More than a decade ago, a young entrepreneur with an interest in herbal supplements and a passion for health and performance began tinkering with formulas in the hope of creating something that could aid cognitive abilities. Aubrey Marcus consulted with scientists, ran experiments, put his nose to the grindstone, and, in 2010, Alpha BRAIN® was born—along with Onnit, the company Marcus co-founded to house the product. Today, Alpha BRAIN® is a leading brand in nootropic supplementation, having sold more than one million bottles.
As successful and effective as the original Alpha BRAIN® formula was and remains, we recognize that it doesn’t work for everyone, and we’ve gotten plenty of critiques and suggestions over the years on how to improve it. In an effort to help more people with memory, mental speed, and clarity, as well as support flow state when they’re working, we’ve gradually expanded the Alpha BRAIN® label to cover a family of products that all serve the same goal but work a little differently. Now, anyone who’s interested can find the version that’s right for them, and that aligns with their own individual taste and lifestyle.†
Consider the following your map to navigating all the current Alpha BRAIN® offerings, including the original game-changing formula, Alpha BRAIN® Instant, Focus Shot, and Black Label. But before you start exploring, let’s define what the Alpha BRAIN® family is for, and why you should consider it for your personal health and wellness journey.
What Is A Nootropic Supplement?
Nootropics are dietary supplements that support certain brain functions, including memory, mental speed, and focus. (Caffeine is a kind of nootropic.) All four Alpha BRAIN® formulas are nootropics, intended to promote alertness and quick thinking so that you can be more productive, but their ingredients, effects, and delivery mechanisms vary.†
There are two features common to every member of the Alpha BRAIN® (AB) family:
1) Ingredients that support neurotransmitters, the chemicals that relay information in and from the brain.†
2) Ingredients that promote alpha brain waves—electrical pulses that pass through the brain, shifting it into a calmer mode that contributes to a state of creativity and productivity.†
Each AB formula contains huperzia serrata, a Clubmoss suggested to help stop the breakdown of acetylcholine (an important neurotransmitter).†1 Every AB to date also has L-theanine, an amino acid found in teas that revs up alpha wave activity.†2,3,4
In other words, by aiding the systems that allow you to think deeply, and supporting the brain chemicals that let you do your best thinking, the Alpha BRAIN® formulas help keep your mind running on all cylinders.†
One of the key features of all the ABs is their ability to help you get into flow state—that feeling of being in the zone.† You know those days when you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you don’t look up from your work for hours, and then suddenly realize it’s dark out? That’s called being in flow, and any AB product can help you get into that headspace more often.†
What Is Alpha BRAIN®?
The original Alpha BRAIN® is Onnit’s flagship supplement and all time best-seller. It acts as a great introduction to the family, so to speak, serving as a general cognitive performance aid†. Alpha BRAIN® comes in capsule form and can be taken daily, or as needed.
Alpha BRAIN® Benefits
Alpha BRAIN® contains ingredients that can help you maintain mental focus, and help you think more clearly and react quickly under stress.†
What Are Alpha BRAIN®’s Key Ingredients?
L-Tyrosine and L-Theanine. Two amino acids that act as precursors to dopamine and other hormones that support mood and alpha brain waves.† Tyrosine, in larger doses relative to body weight, has also been shown to aid cognitive performance under stress,7 while theanine promotes attention and reaction time.†8
Alpha BRAIN® is caffeine-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and nut-free. It is keto-friendly, and fits into a Paleo style of eating.
How Much Alpha BRAIN® Should I Take?
It’s best to start at one capsule (half a dose), assess your tolerance, and build up gradually from there. If you take one capsule and don’t feel anything after an hour or two, take another. If that feels good, the next time you use Alpha BRAIN®, take two capsules at once (one full dose, as recommended on the label). We do not recommend that you take more than one dose in 24 hours.
For the best absorption, it’s ideal to consume Alpha BRAIN® with a light meal. Also, note that Alpha BRAIN® is for adult use only.
Many prefer to take Alpha BRAIN® in the morning with breakfast to support cognitive function at the start of the day, when they try to prioritize their most challenging tasks. But Alpha BRAIN® can be taken in the afternoon or evening, if you need your thinking to be on point at those times instead.†
Who Should Use Alpha BRAIN®?
If you’re new to the Alpha BRAIN® family, or nootropics in general, original Alpha BRAIN® is a good place to start. It will allow you to assess your tolerance and see if the ingredients that are common to all the AB products work for you. Alpha BRAIN® is good to use daily for general cognitive support, but it can be used only as needed, such as when working or studying.†
What Is Alpha BRAIN® Instant?
