Onnit Alpha Brain – Overrated Cognitive Booster for Beginners?

Onnit Alpha Brain

Onnit Alpha Brain is an incredibly popular nootropic touted by celebrities around the world, but is it really just an over-hyped, overpriced product?

Onnit is one of the most recognized brands in fitness, due to its growth among the CrossFit, Paleo, and holistic fitness crowds, and sponsorship from some heavy hitters like Joe Rogan, Gary Vaynerchuk, Bode Miller, NHL star Jonathan Toews, and more. The brand has launched numerous products to optimize human health and function over the years, but today, we’re zeroing in on one of their most well-known products touted to improve your mental gains.

Alpha Brain is the brand’s incredibly popular nootropic and brain health formula designed to enhance all aspects of memory, cognition, and mental performance.

Unfortunately, this product has a proprietary blend, but we still do our best to see if it’s worth buying by “re-building” it with off-the-shelf ingredients. Conclusion? For the same price, we can put together a “Homemade Alpha Brain” with off-the-shelf ingredients that’s both stronger and provides more total servings.

Before we get to the breakdown, take a moment to check the best deal and sign up for alerts from PricePlow:

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Alpha Brain Ingredients

When looking at the Alpha Brain supplement facts panel, it has all the making of a great brain-boosting formula, until you realize they’re all hidden in prop blends and appear to be quite underdosed….

Note: the following doses are for two capsules of Alpha Brain:

  • Onnit Flow Blend (650mg)

    • L-Tyrosine

      Onnit Alpha Brain Ingredients

      Alpha Brain is a massive prop blend of ingredients, most of which are underdosed.

      We’ve discussed Tyrosine an awful lot recently, and while it’s encouraging to see Onnit include the superior form of Tyrosine in Alpha Brain, the dose included in a single serving is nowhere near the generally recommended 1-2g serving to see maximal effect for improved focus.

    • L-Theanine

      Theanine is the “chiller” amino acid found predominantly in tea leaves. It’s commonly added to nootropic formulas for its ability to enhance the cognitive effects of caffeine (which isn’t present here)![1]

      The amino acid is also frequently found in pre workouts and sleep formulas due for its calming qualities, which can either help lull you to sleep, or take some of the harsh “kick” out of a pre workout.[2]

      However, without any caffeine to assist here, the cognitive benefits here are as unknown as the dosage in Alpha Brain.

    • Oat Straw

      Oat Straw (Avena Sativa) has been extensively studied as a possible cognitive booster and fatigue fighter. Research has shown that Oat Straw can alleviate neurological stress and reduce exhaustion, which are known to impair cognitive performance.[3]

      However, studies show you need between 800–2500mg for humans[3,4], which is nowhere near what you’re getting here.

    • Phosphatidylserine

      Onnit Alpha Brain BSCG

      Alpha Brain is BSCG certified making it OK for drug-tested athletes to use.

      Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a fat-soluble amino acid found in the brain known to support cognitive function. Research has shown that PS can improve improve declining mental function as well as depression in the elderly.[5,6]

      Other PS research notes it can combat anxiety, and cortisol, and possibly elevate post-exercise testosterone levels.[7,8,9]

      Typically you want to get 100mg three times a day with PS — this is quite unlikely to hit that does, although it’s possible if everything above is around 100mg. Given the price of this ingredient, we doubt it.

  • Cat’s Claw (350mg)

    The only nootropic that is fully disclosed, is probably one that’s not very familiar to many of you out there. Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is a woody vine native to South and Central America, and prevalent throughout the Amazon rainforest. Traditionally, the plant has been used for its healing properties to treat a number of conditions including arthritis, dysentery, inflammation, and fever.

