The supplement industry is constantly looking for the next big thing. That may be a single ingredient, a new family of ingredients, or a brand new supplement category all together. The category of nootropics (supplements used specifically for their effects on the brain) is not new, but the rising surge of interest in this supplement category is booming as many athletes look for new and better ways to enhance their performance, motivation, focus, attention, memory and recovery.
I have both good and bad news for you. There are ingredients and products that fall into this category that may have profound effects on mental performance, but there are also a lot of ingredients and products that have little to no legitimate scientific evidence to support their claims or use for humans or animals. So how do you know what works and what doesn’t, as well as what is safe, and what may not be? Well, a good place to start is with the racetam family of nootropic compounds.
There are currently 20+ “members” of the racetam family, but the most commonly used as nootropic ingredients consist of:
Before you start popping nootropics or adding racetam ingredients to your pre-workout mix, make sure you know exactly what you are ingesting and what you can expect from these compounds. In general, there is still only a relatively small amount of human research on these compounds. At this point in time, much of what we know about these unique ingredients has come from research conducted on rodent models, with a few human trials sprinkled in. All of that to say, the research and development of the racetam family, as well as most other nootropics, is very much in its infancy stage, and you can expect specific members of the racetam family to be much more popular in the future, when we understand the exact mechanisms and effects they will have on the human brain.
Until then, here’s a primer on the most popular racetam family compounds.
Piracetam is considered the parent compound in the racetam family tree, and is considered the “prototype” or template from which all the other racetam compounds have been derived. The main effect of Piracetam is that it enhances cellular membrane fluidity, which may allow for more efficient neurological and cognitive function. Interestingly enough, the general research consensus on Piracetam is that the most practical benefit at the moment is for very young children and older individuals who are beginning to reach the stage of life most often accompanied with mental decline. For individuals who do not fall into either of these two categories, Piracetam has little to no value.
Aniracetam is typically considered the next variation in the racetam family, and though only slightly different in molecular shape, it has quite different effects on the brain in comparison to Piracetam as well as others in the racetam family. It is typically used to boost or enhance creativity as well as decreasing both anxiety and depression. Aniracetam is unique in that it is fat soluble, so in order to maximize absorption and utilization, it should be ingested with some type of fat. It is also classified as a cholinergic, which means that it has a direct effect of increasing choline or acetylcholine within the brain, which can lead to improved neurological and cognitive function.
Aniracetam is more potent than piracetam, and has been shown to increase blood flow and neural activation within the association cortex, which is the part of the brain that is linked to “big picture” thinking and problem solving.
If Piracetam and Aniracetam were the first and second generation of racetam compounds, then Oxiracetam would be the third generation. Oxiracetam has a unique potential benefit in that it has been purported to enhance the task of learning. At this point, the primary use of Oxiracetam is for individuals with cognitive decline, and therefore, more research is necessary to see if the memory and learning functions of the brain can be improved in younger populations and with individuals with normal cognition and brain health. Researchers recommend that Oxiracetam be ingested about one hour prior to a learning task or activity to allow for the compound concentration to peak within the brain.
Pramiracetam is a synthetic derivative of Piracetam, and is touted to help solidify long-term memory. It is considered to have anti-amnesia properties, and may assist with long-term memory formation by changing the brain’s ability to uptake choline. At this point, there is not enough human data to show whether these claims are true in both healthy and health-compromised individuals, as well as if the case remains with both young and old people. When it has been shown as an effective cognitive enhancer, it is ingested 1-2 hours before a cognitive test, so the timing is very important when using Pramiracetam.
Nefiracetam is another fat-soluble member of the racetam family, and is currently used as a memory enhancer as well as a way to slow or prevent cognitive degeneration. The mechanism of action comes down to improving the signaling power of acetylcholine and glutamate, as well as extending the use of calcium within active neurons. Unlike most of the other racetam compounds, a single dose is not effective at showing any cognitive or memory enhancement, and must be ingested daily for at least a week before significant benefits can be observed. Though very toxic and dangerous in dogs, the typical supplemental dose for humans has been shown to be very much below any dangerous level.
I think the future looks very bright for the nootropic supplement category since I believe we are just scratching the surface. The racetam family is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the ingredients that can enhance our ability to think, learn, memorize, and process information. I look forward to the day when teaching and learning complex athletic movements will be quicker and easier for both the athlete and the coach, thanks to effective nootropics. I think the potential these compounds will have on forming solid technique and form into long-term memory will change the future of athletics. For now, remember we are still at a very early stage with these ingredients, and the full effects of these compounds is still relatively unknown, so caution and patience, but not fear, should be employed when looking into using nootropics.
For more information on these compounds, check out: Examine.com
About Kevin Kuhn
Kevin Kuhn, M.S.Ed., CSCS, MFS is a Kinesiologist and Sport Nutrition Coach in Dallas, Texas, as well as the Vice President of Research and Development for Classified Nutrition (ClassifiedNutrition.com). Before moving to Dallas in 2012, Kevin was the head strength & conditioning coach for the Indiana Invaders professional running club in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kevin specializes in athletic performance with great interest and experience in running-specific strength & conditioning, corrective exercise, and exercise and sport nutrition. Kevin has been certified by the National Strength & Conditioning Association as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and as a Master Fitness Specialist by the Cooper Institute.
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