The Alpha BRAIN® Instant (ABI) formula is very similar to that of the original Alpha BRAIN®. It contains 500mg more of the amino acid tyrosine, and black pepper extract to aid absorption, but the main distinction is that ABI comes as an instant drink mix powder, for those who prefer to consume a supplement as a tasty drink rather than a capsule you have to swallow. The ABI packets may also be more convenient for some users to carry around (as opposed to a bottle), because they can fit easily into any pocket, purse, or bag.
You can mix ABI into water or any other liquid you choose with a spoon, or shake it up. It’s available in five different flavors—Ruby Grapefruit, Meyer Lemon, Pineapple Punch, Peach, and Blackberry Lemonade.
Alpha BRAIN® Instant is caffeine-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free. It is keto-friendly, and fits into a Paleo style of eating.
How Much Alpha BRAIN® Instant Should I Take?
Start with one serving (1 packet) mixed with 8 ounces of cold water, preferably with a light meal. Do not take more than one packet in any 24-hour period.
Who Should Use Alpha BRAIN® Instant?
If you don’t like swallowing capsules, or you plan to use Alpha BRAIN® on the go (mixing it at a sink in your office, at a public water fountain, etc.), then Alpha BRAIN® Instant may be a more appropriate option than original Alpha BRAIN®. Of course, if you prefer to enjoy your supplements as a flavored drink that can accompany a meal, ABI is also the clear choice.
What Is Alpha BRAIN® Focus Shot?
AB Focus Shot is a liquid, ready-to-drink version of Alpha BRAIN®, similar to energy shots you’ve probably already seen. Its formula is slightly different from original AB and ABI, as it features new ingredients that support focus, energy, and mood.†Note that unlike the previous two AB incarnations, Focus Shot contains a small amount of caffeine (50mg, or about half of what’s in a typical cup of coffee). Because it fits in the palm of your hand and is easy to grab on the go and down in one shot, we like to say that AB Focus Shot is the most convenient way to get into flow state.†
AB Focus Shot is available in two flavors—Peach and Tropical.
Alpha BRAIN® Focus Shot Benefits
As with its predecessors, Focus Shot aids cognitive performance, but it offers a few new ingredients that provide additional support for attention and focus, daily stress, and mood state.†This makes Focus Shot stand out from the pack of other energy shots. Focus Shot is designed to help you get into a state of alert relaxation, allowing you to think fast while staying cool under pressure, be it from work deadlines, car traffic, or other day-to-day stresses you experience.†
What Are Alpha BRAIN® Focus Shot’s Key Ingredients?
L-Tyrosine. This amino acid features in regular Alpha BRAIN® and ABI as well, but we pumped up the dose in Focus Shot to lend even more support for cognitive performance under mental stress.† One study, using large doses relative to bodyweight, shows that it helped military cadets keep their cool and problem-solve during a combat training course,14 while another indicates it may help with memory while multitasking.†15
Ashwagandha. An adaptogenic herb popular in traditional medicine, ashwagandha has shown very promising results for supporting the body’s stress response.†16 It may also assist with memory and cognitive functions.†17
Cognizin® Citicoline. A naturally-occurring brain chemical, citicoline is essentially “brain food,” helping to maintain levels of neurotransmitters that support attention and focus.†18 When combined with caffeine, it can aid concentration, memory, and sustained attention even further.†19
Low-Dose, plant-based caffeine. In lower amounts, the stimulant found in coffee and tea promotes alertness and focus, but with subjects reporting a more relaxed mood and less nervousness and restlessness than when taking higher doses.†22
Alpha BRAIN® Focus Shot is dairy-free, gluten-free, and sugar-free. It is keto-friendly, and contains no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
How Much Alpha BRAIN® Focus Shot Should I Take?
Focus Shot should be taken only once per day, or as needed. Do not exceed more than one bottle in a 24-hour period, and do not take it in addition to any other Alpha BRAIN® products or other nootropics.
Who Should Use Alpha BRAIN® Focus Shot?
Carrying a bottle of capsules may be too cumbersome, and packets of powder can be messy and difficult to mix on the go. Therefore, Alpha BRAIN® Focus Shot is the most convenient AB option. Focus Shot is also a good choice if you don’t mind consuming caffeine, or you prefer that your energy supplements have it. Focus Shot may also be helpful if you’re occasionally working under more stressful conditions than normal, and want extra cognitive support as a result. It can be used daily, or as needed.†
What Is Alpha BRAIN® Black Label?
