disrupting mGluR neurotransmitter signaling. Nat Commun. Published online January 16, 2018. doi:10.1038/s41467-017-02244-2
- 18.Vakhitova Y, Sadovnikov S, Borisevich S, Ostrovskaya R, A G, Seredenin S. Molecular Mechanism Underlying the Action of Substituted Pro-Gly Dipeptide Noopept. Acta Naturae. 2016;8(1):82-89. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27099787
- 19.Ostrovskaya R, Vakhitova Y, Kuzmina Us, et al. Neuroprotective effect of novel cognitive enhancer noopept on AD-related cellular model involves the attenuation of apoptosis and tau hyperphosphorylation. J Biomed Sci. 2014;21:74. doi:10.1186/s12929-014-0074-2
- 20.Ostrovskaya RU, Gudasheva TA, Zaplina AP, et al. Noopept stimulates the expression of NGF and BDNF in rat hippocampus. Bull Exp Biol Med. Published online September 2008:334-337. doi:10.1007/s10517-008-0297-x
- 21.Kiew K, Wan M, Ridzuan A, Mafauzy M. Effects of sulbutiamine on diabetic polyneuropathy: an open randomised controlled study in type 2 diabetics. Malays J Med Sci. 2002;9(1):21-27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22969314
- 22.BALZAMO E, VUILLONCACCIUTTOLO G. Facilitation de l’etat de veille d’un traitement semi-chronique par la Sulbutiamine (Arcalion) chez Macaca mulatta. Revue d&’apos;Electroencéphalographie et de Neurophysiologie Clinique. Published online December 1982:373-378. doi:10.1016/s0370-4475(82)80029-4
- 23.Trovero F, Gobbi M, Weil-Fuggaza J, Besson M-J, Brochet D, Pirot S. Evidence for a modulatory effect of sulbutiamine on glutamatergic and dopaminergic cortical transmissions in the rat brain. Neuroscience Letters. Published online September 2000:49-53. doi:10.1016/s0304-3940(00)01420-8
- 24.Sapkota K, Kim S, Park Y, Choi B-S, Park S-E, Kim S-J. Enhancement of tyrosine hydroxylase expression by Cordyceps militaris. Open Life Sciences. Published online January 1, 2010. doi:10.2478/s11535-010-0010-8
- 25.Li I-C, Lee L-Y, Tzeng T-T, et al. Neurohealth Properties ofHericium erinaceusMycelia Enriched with Erinacines. Behavioural Neurology. Published online 2018:1-10. doi:10.1155/2018/5802634
- 26.Kuo H-C, Lu C-C, Shen C-H, et al. Hericium erinaceus mycelium and its isolated erinacine A protection from MPTP-induced neurotoxicity through the ER stress, triggering an apoptosis cascade. J Transl Med. Published online March 18, 2016. doi:10.1186/s12967-016-0831-y
- 27.Tsai-Teng T, Chin-Chu C, Li-Ya L, et al. Erinacine A-enriched Hericium erinaceus mycelium ameliorates Alzheimer’s disease-related pathologies in APPswe/PS1dE9 transgenic mice. J Biomed Sci. Published online June 27, 2016. doi:10.1186/s12929-016-0266-z
- 28.Chiu C-H, Chyau C-C, Chen C-C, et al. Erinacine A-Enriched Hericium erinaceus Mycelium Produces Antidepressant-Like Effects through Modulating BDNF/PI3K/Akt/GSK-3β Signaling in Mice. IJMS. Published online January 24, 2018:341. doi:10.3390/ijms19020341
Medical Disclaimer: While I love diving into and extracting useful information from clinical research related to health, fitness, supplements, and more, I am in no way a medical expert. The content on this website is for informational purposes only; it is not professional medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the statements on this website have been evaluated by the FDA. Products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Read my lengthier medical disclaimer here.