Developing A Rational Approach To Supplementation For Health & Performance| Huberman Lab

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Key Takeaways

  • “Behavioral tools form the foundational layer of all tools for mental health, physical health, and performance. Second to that, the next layer is nutrition. No amount of supplementation or non-prescription or prescription compounds can ever compensate for poor nutrition.” – Dr. Andrew Huberman
    • Nutrition is fundamentally important for obtaining basic nutrients, micro-, and macronutrients – supplements should be used to augment or support behavioral tools and nutrition
  • General approach to vitamin & mineral supplements: (1) is the cost within the range you can afford and want to pay; (2) are you able to cover needs just from food (you want most food to come from minimally or non-processed foods)
  • Three questions to ask yourself before starting supplementation: (1) how’s your sleep? (2) how’s your nutrition? (3) what’s your budget?
  • Unless you are supplementing for foundational support (vitamins, minerals, foundational compounds, adaptogens, probiotics, prebiotics), focus on single-ingredient formulated supplements for the most power and control overdose
  • Don’t try everything at once when trying to address a specific problem! Instead, try one supplement for one week (without varying anything else) than the other to see which works best for you – then see how well the combination works
  • Important note for women seeking fertility and hormone support: depending on the phase of your menstrual cycle, supplements will impact you differently since hormones are naturally fluctuating – it’s critical (for everyone, not just women) to take single-ingredient supplements so you can dose accordingly
  • If the budget is around $100 per month: don’t focus on trying to improve one specific area or category; instead, focus on buffering and enhancing foundational nutrition, adaptogens, probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes – check out Athletic greens


Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His lab focuses on neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, and brain states such as stress, focus, fear, and optimal performance.

In this episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast, Andrew Huberman provides a framework for thinking about supplements and explains how to design a supplementation protocol to support optimal mental and physical health and performance depending on your specific needs, nutrition, lifestyle, and finances. 

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

Defining Supplementation

  • Supplements: non-prescription compounds designed to augment nutrition, prescription drugs, and behavioral protocols
  • 20 years ago the conversation about supplements was much more niche than today
  • Foundational supplements: designed to establish a foundation or provide insurance (along with nutrition) to make sure you’re getting the intake you need for a basic level of physical health, mental health, and opportunity to optimize performance
    • Includes vitamins, minerals, foundational compounds, adaptogens, probiotics, prebiotics
    • Contain vitamins and minerals to compensate for lack of completeness in the diet
    • This is the one area of supplementation it’s advantageous to have a few ingredients in a supplement – for other categories, single-ingredient formulations are superior
    • Best place to start! Most benefit by cost and in terms of systems to allow you to feel better overall
  • Adaptogens: thought to improve the body and brain’s ability to buffer against various stressors (e.g., ashwagandha)
    • Micronutrients, herbs, and non-psychedelic mushrooms provide buffering to the stress system by acting on cortisol, and enhancing blood flow to the brain
    • It is difficult to get adaptogens from foods
  • Probiotics & prebiotics: support the health of gut microbiome (the refrigerated version, not shelf)
    • Extended use of pre- and probiotic supplements may cause brain fog and other negative side effects – focus on intake through food
  • Skeptics: supplements just give you expensive urine
    • Most people will excrete water-soluble vitamins and retain fat-soluble vitamins
  • The best time to take a vitamin and mineral supplement is with food

Approaching Supplementation For Sleep

  • Sleep is the foundation of physical health, mental health, and performance
  • Minimal sleep, broken sleep, and poor sleep timing will cause you to suffer mentally, cognitively, and physically
  • Sleeping well 80% of the time or more will allow mental and physical health to thrive
  • Ask yourself: how well and how deeply you sleep through the night, how well you wake up
    • Naps can disrupt sleep unless you can still sleep at night with no issue
  • Behavioral tools to try correcting sleep first: don’t ingest caffeine after 2 pm, avoid food within 2 hours prior to bedtime (but don’t be hungry when you go to bed)
  • If you fall asleep fine but wake up in the middle of the night: consider myoinositol
  • If you have trouble falling asleep: (1) try Magnesium Threonate or Glycinate, 145mg, 30-60 minutes before sleep; (2) Apigenin: 50mg daily, 30-60 minutes before sleep; Theanine: 100-400mg, 30-60 minutes before sleep
    • Try one supplement for one week (without varying anything else) than the other to see which works best for you – then see how well the combination works  
    • Tip: 5% of people have stomach issues with this form of magnesium, so be careful when starting
    • Tip: Do NOT take Theanine if you are prone to night terrors or sleepwalking
  • Do NOT use melatonin – it’s an endogenous hormone and over-the-counter doses are way too high for the body, especially for kids or chronic use
    • If you must, only use it on occasion for jet lag or similar situations
    • Melatonin in kids can be especially harmful – avoid it until at least after puberty unless your physician specifically indicates it medically necessary
  • Sleep supplements don’t induce dependence like sleeping pills – but any compound can create a placebo-like effect that makes you feel like you need it/them to sleep
    • Every 2-4 weeks try to take one night off to explore your real or placebo-based dependency

