Six Supplements for Greater Productivity

I originally wrote this way back in 2015 when I was just starting my blog.  I found it today while I was looking through my old archived drafts- apparently I submitted it as a guest post to a big nutrition site, which didn’t accept it, then forgot to publish it anywhere else.  Here’s 2015 John, in all his glory.  

When I was in college, I hated working.  I couldn’t focus on a textbook or a homework assignment for more than five minutes at a time, and I resented having to knuckle down and work when there were articles I could be reading, videos I could be watching, or parts of town I could be exploring.  I got away with it in school because I was smart and had a good memory, which led me to believe I’d never have to learn to love work.

That all changed when I entered the work force. My lack of focus caused me to struggle; I would get distracted, fall behind on my work, and then have to work late to catch up.  Things came to a head when I accepted a work from home sales job- now I had nobody watching me to keep me on track, and my compensation was tied directly to my productivity!

My first few months were a nightmare of funny videos, oversleeping, and occasional, half-hearted working.  That all changed when I did three things: implemented better work practices such as eating lunch away from my desk and laptop, ate a low-carb breakfast,  and began strategically using the following supplements to give myself focused energy throughout the day. 

1 & 2: Caffeine and L-Theanine

Caffeine stimulates dopamine production, giving you energy and motivation, boosting your mood and helping you think faster and more clearly- up to a point.  It’s obviously great for energy, but it can be physically stimulating in a way that’s counterproductive for office work, so you don’t want to take too much. 

Theanine is an amino acid commonly found in tea.  It has a calming effect that can be useful for sleep, but rather than sedate you like a sleep aid would, it simply reduces anxiety and jitteriness.  I use it to counter the side effects of caffeine, producing a focused, relaxed energy.  Although tea naturally has theanine, the ratio present in tea is tilted too much towards caffeine, so I recommend using 200m theanine pills instead.  Powders are good too if you don’t mind mixing them up, and are a little more cost-effective.

The combination of caffeine and theanine has, accordingly, been shown to produce greater benefits than either one alone, and with fewer side effects than caffeine alone. 

You want roughly a 2:1 ratio of theanine to caffeine.  I take 100 mg caffeine and 200 mg theanine right after breakfast, and half that much after lunch.  People who are very sensitive to caffeine should halve the morning dosage and/or skip the afternoon dose.  People who have a high caffeine tolerance should not up the dose, but instead take extra DL-Phenylalanine (below).

3:  Fish oil

Fish oil is one of the most well-studied supplements out there, and in my opinion most people should take it – it has at least a dozen benefits, and no apparent side effects.  For this purpose, use it to boost mood, memory, and calm energy.

Most people need 1 gram of omega-3’s per day, which usually works out to 3 fish oil capsules.  Take one with each meal.  Obese people may double this dosage, but don’t go overboard.  Studies on fish oil suggest that it’s mainly beneficial if you’re not eating enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet- so people who eat fish every day, or large amounts of fatty, grass-fed meat, may not benefit from it.

4: Phenylalanine

Phenylalanine is an amino acid which acts a precursor to L-tyrosine.  Tyrosine, in turn, is processed into L-dopa which is processed into dopamine.  Since caffeine stimulates this process, caffeine addiction leads to deficiencies of tyrosine and phenylalanine.  Taking pheylalanine while cutting back on caffeine will eliminate most of the normal withdrawal symptoms, allowing you to quickly get over your caffeine dependence with relatively little pain.  

You’ll want 500 mg phenylalanine capsules.  Take 1000 mg in the morning and 1000 mg after lunch for 2 days, then take half that dose for two days.  After that, take 500 mg in the morning every day.  If you get jittery, cut the dose immediately

5 & 6: R-Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) and Acetyl L-Carnitine

ALA is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that increases insulin sensitivity, helps your body to process glucose, and restores the effects of vitamins C and E.  Carnitine is an amino acid that helps your liver to burn fat for energy, and supports healthy testosterone levels.  Taken together, they boost energy levels, burn fat, and have an amazing ability to clear away mental fog in the mornings.  

One 2008 study confirmed that the two supplements, used in combination, work synergistically to improve fat loss and insulin sensitivity.

Acetyl-L-Carnitine, also known as ALCAR, is commonly thought to have greater mental effects than other forms of carnitine.  It may however be less helpful at raising testosterone levels than other forms of carnitine.

I sometimes take 500-1000 mg of ALCAR with 300-600 mg of alpha-lipoic acid.  Different people respond best to different dosages and ratios- some people take twice that much, or invert the ratio and take more ALA than carnitine.  Regardless, you should start small to assess your tolerance. Always take them, particularly the ALA, with food, as they can drop your blood sugar.   

There are also some supplements that combine both into a single pill.  I don’t use them since they don’t let you fiddle with the ratio, but that’s also an option.

Combining smart supplementation with refreshing sleep and effective work habits will allow you to make the most of your work hours, becoming happy, productive, and ultimately successful in your career.