*Edit: A new fact has come to light that affects the contents of this post. It seems that with new FDA regulations regarding product labeling comes new rules about the labeling of Choline on the facts panel. I have it reported down below that it was odd that Choline was listed above the heavy bar on the facts panel when usually it is below. It seems that the FDA wants choline listed as necessary vitamin/mineral due to it being uncommon in the food supply. This means that this portion of the “Vitamins/Minerals” section should be disregarded.
Can you imagine? “Take one scoop of this awesome product and you’ll game better than ever before!” Sounds like a pretty great deal. More and more products these days are making claims about being able to help gamers in their pursuit to become the best they can be. Generally these products focus on two main sets of ingredients: stimulants such as caffeine, and nootropics, ingredients focused on improving cognitive function.
There is no doubt that taking caffeine before a gaming session will improve a gamers state of mind. High-speed games like first person shooter titles require hundreds of micro-decisions per minute and this kind of brain activity can grow tiresome, but many gamers cannot call it quits simply because they are tired. Professional gamers, for example, must practice many hours per day in order to keep their skills high and their organizations happy. Another example would be game live-streamers. It is not uncommon for streamers to want to keep their feed live from 4–8 hours per day and beyond. For extended game sessions such as this, a little caffeine can go a long way in improving how the gamer feels towards the tail-end of these long periods in front of a screen.
Then there are nootropics. These ingredients first became popular thanks to Silicon Valley programmers due to the long hours spent trying to make it big in the tech industry. The idea behind many of these ingredients is to act as agents to increase the amount of neurotransmitters (mainly acetylcholine) in the brain and body. In theory, increasing the availability of acetylcholine (ACh) will allow for faster, more efficient transmission of neural signals, allowing for faster reflexes and better decision making; both naturally desirable outcomes for gamers. This increase in available neurotransmitters is achieved through two main avenues. The first is by increasing the concentration of the molecules used to create ACh. More building blocks leads to more product. The second method is to decrease the activity of the enzymes used to break down ACh. Generally these enzymes are very active so that nerves are not over stimulated and they break down ACh very quickly and efficiently. Decreasing this activity allows the neurotransmitters to act longer and cause greater effect in their time within the nerve synapse.
One very popular product within this “gamer supplement” space that I have been asked about on multiple occasions is called GFuel (www.gfuel.com). Made by the sport nutrition company Gamma Labs, Gfuel contains vitamins, minerals, nootropics and some stimulants as well as a number of other ingredients that can be confusing or unfamiliar to many consumers as a part of three main “complexes” that are proprietary blends, and thus slightly inaccessible for scrutiny. The purpose of this post is to look at this product, break down the ingredients that are in it, and try to elucidate the effectiveness and/or safety of these complexes.
This section will be short and sweet because there are only really two things that I see that seem slightly abnormal (see facts panel below). The first is fairly obvious in that the product contains 425 micrograms of vitamin B12 which comes out to a whopping 17,708% of the daily recommended intake set by the FDA. While this may seem like a scary high number, vitamin B12 is highly water soluble, thus any that your body doesn’t use or need will simply be removed by your kidneys and excreted in urine without issue. B12 plays an important role in metabolic processes but I’m curious about why this mega dose of the vitamin was chosen. The second curious part of this section (the top half above the heavy bar) of the facts panel is the inclusion of choline. Generally choline is not seen as a vitamin or mineral, and thus, is typically listed below this heavy bar according to FDA labeling regulations.* This is by no means a safety or efficacy issue, but seeing as choline bitartrate is commonly used as a nootropic, it’s odd that they decided to list it with the vitamins and minerals instead of as a part of the “Focus Complex”.
One of my biggest complaints about this product is the fact that we simply don’t know how much of each of the ingredients listed are in the product. Thankfully we are given the dose of caffeine per serving (150mg) but beyond that, these complexes are mostly a mystery. One thing we can surmise, at least within this complex, is the relative amounts of some of the ingredients. The total amount of this energy complex per serving is 1.85g, or 1850mg. We also know that, according to FDA label regulations, ingredients have to be listed in descending order of weight per serving. This means that both Taurine and L-Citrulline Malate are present in amounts greater than 150mg and the other ingredients within the blend are at doses of less than 150mg.
Taurine is one of those ingredients that has always perplexed me. It is a non-structural amino acid, meaning that it shares many characteristics with the amino acids used to build protein, but itself is not used as a building block. Taurine was first made popular by large energy drinks such as Monster and Rockstar. This is interesting because it does not play a meaningful role any of our energy systems and I have not ever been able to find research about how it leads to improved feelings of alertness in any way. In the end, the ingredient is perfectly safe, but I have never been able to figure out if, how, or why it may work in an energy product.
Citrulline Malate is an extremely common ingredient used in sport nutrition supplements to help improve blood flow during exercise through stimulation of the nitric oxide system. Citrulline is converted to arginine, arginine activates and enzyme called nitric oxide synthase, nitric oxide synthase creates more nitric oxide, nitric oxide causes blood vessels to relax and expand, the expansion allows for more blood to flow. In theory. The problem is that we know through some math that there is somewhere between 150–900mg of the ingredient in this product. The reason this is a problem is that all of the clinical research showing the efficacy of citrulline look at doses ranging from 3–8grams per serving. Since the maximum possible dose per serving in Gfuel is less than a third of the lowest studied dose, I’m skeptical to think that this ingredient is effective in any way.
