Caffeine is a natural stimulant. It offers a fantastic energy boost, one that many of us rely on daily. But, caffeine has its limitations too.
For some, caffeine makes them jittery and nervous. For others, the effects simply wear off too fast. Even if you tolerate caffeine well, it isn’t amazing for sustained focus or brain power.
That’s where L-theanine and caffeine come into play. This combination has become a popular choice and is even viewed as an introductory nootropic. So, what does this combination mean and how can you take advantage of it?
Combining L-Theanine and Caffeine
Caffeine needs no introduction. It is a key component of coffee and responsible for many of the benefits that coffee offers.
L-theanine is less well-known. It is an amino acid that we don’t often get from our diet. Instead, L-theanine is most often found in tea leaves, particularly green tea.
On its own, L-theanine has been linked to various benefits:
These effects occur through various mechanisms. For example, L-theanine is able to cross the blood-brain barrier (12). It also helps to promote GABA production. GABA is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in stress management (Dr. Axe offers more details about the role of GABA).
These patterns make L-theanine a relaxing compound, one that doesn’t cause sleepiness. So:
- Caffeine improves concentration and energy, but produces various side effects, like anxiety and an increased heart rate.
- L-Theanine promotes relaxation, decreasing anxiety and heart rate.
When the two are combined, the L-theanine helps to decrease some of the side effects of caffeine. This helps to sustainably improve concentration and focus.
L-theanine and caffeine produce better outcomes combined than either does independently
Research into the Combination
Combining these two compounds isn’t just a nice idea. Many different studies have found significant benefits from doing so.
For example, one study found that 50 mg of caffeine and 100 mg of L-theanine was able to improve accuracy and speed during an attention-switching task (15). Other studies have found similar benefits for cognitively demanding tasks (16).
Other cognitive benefits have been found as well, including:
There is also a thread on the site LongeCity that discusses the mechanisms behind these effects in more detail.
Studies highlight a range of benefits from combining caffeine with L-theanine
L-Theanine and Caffeine Side Effects
Caffeine has many side effects, particularly at higher doses. These include issues like anxiety, a rapid heartbeat, problems sleeping and cardiac arrhythmia.
In contrast, L-theanine isn’t associated with many side effects (24). As the site Nootriment highlights, green tea is a key source of the compound and has been in regular consumption for thousands of years.
While L-theanine does help to decrease the side effects of caffeine, you may still experience some of these.
The main side effects are simply those that you would find with caffeine
Taking Advantage of L-Theanine and Caffeine
It’s clear that L-theanine and caffeine work very well together. The next step is using them effectively.
The Best Dose
Most recommendations suggest you should have a 2:1 ratio of L-theanine to caffeine, such as 160 mg of L-theanine and 80 mg of caffeine.
- Some authors suggest keeping your caffeine levels under 400 mg each day, even if you have built up a caffeine tolerance.
- Others also suggest that you’ll want somewhere from 150 to 250 mg of L-theanine per day.
This typically means that you’ll need to supplement L-theanine. You’re unlikely to get enough from your diet alone. You might need to cut back your caffeine intake too.
Regardless, you should always be aware of your intake for both of these compounds. With multiple sources for each, this awareness is critical for maintaining the right ratio.
Having a different ratio of caffeine to L-theanine won’t prevent you from getting benefits. Instead, you won’t be obtaining the best possible outcomes.
In fact, research studies have used many different ratios and doses (25). This suggests you don’t have to follow the 2:1 ratio to see some benefits.
As such, one simple approach would be to drink coffee regularly and take an L-theanine supplement. This would help you get close to the desired ratio, without having to be too strict about your caffeine intake.
It’s also important to pay attention to your own responses. People’s bodies react differently, so the optimal dose for you may not be the same as for someone else.
Finding the Compounds
L-theanine and caffeine are both readily available, giving you multiple options to try this combination out.
- Coffee is the most common choice for caffeine, giving you access to the various health benefits that coffee offers. A cup of coffee often contains 100 mg of caffeine – although brewing methods influence this dramatically.
- Caffeine is also present in energy drinks. But, these contain various ingredients that you don’t want and are often high in sugar.
- There are various caffeine supplements on the market. These can be easy ways to increase your caffeine intake.
- Many other products contain caffeine too. The site Caffeine Informer is an excellent resource for finding out the caffeine content of various items.
- L-theanine is mostly found in green tea, although it is also present in black tea. You’ll often find around 20 to 22 mg of theanine per cup (26), although this depends on various factors.
- Gyokuro green tea has particularly high levels of L-theanine due to the way that it is cultivated (27).
- The compound is also found in the mushroom Bay Boletus but there are few other food sources.
- Supplements with L-theanine are common, although they’re typically more expensive than caffeine supplements.
There are also many supplements that contain both compounds, including the following:
It’s often best to start a new supplement at a low level and increase the dose over time. This gives you the chance to see how your body responds and any changes that occur over time.
The process is helpful for identifying any side effects, along with the benefits that you experience.
The ideal ratio of L-theanine to caffeine is 2:1 and there are many sources of the compounds.
L-Theanine, Caffeine and Nootropics
L-theanine and caffeine is part of a larger field, called nootropics. These are supplements that are focused on boosting your cognition, memory and mental function.
In some cases, a nootropic will contain a single compound. But, most of the time, you’ll see multiple ingredients.
The presence of multiple components is sometimes called a nootropic stack. Stacking works because the compounds interact with one another, creating a synergistic effect.
This means that you get more benefits with the compounds combined – than any of them would provide on their own.
Some stacks also contain other compounds, like B-vitamins or choline, which can help promote the effects of the nootropics. The site LifeHacker offers more details about how some of these function in practice.
How Caffeine and L-Theanine Compares
L-Theanine and caffeine is often considered an introductory nootropic.
The main reason is it is an inexpensive choice. You’ll often pay less than $20 for a month’s supply of combined caffeine and L-theanine supplements. This is much cheaper than most other nootropics.
There is also a large amount of research.
With the majority of nootropics, studies have focused on the components individually. For example, a product like Neuro-Peak contains six ingredients. There have been some studies linking these to cognitive benefits. But, there hasn’t been much (or any) research on a supplement with all six ingredients.
In contrast, there are many studies on caffeine and L-theanine together. This research also shows that the combination is safe and well-tolerated.
That being said, there are some limitations too.
- Your body will adapt to both caffeine and L-theanine, meaning the effects will decrease over time.
- This adaption is faster for L-theanine. As such, regular use may leave you feeling just the impacts of caffeine.
- The combination may not suit anyone who is highly sensitive to caffeine.
- Other nootropics might be more powerful and can target additional areas.
L-theanine and caffeine is an inexpensive introductory nootropic
L-theanine and caffeine is a well-researched combination that offers clear benefits to concentration and focus. This is an ideal way to decrease the side effects of caffeine (and coffee), while still giving you access to all the benefits.
While the ideal ratio is 2:1, simply taking an L-theanine supplement and drinking coffee daily may work well for many people. Alternatively, many supplements combine the two compounds.
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