When it comes to crushing your workouts, it takes a balance of energy, intention, determination, and focus to make it happen. For many, focus can be difficult to tap into and maintain throughout your lifts, especially as you fatigue or get closer to the end of your workout. The good news is that there are ingredients and supplements that can help you hone in, focus better, and be mentally in the zone throughout your workout. These ingredients may be extra enticing for those who like to work out early in the morning or at night after a long day, or for those who suffer from attention disorders.
Many of these ingredients you’d find within a pre-workout supplement, while some are as simple as taking a single-ingredient pill. We have fairly common ingredients (such as caffeine you might intake during a morning cup of coffee or tea) to less common focus ingredients (like amino acids). Each ingredient brings its own unique flair and advantage to the table and may be best suited for specific individuals. But rest assured that each ingredient here has potentially positive cognitive effects, as well as some additional benefits for aspects like recovery, blood flow, and fighting fatigue.
You can find caffeine naturally in coffee beans, or it can be synthesized in a laboratory and consumed in various ways, such as in teas, coffee, chocolate, and energy drinks. (1) Caffeine is utilized across the globe for a multitude of reasons, but the cliche image you may picture when you think of caffeine is a sleep-deprived 30-something reaching for their Monday morning pot of coffee to kickstart the week. That’s because caffeine is a nootropic, which may help with cognition and alertness. (1)
The suggested dose for caffeine to be most effective is considered to start at 100mg, but depending on the user, the benefits of caffeine may be subject to the user’s tolerance — including those who may not feel the effects of caffeine no matter how much they consume. (1)
How to Supplement Caffeine
If you prefer to consume caffeine naturally, you can turn to your morning cup of java, a green or black caffeinated tea, or your favorite dark chocolate bar. You can also find caffeine in both natural and synthetic lab-made sources, like pre-workout or a fat burner. Caffeine isn’t a necessary supplement or ingredient for your health, and therefore there is no minimum requirement for your daily intake, but you should be cautious not to intake too much caffeine as you may have uncomfortable side effects, like shaking, sweating, and/or increased heart rate.
Helpful Caffeine Facts
Caffeine is used in many pre-workout formulas because as a nootropic it may be helpful for cognition, alertness, and focus. It may also be a helpful fat-burning agent, as 200mg is the suggested intake for potential fat-burning purposes. (1) Caffeine can be ingested via liquid vessels, like a cup of coffee or an energy drink, or you can take it in pill form or within supplements like pre-workouts.
Beta-Alanine is a common pre-workout ingredient due to its potential to dilate blood vessels and create that tingly feeling, which can stimulate better blood flow in the body. Although it’s mainly seen as a vasodilator, it’s also potentially effective for creating better focus during your workouts. Beta-alanine is a precursor to amino acid carnosine, which has been suggested in studies to enhance cognitive performance and invoke a better resilience to stress. (2) The effective dose for beta-alanine is between 3,200mg and 6,400mg daily, and for best results, you’ll want to take it 20 to 30 minutes before your workout. (3)
How to Supplement Beta-Alanine
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, which means it is produced naturally in the body, and you don’t necessarily need to supplement it. However, beta-alanine can have positive effects, like potentially increasing carnosine, which may make it a beneficial supplement. It is naturally found in animal-based foods, like beef and fish, but can also be supplemented by those with a plant-based lifestyle via beta-alanine pills or powder, or you can find it in pre– or intra-workout supplements. (3)
Helpful Beta-Alanine Facts
Beta-alanine can be supplemented on its own, or wrapped within larger supplements, like pre-workout or intra-workout products. It comes in pill or powder form and is most well-recognized for its potential to help with vasodilation. One study also found that beta-alanine was helpful for maintaining physical performance and cognition during a 24-hour sustained military operation. (4)
Taurine is a nonessential amino acid, which means it is produced in the body and not necessary to obtain through food or supplements. Taurine may be an effective ingredient for focus as it can help improve cognitive function through multiple channels, including potentially increasing neurogenesis and synaptic function. (5) The clinically effective dose for taurine is between 1,000mg and 6,000mg, but the suggested dose is 3,000mg 60 to 120 minutes before exercise for best effects. (6)
How to Supplement Taurine
Although it is a nonessential amino acid, supplementing with taurine can still have benefits and is most commonly found in shellfish, beef, and dark meat. (6) It is also found in many supplements on the market, including pre-workout.
Helpful Taurine Facts
Taurine is nonessential, so although supplementation isn’t necessary, you’ll find taurine is a common ingredient in many supplements. Taurine may play an important role in energy metabolism, cell stabilization, and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. (6) Taurine is also commonly found in energy drinks, although energy drinks are typically heavy on caffeine, so it’s hard to say if taurine is the reason energy drinks may help with focus.
Tyrosine is another amino acid and is a precursor to feel-good chemical dopamine, which may uplift mood and energy. There is suggested evidence that tyrosine may be helpful in demanding (stressful) conditions or situations, such as hitting a PR. (7) The suggested clinically effective dose of tyrosine for exercise purposes is between 500mg and 2,000mg about 30 to 60 minutes before your workout starts.