    Onnit Alpha Brain Hand

    Alpha Brain in hand you might be on the road to better brain function…

    More importantly though, Cat’s Claw has also been documented to have several important benefits for preserving and protecting brain function. Studies note that Cat’s Claw increases Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), reduces NMDA activity, and repairs damaged DNA, which supports learning and memory as well as offers some neuroprotective qualities too![10,11]

  • Onnit Focus Blend (240mg)

    • Alpha GPC

      Alpha GPC is one of the premier forms of Choline, along with CDP-Choline, that’s frequently found in nootropic formulas due to its ability to increase levels of acetylcholine, the learning neurotransmitter.[12]

      Typically, we like to see at least 300mg Alpha GPC to really notice it’s focus and cognitive-boosting effects, which you’re clearly not getting here. There’s also no other choline supplements inside to make up for that low dosage.

    • Bacopa Monnieri

      Bacopa is an adaptogenic and nootropic herb typically used for its ability to improve the body’s processing and response to stressful situations. It also boosts mood, relieves anxiety, and improves cognitive function.[13,14]

    • Huperzine

      Onnit Dumbbells

      Onnit offers a full line of products to enhance all aspects of life and fitness.

      To further enhance your body’s production of acetylcholine, Alpha Brain includes Huperzine A, an acetylcholine “extender.” Huperzine is a natural acetylcholinesterase inhibitor — acetylcholinesterase is the enzyme that degrades acetylcholine in the body.[15]

      Huperzine will help you get more out of the lower Alpha GPC dose that we described above, so it’s inclusion is welcomed (and necessary) in Alpha Brain.

  • Onnit Fuel Blend (65mg)

    • L-Leucine

      The “king” of the amino acids, leucine is primarily known for its role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS) via activation of the mTOR pathway in the body. That’s not why it’s included here though.

      Leucine enters the brain more rapidly than any other amino acid and used by the brain to form glutamate and glutamine, the excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain, as well as handle nitrogen metabolism in the brain, thereby preserving brain function.[16,17]

    • Vinpocetine

      Onnit Alpha Brain Instant

      Want an even faster acting version of Alpha Brain…check out Alpha Brain Instant.

      Vinpocetine is found in the common Periwinkle plant, and is one of the more familiar nootropics you’ll encounter among brain-boosting supplements. This extract ramps up cerebral blood flow, which has been implicated to enhance both long term and short term memory.[18,19,20] Greater blood flow means more nutrients are delivered to the brain which increases awareness, reaction speed, and focus.

    • Pterostilbene

      Pterostilbene is a naturally-occurring antioxidant abundantly found in blueberries. This intriguing compounds helps combat oxidative stress by fighting free radicals in the body, which can lead to inflammation. Furthermore, research has shown that the compound has been associated with neuroprotective effects and prevent cognitive decline.[21]

Dosing

Onnit gives two suggestions for dosing Alpha Brain:

For enhanced mental performance: Consume 2 capsules in the morning or early afternoon, preferably with a meal.

For “enhanced dream state”: Consume 2 capsules 4-6 hours prior to sleep.

Onnit advises to not consume more than 3 capsules in any 24 hour period.

The Value Proposition: Is this worth it?

There’s a convenience factor to taking two Alpha Brain’s and being done with it, but the point here is that this is a starter nootropic. Nothing more.

Let’s be honest here. At one or even two capsules, this is not a very strong nootropic supplement.

So let’s see how much it’d cost to put together Alpha Brain using off-the-shelf ingredients!

First off, at the time of writing, with PricePlow you can get 90 capsules (45 servings) for $66.31. That’s our target to meet or beat.

Building our own Alpha Brain

Next, we need to do our best to guess what these proprietary blends consist of. This is where the most error will be introduced, so feel free to chime in on the comments below – we’re sure it’ll be close enough for value estimations though:

  • ONNIT Flow Blend — 650mg needed:
    • L-Tyrosine: estimated 500mg

      Amount to buy = 22.5g

    • L-Theanine: estimated 75mg

      Amount to buy = 3.375g

    • Oat Straw: estimated 50mg

      Amount to buy = 2.25g

    • Phosphatidylserine: estimated 25mg

      Amount to buy = 1.125g

      L-Theanine Tea

      L-Theanine comes from tea leaves, and may pair well with Modafinil to offset any potential anxiety.

