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.
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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
Whenever possible below, I’m aiming for Double Wood, Pure Nootropics, Jarrow, Nutricost, and NOW Foods as vendors of choice for the supplements below. They all have a proven track record of providing the highest-quality research-backed ingredients with analytical testing. For a while now, these brands have 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.
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.
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.
Adrafinil is simply the prodrug of modafinil, a prescription “wakefulness-promoting” drug commonly known as Provigil. This means it converts to modafinil in the body. It is useful for shift workers like nurses, truck drivers, etc. who need to stay focused and alert. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 at Double Wood here.
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