As for the other ingredients in this complex, I’ll go a little quicker. Glucoronolactone is a very unstudied and unproven ingredient found in many energy drinks. Even after working in the business for more than a year, I still haven’t found a mechanism for this ingredient. N-Acetyl L-Carnitine is an acetylated form of carnitine, a protein used to shuttle fats into mitochondria. Usually used in weight loss supplements, it has been shown to help improve brain function, but at doses about 15–20x the probable dose in this product. Velvet Bean extract is rich in an active called L-dopa which is the prerequisite to dopamine. This is another neurotransmitter that could potentially improve mood, but again, the dose is drastically lower than studied effective doses.
The next blend included in Gfuel is the Focus Complex, the ingredients of which, are mainly focused on increasing the availability of neurotransmitters in the brain. Again we are dealing with a proprietary blend so we do not know exactly the doses of each individual ingredient. Only that the total dose of the product in 1g and that the ingredients are listed in descending order (most likely).
Both L-Tyrosine and N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine serve the same function. Again we are seeing an acetylated molecule and this allows for better, quicker absorption in the gut. The purpose of having two forms may be a sort of timed-release strategy. Tyrosine is most likely included due to its role in the creation of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine. In theory, putting your body under stress depletes these neurotransmitters at a greater rate, causing stress. Supplementing with a prerequisite ingredient allows your body to stay ahead of the stress curve and maintain peak performance. Once again, however, we see a major discrepancy in dose. Many tyrosine clinical trials focus on the consumption of anywhere from 10–13 grams (specifically 150mg/kg body weight) of the ingredient before putting the body under physical stress.
One of the more “science-y” ingredients on the list is the Adenosine-5 Triphosphate Disodium Salt. This is the long-winded way of writing ATP and I think many of us have heard of ATP and its near-infinite uses for energy, muscle contraction, cell signaling, enzyme activation, membrane protein activation, and more within the body. Consuming this ingredient isn’t dangerous in any way at these doses. My worry is making sure that the ATP makes it from your gut where it is absorbed into the brain where it is supposedly being used due to the high energy demand of gaming. What’s to stop this ingredient from be utilized by the billions of cells that it will pass on its way up?
Toothed Clubmoss is an interesting ingredient that is actually currently being studied in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The active ingredient in this extract is called Huperzine. Huperzine has been found to have what are called actylcholinesterase inhibiting functions. That means that it takes the enzymes that usually break down acetylcholine and blocks them. This allows acetylcholine to remain in higher concentrations and exert greater effects within the body and mind. Huperzine has been studied in healthy populations and found to have significant effect on memory and test-taking abilities under stress in college-aged students. The dose of this ingredient is generally 50mg at a 1% extraction standard, meaning that at this dose, you would get 50 micrograms of huperzine which is the studied dose.
Finally there is Bacopa Leaf. There is actually a great deal of research on Bacopa leaf and its ability to improve short term and working memory compared to placebo groups over the course of 10–15 weeks. The active ingredients in bacopa are a group of molecules called bacopasides, but again, we don’t know how much the consumer is getting with each scoop. Generally, it is considered standard to take 300–400mg of bacopa extract every day for a couple months before any changes are seen. I like bacopa in that the research on it is good and promising, it’s just that it does not yield an acute improvement like other ingredients. The changes seen from bacopa are observed over the course of many weeks, and generally this makes it a hard sell in a product that is supposed to exert its effects in the 20–30 minutes before game time.
While it has the longest list of ingredients, there seems to be less to say about the this mix than the others. Looking through the different powders, they all seem to be contributing to one main goal and that is the neutralizing of oxidative species that are created by our metabolism every day. I wouldn’t expect to see any ergogenic benefit from this complex, i.e. you wont aim any better, or make decisions any faster. Adding some antioxidants to your diet, however, isn’t usually a bad idea. They’re generally healthy, and it’s possible that other good active molecules may be coming from the fruit and veggie extracts provided as well. I see these sometimes on products like this, and to me, it feels slightly out of place. If I am a gamer, and I am taking a product to game better, I’m not sure why 163.5mg of my scoop was taken up by a long list of ingredients that wont contribute to that goal. Just my two cents.
So there you have it. Overall, there are a lot of good things about this product but also some questionable decisions in the formulation. I like that they were conservative with their caffeine. It is not uncommon to see 2x the dose of caffeine in other similar products and I think that going under is better in this case. I do like the inclusion of the Huperzine from the Toothed Clubmoss, but I’ll just have to hope that it is the right dose. Most of the issues that I have with this product stem from two things: the dosing of many of the ingredients is below what I would consider to be an “effective” dose so their inclusion is arbitrary. Also, the fact that Gfuel doesn’t feel the need to list out their doses, but instead use proprietary blends feels misleading to me. The doses that these ingredients should be at is no secret. Also, I rarely if ever see companies blatantly rip off full formulas. In the age of internet, trying to get away with such a thing would be near impossible.
I hope that after reading this, you feel like you have a better idea of what Gfuel is all about. There is no doubt that it’s popular. Millions of followers on twitter and many more millions of dollars in sales don’t lie. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that they have had great success in making delicious flavors out of their products and I have found this to sometimes be more important than the active ingredient formulation! Let me know what you think about Gfuel or other gaming products. If there is interest, I can do similar breakdowns of other brands in the future. Let me know on social media!
*The opinions stated in this article are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.