      We could be way off with this blend, but L-Theanine is the biggest clue. Too much of it could make you a touch too relaxed, and since it’s a very expensive raw material, most proprietary blenders looking to score profits aren’t going to dose it too high. Plus, 500mg is a pretty standard L-Tyrosine dose that you start to feel.

  • Cat’s Claw: known 350mg

    Amount to buy = 15.75g

  • ONNIT Focus Blend — 240mg needed
    • Alpha GPC: estimated 150mg

      Amount to buy = 6.75g

    • Bacopa Monnieri: estimated 89.9mg

      Amount to buy = 4.0455g

    • Huperzine A: estimated 100mcg (micrograms)

      Amount to buy = 4,500mcg

The amount to buy areas were calculated by multiplying the dose by 45, since there’s 45 servings per container. Now let’s find some off-the-shelf ingredients (all prices are as of June 23, 2017 using PricePlow):

  • ONNIT Flow Blend:
    • L-Tyrosine: Amount needed = 22.5g
      L-Tyrosine

      One change we don’t understand is why BSL switched back to NALT over L-Tyrosine even though L-Tyrosine is the superior form (and cheaper).

      We can buy 60 500mg capsules of NOW L-Tyrosine for just $3.95.

    • L-Theanine: Amount needed = 3.375g

      We can buy 60 100mg capsules of Jarrow Formulas L-Theanine for $7.49.

    • Oat Straw: Amount needed = 2.25g

      We can buy 60 capsules of Swanson Avena Sativa for $5.73.

    • Phosphatidylserine: Amount needed = 1.125g

      We can buy 50 100mg softgels of Jarrow Formulas PS100 for $10.18. This one might be a bit of a stretch since it’d hold back our total number of doses, so you can also get 60 100mg softgels for $13.42.

  • Cat’s Claw: Amount to buy = 15.75g

    You can get 60 334mg capsules of NOW Cat’s Claw Extract for $5.95.

  • ONNIT Focus Blend
    • Alpha GPC: Amount needed = 6.75g

      You can buy 60 300mg capsules of NOW Alpha-GPC for $16.19.

    • Bacopa Monnieri: Amount needed = 4.0455g

      You can buy 60 445mg capsules of Solaray Bacopa for $6.79.

    • Huperzine A: Amount needed = 4,500mcg

      You can buy 120 100mcg capsules of SNS Huperzine A 99% for $7.19. That’s a temporary sale going on right now though, so also consider 60 100mcg tablets of Source Naturals Huperzine A for $7.17.

Grand total = $66.69 (if choosing the 60 PS100 softgels) — nearly exactly the same price as ONNIT’s Alpha Brain.

You may have also noticed two important things:

  1. We’re getting a hell of a lot higher doses of everything
  2. We’re getting far more servings total

You’d literally have to spend $130 with ONNIT to compete with the package we put together above.

So is Alpha Brain worth it?

Onnit Alpha Brain Science

Is Alpha Brain worth it? Maybe for a once off

There’s a convenience factor to taking two Alpha Brain’s and being done with it, but the point here is that this is a starter nootropic. Nothing more.

Once you realize that you love those 300mg Alpha GPC tablets (which are easily the most expensive thing in our “homemade Alpha Brain”), you won’t want to go back to whatever pixie-dusted dosage ONNIT put in.

Given that we can buy more and better-dosed off-the-shelf ingredients for the same price as Alpha Brain, we have to believe that Onnit is spending too much money paying guys like Joe Rogan (as much as we love him) and not enough offering value to their consumers.

It’s good to try once, but if you realize you’re into these focus enhancers — known as nootropics — it’s time to start looking elsewhere or build your own with actual efficacious doses.