The premium member of the Alpha BRAIN® family, Alpha BRAIN® Black Label (ABBL) is a refined formula that goes one step further to promote mental processing speed and help contribute to productivity, and, when taken daily, can also support brain and eye health. Like AB Focus Shot, it contains a low dose of caffeine (25mg), and a few other ingredients that aren’t found in original AB or ABI. However, Black Label is only available in capsules.†
Alpha BRAIN® Black Label Benefits
We call ABBL our “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency, must-get-stuff-done now” formula because of its potential to support cognitive function and productivity like no other.† It has ingredients that promote flow state, attention span, memory, relaxed alertness, and mood like Focus Shot does. Likewise, it can be taken taken daily to help regulate the stress that comes from work in front of a computer or smartphone screen.†
What Are Alpha BRAIN® Black Label’s Key Ingredients?
Citicoline. As with AB Focus Shot, this brain chemical helps to maintain neurotransmitter levels, supporting attention and focus.†
Caffeine Anhydrous. A concentrated form of caffeine, supplied in a low dose here. The synergy of low-dose caffeine and L-theanine promotes alert relaxation and a positive mood state.†
Lutemax 2020®. This extract from the marigold flower contains lutein and zeaxanthan, two plant carotenoids that have been found to support eye function on visual performance tests.†23,24 Lutein and zeaxanthan also help maintain general brain and eye health with continued use.†25,26,27 In fact, they’re particularly helpful for filtering out blue light—the kind emitted by electronic devices that contributes to eyestrain.† Research shows that lutein and zeaxanthan can absorb a significant amount of the blue light that enters the eyes.†28
Mucuna Pruriens. A tropical bean, it contains the amino acid L-Dopa, which is suggested to contribute to dopamine levels, which are essential for mood.†
How Much Alpha BRAIN® Black Label Should I Take?
Refer to the directions for original Alpha BRAIN®, and work up to a full dose gradually. Ultimately, a full dose entails taking four capsules daily, or as needed, preferably with a light meal. Do not exceed four capsules in a 24-hour period, and do not take ABBL in addition to any other Alpha BRAIN® formula or other nootropic.
Who Should Use Alpha BRAIN® Black Label?
If you tried regular Alpha BRAIN® in the past and were disappointed, you may have a better experience with ABBL’s super-charged formula. Also, if you prefer a supplement that has a strategically small dose of caffeine, Black Label may be more appropriate.
ABBL is intended for use on days where you really feel under the gun, as it gives you the support you need for deep focus under stressful situations, but it can also be used daily, if you choose, for general eye and brain health.† This makes ABBL an especially good choice for those who work in front of computer screens for long periods, or who drive long distances, and need support in remaining attentive and reactive behind the wheel.†
1. Skidmore-Roth, Linda. Mosby’s handbook of herbs & natural supplements. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2009.
2. Nobre, Anna C., Anling Rao, and Gail N. Owen. “L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state.” Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition 17 (2008).
3. Nathan, Pradeep J., Kristy Lu, Marcus Gray, and C. Oliver. “The neuropharmacology of L-theanine (N-ethyl-L-glutamine) a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent.” Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy 6, no. 2 (2006): 21-30.
4. SONG, Chan-Hee, Ju-Hae JUNG, Je-Sung OH, and Kyung-Soo KIM. “Effects of theanine on the release of brain alpha wave in adult males.” The Korean Journal of Nutrition (2003): 918-923.
5. Yarlagadda, Atmaram, and Anita H. Clayton. “Blood brain barrier: the role of pyridoxine.” Psychiatry (Edgmont) 4, no. 8 (2007): 58.
6. Lippincott-Raven. (1999). Chapter 12. Catecholamines, Chapter 13. Serotonin. In Basic neurochemistry: Molecular, cellular and medical aspects.
7. Banderet, Louis E., and Harris R. Lieberman. “Treatment with tyrosine, a neurotransmitter precursor, reduces environmental stress in humans.” Brain research bulletin 22, no. 4 (1989): 759-762.
8. Higashiyama, Akiko, Hla Hla Htay, Makoto Ozeki, Lekh R. Juneja, and Mahendra P. Kapoor. “Effects of l-theanine on attention and reaction time response.” Journal of Functional Foods 3, no. 3 (2011): 171-178.
9. Leventis, Peter A., and Sergio Grinstein. “The distribution and function of phosphatidylserine in cellular membranes.” Annual review of biophysics 39, no. 1 (2010): 407-427.
10. Kim, Hee-Yong, Bill X. Huang, and Arthur A. Spector. “Phosphatidylserine in the brain: metabolism and function.” Progress in lipid research 56 (2014): 1-18.
