Cognitive Energy Enhancing Effects of Caffeine, L-Theanine

Cognitive Energy Enhancing Effects of Caffeine, L-Theanine

In a previous post we enumerated the remarkable benefits of caffeine for not only boosting mood, energy, and attention, but also for improving cognitive performance. One of the concerns, however, with any cns stimulant like caffeine is that it may cause nervousness and jitteriness for some people (which is why, by the way, we also fortify our stimulant JUMPSTART EX with adaptogens). But based on scientific research, there are methods of enhancing the cognitive and energy enhancing effects of caffeine while minimizing any negative physical impact.

The synergy of caffeine combined with L-theanine enhances performance without causing nervousness.

One of the delights of pharmacology is that certain alkaloids in plants interact with each other in ways that increases the beneficial effects of both in a sort of harmonious tango. There are many examples of this, but not many are more useful than the combination of the amino acid L-theanine with caffeine.

L-theanine is an amino acid that, like its analogue glutamate, has a direct influence on brain activity and can bring about a balancing, focusing, calming effect, improving mood and reducing stress. It's benefits on mood are so well supported it has been patented as a mood enhancer. (US Patent Application 20040171624; Japanese Patent Application 2001-253740.) There are numerous studies into green tea (the source) and theanine, and scientists quickly realized that they had wide-ranging benefits. We dove into this amino acid in detail in this previous post.

Of all the effects of theanine, one of the most useful is when you add it to caffeine. The result is almost alchemical, affording the best of both ingredients without the downside of the stimulant. L-theanine has been recognized for its own ability to stimulate but in a calm way. Research suggests that theanine's synergistic effect on caffeine is to balance "cellular nervousness." (Interestingly, since many studies have been done on both caffeine and theanine separately, there is a good baseline for comparing the effects of the two in combination.)

One of the most widely quoted studies compared the effect of caffeine on cognition and mood, with and without L-theanine, on 27 subjects. Participants were either given a placebo, caffeine, or caffeine with L-theanine. They were then measured for their performance on cognitive tests for word recognition, rapid visual information processing, critical flicker fusion threshold, and attention switching at baseline, and then at 60, and 90 minutes after treatment.

Researchers found that the combination of caffeine and L-theanine particularly improved speed and accuracy in tasks that required attention shifts. Participants also showed reduced likelihood of being distracted during a memory task, which suggests that L-theanine and caffeine in combination are beneficial for improving performance on cognitively demanding tasks.

Testing shows l-theanine reduces caffeine's jitteriness.

Scientists believe that there are several effects of l-theanine, on dopamine, serotonin, and GABA levels, as well as on brain waves (stimulating alpha waves to enhance focus while calming), which may be at the root of the positive effects it has on the nervousness caused by stimulants. GABA in particular is a neuronal activity inhibitor, which reduces the nervous effects of increased energy. Although the mechanisms are not fully understood, it appears to be the ability of l-theanine to influence the brain's state that makes it useful here.

For the purposes of simplification, when your brain is operating in the beta wave frequency range, you feel energetic and stimulated, but often in a sort of distracted manner. You know those people that are hyperactive and quickly change their focus and attention? The ADD type. They are well up in beta wave territory (which is what stimulants like caffeine cause.) L-theanine, however, has the effect of promoting alpha wave frequencies, which are associated with a more calm and relaxed, but still alert, state of mind. Alpha state is an optimal range for learning, and for generally operating at peak capacity in daily activities.

Furthermore, there are neural receptors in brain cells that help send messages from cell to cell, and when these receptors become over stimulated, the brain can get "noisy," firing excessively, making it jumpy, easily distracted and unfocused. L-theanine seems to inhibit these receptors, which calms the brain and allows for better concentration and focus. 

And finally, the combination of the two ingredients seems to cross the blood brain barrier relatively well, so it is little surprise that they enjoy such synergy. So if you are looking for a fast and effective way to boost your energy levels and your ability to focus and perform well on tasks that require memory and attention, the combination of caffeine and l-theanine is a very useful nutritional tool. (We credit it for a large part of our unique JUMPSTART energy and mood effect.)

Related Posts: 
Benefits of the Adaptogen Rhodiola as a Vitality Tonic
Caffeine Can Offer a Myriad of Health Benefits
Are You Suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
What are the Best Vitamins for Energy?

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L-Theanine and Caffeine in Combination Affect Human Cognition as Evidenced by Oscillatory alpha-Band Activity and Attention Task Performance. Simon R. Kelly, et al. Journal of Nutrition. June 2015, 145.

Wakabayashi, C. et al. Behavioral and molecular evidence for psychotropic effects in L-theanine. Psychopharmacology (2011)

Higashiyama, A. et al. Effects of L-theanine on attention and reaction time response. Journal of Functional Foods (2011) 3, 171-178

Bryan, J. et al. Psychological effects of dietary components of tea: caffeine and L-theanine. Nutrition Reviews 66(2):82-90

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.

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