Takeaway

Alpha Brain could simply be better. Yes, it contains ingredients to preserve, enhance, and prolong brain activity. But due to the fact that nearly the entire product is composed of proprietary blends, and most of it appears to be severely underdosed, we are extremely skeptical and a bit down on this popular product for anyone who’s really into this stuff.

It’s a lot to ask someone to spend $66 when you could probably just buy the Alpha-GPC and L-Tyrosine bottles up above for a third of the price and do just as well, if not better due to real dosing.

However, if you’re new to this kind of thing, go ahead and spend the money. And when you realize that you like the effects but need more capsules to really feel it, you can always come on back to this page and start tinkering on your own.

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Posts are sponsored in part by the retailers and/or brands listed on this page.

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References

  1. Kimura K, et al. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol. (2007)
  2. Owen GN, et al. The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Nutr Neurosci. (2008)
  3. Dimpfel W, Storni C, Verbruggen M. Ingested oat herb extract (Avena sativa) changes EEG spectral frequencies in healthy subjects. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(5):427-434. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0143. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21563962
  4. Kennedy DO, Jackson PA, Forster J, et al. Acute effects of a wild green-oat (Avena sativa) extract on cognitive function in middle-aged adults: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subjects trial. Nutr Neurosci. 2017;20(2):135-151. doi:10.1080/1028415X.2015.1101304. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26618715
  5. YU Langone Medical Center; “Phosphatidylserine;” Updated August 2013
  6. Kataoka-Kato A., et al.; Journal of Pharmacological Sciences; “Enhanced learning of normal adult rodents by repeated oral administration of soybean transphosphatidylated phosphatidylserine;” July 2005
  7. Gindin J., et al.; The Geriatric Institute for Education and Research, Kaplan Hospital, Rehovot, Israel; “THE EFFECT OF PLANT PHOSPHATIDYLSERINE ON AGE-ASSOCIATED MEMORY IMPAIRMENT AND MOOD IN THE FUNCTIONING ELDERLY;” 1993
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18616866
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1325348
  10. Huang H., Zhong R., Xia Z., Song J., Feng L. “ Neuroprotective effects of rhynchophylline against ischemic brain injury via regulation of the Akt/mTOR and TLRs signaling pathways.” Molecules. 2014 Jul 30;19(8):11196-210. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25079660
  11. Shi Z., Lu Z., Zhao Y., et al. Neuroprotective effects of aqueous extracts of Uncaria tomentosa: Insights from 6-OHDA induced cell damage and transgenic Caenorhabditis elegans model. Neurochemistry International. 2013 Jun;62(7):940-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23500604
  12. Ferraro L, et al. Evidence for an in vivo and in vitro modulation of endogenous cortical GABA release by alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine. Neurochem Res. (1996)
  13. Stough C, Lloyd J, Clarke J, Downey LA, Hutchison CW, Rodgers T, & Nathan PJ. (2001). The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology. 156(4), 481-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11498727
  14. Rai D, Bhatia G, Palit G, Pal R, Singh S, & Singh HK. (2003). Adaptogenic effect of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi). Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior. 75(4), 823-30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12957224
  15. Zhao, Q; Effects of huperzine A on acetylcholinesterase isoforms in vitro: comparison with tacrine, donepezil, rivastigmine and physostigmine.; State Key Laboratory of Drug Research, Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences; 2002
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8522978
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15930465
  18. Valikovics A., et al.; Ideggyogyaszati szemle.; “Study of the effects of vinpocetin on cognitive functions”; March 2012; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23136730
  19. Valikovics A.; Ideggyogyaszati szemle; “Investigation of the effect of vinpocetine on cerebral blood flow and cognitive functions”; July 2007; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17713111
  20. Szapary L., et al.; Ideggyogyaszati Szemle; “Vinpocetin in neurological diseases”; November 2012; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23289173
  21. Denise McCormack and David McFadden, “A Review of Pterostilbene Antioxidant Activity and Disease Modification,” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2013, Article ID 575482, 15 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/575482 https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2013/575482/
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