11. Tayebati, Seyed Khosrow, and Francesco Amenta. “Choline-containing phospholipids: relevance to brain functional pathways.” Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine 51, no. 3 (2013): 513-521.
12. Brownawell, Amy M., Edward L. Carmines, and Federica Montesano. “Safety assessment of AGPC as a food ingredient.” Food and chemical toxicology 49, no. 6 (2011): 1303-1315.
13. Tun, Maung Kyaw Moe, and Seth B. Herzon. “The pharmacology and therapeutic potential of (−)-huperzine A.” Journal of Experimental Pharmacology 4 (2012): 113.
14. Deijen, J. B., C. J. E. Wientjes, H. F. M. Vullinghs, P. A. Cloin, and J. J. Langefeld. Brain research bulletin 48, no. 2 (1999): 203-209.
15. Thomas, John R., Park A. Lockwood, Anita Singh, and Patricia A. Deuster. “Tyrosine improves working memory in a multitasking environment.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 64, no. 3 (1999): 495-500.
16. Salve, Jaysing, Sucheta Pate, Khokan Debnath, and Deepak Langade. “Adaptogenic and anxiolytic effects of ashwagandha root extract in healthy adults: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study.” Cureus 11, no. 12 (2019).
17. Choudhary, Dnyanraj, Sauvik Bhattacharyya, and Sekhar Bose. “Efficacy and safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) root extract in improving memory and cognitive functions.” Journal of Dietary Supplements 14, no. 6 (2017): 599-612.
18. Erin, McGlade, Locatelli Allison, Hardy Julia, Kamiya Toshikazu, Morita Masahiko, Morishita Koji, Sugimura Yoichiro, and Yurgelun-Todd Deborah. “Improved attentional performance following citicoline administration in healthy adult women.” Food and Nutrition Sciences 2012 (2012).
19. Bruce, Steven E., Kimberly B. Werner, Brittany F. Preston, and Laurie M. Baker. “Improvements in concentration, working memory and sustained attention following consumption of a natural citicoline–caffeine beverage.” International journal of food sciences and nutrition 65, no. 8 (2014): 1003-1007.
20. Saitsu, Yuusuke, Akemi Nishide, Kenji Kikushima, Kuniyoshi Shimizu, and Koichiro Ohnuki. “Improvement of cognitive functions by oral intake of Hericium erinaceus.” Biomedical Research 40, no. 4 (2019): 125-131.
21. Vigna, Luisella, Federica Morelli, Gianna M. Agnelli, Filomena Napolitano, Daniela Ratto, Alessandra Occhinegro, Carmine Di Iorio et al. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2019 (2019).
22. Kaplan, Gary B., David J. Greenblatt, Bruce L. Ehrenberg, Jill E. Goddard, Monette M. Cotreau, Jerold S. Harmatz, and Richard I. Shader. “Dose‐dependent pharmacokinetics and psychomotor effects of caffeine in humans.” The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 37, no. 8 (1997): 693-703.
23. Stringham, James M., Nicole T. Stringham, and Kevin J. O’Brien. “Macular carotenoid supplementation improves visual performance, sleep quality, and adverse physical symptoms in those with high screen time exposure.” Foods 6, no. 7 (2017): 47.
24. Ceravolo, S. Anna, Billy R. Hammond, William Oliver, Brett Clementz, L. Stephen Miller, and Lisa M. Renzi‐Hammond. “Dietary Carotenoids Lutein and Zeaxanthin Change Brain Activation in Older Adult Participants: A Randomized, Double‐Masked, Placebo‐Controlled Trial.” Molecular nutrition & food research 63, no. 15 (2019): 1801051.
25. Koushan, Keyvan, Raluca Rusovici, Wenhua Li, Lee R. Ferguson, and Kakarla V. Chalam. “The role of lutein in eye-related disease.” Nutrients 5, no. 5 (2013): 1823-1839.
26. Wilson, Lisa M., Saraniya Tharmarajah, Yuanxi Jia, Richard D. Semba, Debra A. Schaumberg, and Karen A. Robinson. “The effect of lutein/zeaxanthin intake on human macular pigment optical density: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Advances in Nutrition 12, no. 6 (2021): 2244-2254.
27. Yagi, Ayano, Rui Nouchi, Laurie Butler, and Ryuta Kawashima. “Lutein has a positive impact on brain health in healthy older adults: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials and cohort studies.” Nutrients 13, no. 6 (2021): 1746.
28. Krinsky, Norman I., John T. Landrum, and Richard A. Bone. “Biologic mechanisms of the protective role of lutein and zeaxanthin in the eye.” Annual review of nutrition 23, no. 1 (2003): 171-201.