How to Supplement Tyrosine
Tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid, so it is produced naturally in the body and doesn’t require supplementation. There may be many beneficial reasons to supplement with tyrosine — for one, it can potentially boost cognitive function. It is often found in animal products like cheese, turkey, or fish, but vegans may benefit from a dedicated plant-based supplement. It’s a common ingredient found in supplements across the market, and may be present in your multivitamin or pre-workout.
Helpful Tyrosine Facts
One study demonstrated that tyrosine may reduce the effects that stress and fatigue play on cognitive function during psychosocially and physically stressful tasks. (8) Due to tyrosines’ function as a precursor to dopamine, it makes sense that tyrosine could help with cognitive function as stressful situations may drain your dopamine.
Alpha-GPC is a phospholipid — a type of fat molecule — that’s a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which may be a helpful chemical for memory, attention, and muscular contractions. (9) A clinically effective dose of alpha-GPC varies depending on what the desired outcome is. For those combating cognitive decline, it is suggested that the user take three doses of 400mg daily, while those who want to potentially boost their power output should take between 300mg and 600mg 30 to 60 minutes before exercise. (9)
How to Supplement Alpha-GPC
Alpha-GPC is a phospholipid that is produced and found in the brain. It isn’t a necessary supplement by any means, but it still may have some benefit for its users and many choose to supplement with it for that reason. It is a fairly common ingredient in pre-workouts, and can also be found in a standalone cognitive supplement.
Helpful Alpha-GPC Facts
Some folks choose to supplement with alpha-GPC for its potential cognitive benefits, but it may also benefit performance. One study suggested that coaches encourage their athletes to supplement with more alpha-GPC in their diet as it may help with speed and power and improve muscle performance. (10)
Theanine is derived from tea leaves and is one of 20 amino acids that does not contribute to protein synthesis, but its benefits may be important for gymgoers anyway. It is considered to promote relaxation without causing the drowsiness side effect that accompanies many supplements for relaxation. It’s thought that there may also be some cognitive-enhancing properties of theanine when paired with caffeine. (11) Studies suggest that theanine is most effective in doses between 100 and 200mg, but can be especially effective when paired with caffeine. (11)
How to Supplement Theanine
Theanine is naturally found in the leaves of plants, and isn’t naturally produced or present in the human body. If you want to reap the benefits of theanine, you’ll have to obtain it through tea or via supplementation in pill or powder form. You can find this supplement on its own and within pre-workouts.
Helpful Theanine Facts
Theanine is also a potentially effective supplement for decreasing blood-pressure normally associated with caffeine intake, and may enhance sleep quality due to its relaxing properties. (11) Besides the potential positive cognitive benefits, theanine may offer an uplifted mood, better sleep quality, and help fight cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and the common cold. (12)
Carnitine is a nonessential amino acid that can be important for fat oxidation and energy metabolism processes. The basic effective recommended intake for carnitine is between 500 to 2,000mg daily. Although carnitine has many uses, it has been suggested to enhance cognitive performance and create resiliency when it comes to stress factors. (2)
How to Supplement Acetyl L-Carnitine
Carnitine is created in the body from lysine and methionine, but it’s also easily obtained through animal products (mainly meat). (13) Vegetarians and vegans need not worry, as carnitine is easily found via supplementation, as well. You can find it as a standalone powder product, in pills, or in pre-workout formulas.
Helpful Acetyl L-Carnitine Facts
Carnitine is an amino acid that can contribute to protein synthesis and may even have benefits for those trying to pack on muscle mass, decrease body fat, and reduce mental and physical fatigue during intense workouts. (13)
Our Favorite Pre-Workout for Focus
Transparent Labs BULK contains six of our seven ingredients for focus. While it’s ideal for a potential boost in focus, it may also help with recovery, muscle growth, and blood flow.
Transparent Labs BULK Pre-Workout
This supplement contains six of our seven major ingredients for focus making it a top pre-workout option. It contains 4,000mg of beta-alanine, 1,300mg of taurine, 1,000mg of tyrosine, 360mg of theanine, 300mg of alpha-GPC, and 180mg of caffeine anhydrous. That’s a pretty solid lineup of focus ingredients, but it also contains some other pre-workout favorites, such as 6,000mg of citrulline malate, and 4,000mg of BCAAs.
Transparent Labs BULK
This formula comes in Pina Colada, Blue Raspberry, Black Cherry, Strawberry Kiwi, Sour Grape, Watermelon, Green Apple, Orange, Strawberry Lemonade, Tropical Punch, Lemon Lime, and Peach Mango flavors. It’ll cost you a fair price of around $1.65 per serving, and each tub comes with 30 servings.
Read our full review of Transparent Labs BULK Pre-Workout.
What to Consider Before Buying A Focus Supplement
Depending on what your cognitive needs are, you may want to buy a specific supplement that is best geared towards those goals. Although focus is the overarching theme, it is a bit ambiguous. Focus is the ability to hyper fixate on and pay attention wholeheartedly to an activity or project.