Improving & Optimizing Hormones With Supplementation

  • Behavioral tools to try first: (1) adequate calories from high-quality sources will help regular estrogen and testosterone; (2) morning sunlight will help regulate cortisol levels; (3) strenuous exercise (both cardio and strength training) will alter hormone profiles
  • Two categories of supplements for hormone optimization: (1) broadband support for multiple hormones; (2) supplements designed to increase/decrease specific hormone pathways
  • Broadband supplements
    • Shilajit: pro-fertility ayurvedic medicine supplement increases follicle stimulating hormone which will increase egg growth and fertility in women; more motile sperm in males  
    • Ashwagandha: reduces cortisol levels, has been shown to increase testosterone indirectly – don’t take for more than 2 weeks at a time in high dosages
    • L-carnitine: pro-fertility hormone; can improve sperm motility, egg quality
      • Dose 1000mg-5000mg for oral and 500mg-2000mg for injectable
      • TMAO will increase with chronic use and have adverse effects on the heart (offset with 600mg of garlic or berberine)
    • Maca root can improve libido through the augmentation of dopamine-related pathways
  • Specific hormone pathway supplements
    • Growth hormone: behavioral tools are really the best way to optimize growth hormone – get quality deep sleep, avoid food 2 hrs+ before sleep, intermittent fasting, exercise; some indications that arginine or peptides may help
    • Fadogia acrastis (shrub from Nigeria): stimulates luteinizing hormone and can increase testosterone and estrogen by stimulating luteinizing hormone release and receptor sensitivity – but there’s not a lot of evidence supporting long term use; dose 300mg per day, 600mg every other day, or cycle 600mg daily for one month then take 1-2 weeks off
      • Be vigilant about cycling and dosing to avoid toxicity if not monitoring bloodwork (best route)
    • Tongkat Ali (from Indonesia) regimen: upregulates enzymes in sterol hormone cascade (300-1200mg per day) – suitable for men and women, start low and dose up depending on body weight
      • Especially powerful if you are on a low carb diet
      • Can increase DHEA and can decrease high SHBG
      • Bloodwork 8-12 weeks, can take longer to see effects
  • A note for women: depending on the phase of your menstrual cycle, supplements will impact you differently since hormones are naturally fluctuating – it’s critical to take single-ingredient supplements so you can dose accordingly
  • Not seeing results? If you start with high testosterone and free testosterone, you may not see as much of an increase (ceiling effect) as someone with midlevel or lower  

Supplementation For Cognitive Enhancement And Focus

  • Behavioral tools to enhance focus: the best cognitive enhancer is a good night of sleep! Also be mindful of food intake – don’t overload with calories or enter an activity hungry
  • Supplements that increase energy through stimulant properties
    • Caffeine: dose 1-3mg/kg bodyweight taken 30 minutes before mental or physical endeavor; don’t take after 2pm
      • Try taking 2 days off and then taking them before a particularly challenging event and it will impact you more
      • Coffee, yerba mate (non-smoked varieties)
      • Caffeine in pill form is much more potent than in coffee or tea
    • Alpha-GPC: more acetylcholine is synthesized after ingesting; a dose of 300mg prior to workouts or work bouts – 10-20 minutes prior to when it’s needed
    • L-tyrosine (500mg early in the day) leads to an increase in dopamine and can improve focus but dosing is difficult to dial in
      • Some people tend to crash hard after L-tyrosine use so use it with caution
  • Omega-3 fatty acids can be incorporated into pathways or cell membranes, changing the way they work – you can get a good amount of omegas through food but be intentional about the source (check out the previous episode with Rhonda Patrick and protein discussion with Lanye Norton)
    • Ingesting 1-3g of EPA in a capsule or liquid can enhance focus or cognitive ability

Supporting Health Through Nutrition

  • You can get digestive enzymes from food sources such as pineapple or papaya
  • Two categories of foods to support gut microbiome health and diversity: (1) low-sugar fermented foods (e.g., sauerkraut, kimchi, Greek yogurt, kombucha, kefir, etc.); (2) Prebiotic fiber may support gut microbiome health in some but not as effective as 4 servings of fermented foods
    • Ingesting four servings per day greatly improves the function of the gut microbiome, enhances the immune system, and reduces inflammation in the brain and body
    • Need fermented foods from the refrigerated section, not the middle of the store
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