The ingredients and supplements here may help promote attention and presence during your workout. Because there are many ways to improve your focus and cognition, you’ll want to pay attention to a few factors before deciding the right supplement for yourself. We detail types of ingredients, price, formulation, effective dosages, various activities and supplement timing below to help you make an informed decision.
Types of Ingredients
This is a list of seven ingredients that all have some potential benefit to improve cognition, focus, and alertness in the user. Some of these ingredients, such as caffeine, may not be suitable for those who are sensitive to jitters. Caffeine also may not be best suited for those who like to work out late at night. Beta-alanine is another example of an ingredient that some may avoid due to its potential to create a tingly feeling on your skin.
Credit: GaudiLab / Shutterstock
It’s also important to decide whether you want a singular ingredient (all of these ingredients come as a standalone supplement), or if you’d prefer to have one or a few of these ingredients wrapped within a larger pre- or intra-workout supplement. There are specific supplements that are made with cognition and focus in mind, but there are several pre- and intra-workout supplements or supplement stacks that will contain a multitude of the above ingredients in one spot.
The prices will vary widely depending on what you’re looking for in a supplement. A single-ingredient supplement may cost you less than a multifaceted supplement, like a pre-workout. It’s also true that some of these ingredients will be more or less expensive depending on how accessible the ingredient is, whether you have lifestyle stipulations (vegan, gluten-free, etc.), dosages, and bulk buying options.
If you opt for something with a proprietary blend, you’ll probably end up saving a few extra dollars, but that savings may come with an undisclosed dosage and leave you unsure if you’re hitting your clinically effective dose. You may also want to focus on one ingredient in particular — let’s say taurine — and you may end up paying less for that one ingredient in your supplement than you would for a supp with multiple ingredients.
Most of these ingredients can be supplemented in either pill or powder form. Of course, with caffeine, it can also be liquid if you drink it in coffee form. Theanine can be liquid as well since you can find it in tea leaves. Some of these can be found in stacked supplements like pre-workout, but because this list of ingredients is so diverse, there will be a plethora of options available to you. It is worth noting that most of these ingredients are also obtainable through food consumption if you’re not interested in taking a supplement.
Almost all of these ingredients have a clinically effective dose. Although some ingredients, like caffeine, may have more or less effective doses and may not have what is considered “clinically effective,” many are also based on the weight or age of an individual. Dose can also vary based on the ingredient’s purpose.
For example, you may have an ingredient that is clinically effective between 200mg and 400mg for cognitive effects, but for performance effects, you may want to aim for between 400mg and 600mg. It is worth taking note of which ingredients are most effective for your specific needs.
Various Sports or Activities
Many of these ingredients have benefits well beyond their potential for boosting cognition and focus. Some of these ingredients may have recovery, muscle building, or health benefits in addition to their cognitive benefits. So, if you’re looking to build muscle, as well as improve cognition, for example, carnitine may be the focus supplement for you since it may improve muscle mass when paired with resistance training. (13)
There’s a high likelihood you’ll want to take these supplements before your workout. That being said, each ingredient has an optimal window of time for best results, whether you decide to use it for enhanced workouts, before you start your workday, or perhaps before an important meeting. If there is an optimal window, we’ve stated it in this article, but this is an important factor to pay attention to for optimal results.
Focus can be the main factor when it comes to picking out a supplement — remaining alert and attentive can be an important asset when it comes to bringing your best self to the gym, to your work, and to other facets of your life. Each of these ingredients has its own unique set of potential benefits, but all of them can help you stay better focused and in the zone during tough workouts.
There are many ingredients that have the potential to help with focus, but finding the right one for you may seem like the biggest challenge. If you’re looking to garner more than one benefit, you may want to look at the other benefits an ingredient provides (such as theanine’s potential to help with not only focus but also relaxation). All of the ingredients listed above have focus properties, but many of them offer potential benefits outside of focus as well, which may make it easier to narrow down which ingredients are best for you.
What is the best focus ingredient?
There isn’t one specific ingredient that is better than another for focusing. Your needs will determine which one may best suit you. If you have a goal outside of focus, it may be helpful to look at each ingredient’s other potential benefits as a standalone supplement, or look at a larger pre- or intra-workout supplement that includes focus ingredients.
Who are focus ingredients for?
Focus ingredients are for anyone who feels they may need a little extra help staying focused, honing in on their workout, or feeling more attentive. Although they aren’t specifically designed for a certain demographic, they are suited toward almost anyone. It’s important to exercise caution and critical thinking, however. If you know you’re sensitive to stimulants, you may want to opt for one of the amino acids rather than the caffeine.
How many focus ingredients do I need?
Only as many as you choose. Focus ingredients aren’t necessary, but they can be helpful for those who want an extra leg up when it comes to focusing during your workouts or in your everyday life. You can choose one or you can mix and match several. You can also find a multitude of ingredients in one supplement, like a pre-workout. Just be sure to consult a physician before starting any new supplement regimen.
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