Choline is an essential vitamin-like nutrient that plays a significant role in the health and function of cell membranes. It also serves as the “backbone” of one of the most important neurotransmitters in the body -- acetylcholine.
Today, we take a deep dive into all things acetylcholine -- what it is, what it does, and how it can benefit your performance, both mentally and physically. But first, let’s find out a little bit more about the foundation of acetylcholine.
What is Choline and What Does It Do?
As we just mentioned, choline is a nutrient that is vital to the proper functioning of many systems in the body, including the liver, skeletal muscle tissue, and brain.
It also serves an important role in cellular structure as as choline is used to create phosphatidylcholine, a phospholipid that supports the structural integrity of each cell membrane.
Equally important is the role choline serves as the backbone for the “learning neurotransmitter” -- acetylcholine.
As you can guess from its telling moniker, acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is most often associated with learning, but that’s not all. Acetylcholine also plays a role in memory, muscle control, and cognitive function.
This versatile neurotransmitter also plays an integral role in workout performance due to its impact on the mind-muscle connection.
Basically, acetylcholine is important to helping you perform to the best of your abilities, both mentally and physically.
Despite the importance that choline plays in our health and performance, research indicates that only around 10% of the population consume enough choline each and every day.[3,4]
And, while the human body can synthesize a smidgen of choline (through a process called de novo biosynthesis where phosphatidylethanolamine is methylated to phosphatidylcholine), it’s not really enough to keep up with the demands required for health or optimal cognitive and neuromuscular performance.[5,14]
This is why research has shown that when healthy men and women are deprived of dietary choline they demonstrate signs of fatty liver or muscle damage.
Furthermore, research published in The Journal of Nutrition as well as the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism have both noted that previous recommendations for daily choline intake are insufficient for most individuals, which means that you probably need more choline than you think, especially if you are a highly active individual or use choline-depleting nootropics such as racetams or noopept.[6,7].
In case you weren’t aware racetams and noopept are nootropics that upregulate acetylcholine activity in the body, do not provide any of the substrates (acetyl-CoA or choline) required to synthesize the neurotransmitter.
Overuse of these nootropics without replenishing the building blocks of acetylcholine can decrease hippocampal levels of acetylcholine and potentially lead to headaches and/or brain fog.
This begets the question -- where can you find choline in the diet?
Dietary Sources of Choline
The good news regarding choline is that it’s pretty easy to find in the diet.
The top five choline-containing foods, according to the NIH, are:
- Beef Liver (3 oz., cooked) – 356 mg choline (65% Daily Value)
- 1 Egg – 147 mg choline (27% DV)
- Beef Top Round (3 oz., cooked) – 117 mg choline (21% DV)
- Soy beans (1/2 cup, roasted) – 107 mg choline (19% DV)
- Chicken Breast (3 oz., roasted) – 72 mg choline (13% DV)
Despite the relative ease with which choline can be had through food alone, many individuals choose to supplement with choline to ensure they have sufficient amounts of this vital nutrient.
However, choosing the best choline supplement on the market isn’t always the easiest thing to do amidst the endless streams of ads, propaganda, and hype.
Let’s now take a look at the different forms of choline supplements and detail the differences between each.
What Are the Different Forms of Choline Supplements?
Choline bitartrate is the most widely available form of choline supplement on the market due to the fact that it is one of the cheaper forms. It contains 41% choline by weight, which is a fairly sizeable amount of choline for the price.
The problem with choline bitartrate is that while it can be effective for increasing plasma levels of choline in the body, it does not readily cross the blood-brain barrier, which is why studies in healthy humans find little cognitive benefit to supplementing with choline bitartrate, even when using doses as high as 2.5 grams per day.
Basically, choline bitartrate may be beneficial for those looking to ensure adequate dietary choline levels, but for those looking to optimize mental performance, the bitartrate form doesn’t pass the test.
The next form of choline supplement you’ll encounter is Cytidine 5′-diphosphocholine (CDP-Choline), or CDP-choline for short. If this choline-containing molecule sounds familiar, it should as it’s featured in our high-powered nootropic and productivity supplement, NootropiMax.
CDP-Choline contains between 18-19% choline by weight, meaning it contains less choline per gram than choline bitartrate, but as the saying goes, “size isn’t everything.” While CDP-choline may carry less total choline, the choline that it does provide readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, meaning you get a bigger nootropic “punch” from CDP-choline than you do choline bitartrate.
As an added bonus, CDP-choline also supplies cytidine -- a precursor to another neurotransmitter -- uridine -- which plays a role in synaptic strength and neural connectivity.
This powerful 2-for-1 nootropic supports three key benefits to biohackers and productivity fiends:
- Synthesizes neurotransmitters -- CDP-choline promotes acetylcholine production and potentiates dopamine release, boosting memory, learning, motivation, and focus
- Encourages synaptogenesis – uridine promotes the creation of neural synapses and may also combat certain neurodegenerative conditions
- Boosts ATP and Phosphocreatine – magnetic resonance spectrospocy has shown that CDP-choline supplementation can increase ATP levels (14%) AND phosphocreatine stores by (7%).
Together, this makes CDP-choline one of the top two forms of supplemental choline, consumers can purchase with everyone from students to athletes to gamers garnering benefit from its use.
What’s the other top form of supplemental form of choline on the market?
Short for alpha-glycerophosphocholine, Alpha-GPC is another highly-bioavailable and well-studied form of choline. It packs about twice as much choline by weight as CDP-choline, containing 40% choline by weight and has been noted to enhance acetylcholine production as well as cell membrane phosopholipids.
Similar to CDP-Choline, alpha-gpc may also increase the release of dopamine and calcium, paying dividends not only for learning, memory, and focus but also motivation and motor control (two things heavily impacted by dopamine).
And, again like CDP-choline, alpha-gpc is being heavily investigated for its role in helping to enhance cognition and combat neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s.
Now, where Alpha-GPC really starts to separate itself among the various choline supplements is in the area of exercise performance as it is the only choline-donor with studies conducted in humans noting significant improvements in performance.
Let’s now take a closer look at how Alpha-GPC impacts performance, both mentally and physically.
Benefits of Alpha-GPC Supplementation
Improves Athletic Performance
Catch any athlete in a moment of brutal honesty and they will concede that despite their current stats, they’d all like to be a little bigger, stronger, faster, and more explosive.
It just so happens that alpha-gpc first gained prominence in sports nutrition on the back of a study that showed supplementing with it could power output by 14%.
Subsequent research found that using 600mg alpha-GPC could lead to improvements in strength and lower body force production (as assessed by isometric mid-thigh pulls).
Most recently, a 2017 study compared two separate doses of Alpha-GPC (250mg and 500 mg) against caffeine and placebo controls, and its effects on countermovement jump performance, isometric strength, and psychomotor function.
To the surprise of researchers (and supplement nuts around the globe), the 250mg dose of Alpha-GPC was most effective at increasing power and velocity compared to placebo.
Combats Cognitive Decline
As we age, everything (testosterone, body composition, cognitive function, etc.) tends to go to hell in a handbasket.
While alpha-gpc might not be able to do much for libido or declining testosterone levels (that research has shown at least), it may be able to help ward off cognitive decline.
Human research has found that high dosing Alpha-GPC to the tune of 1,200mg per day (400mg 3x per day) may help reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Additional research notes that high dose alpha-GPC may improve mental recovery following ischemic stroke.
The manner in which alpha-gpc appears to be staving off cognitive decline is two-fold:
Alpha-GPC enhances acetylcholine signaling, which is decreased in dementia and Alzheimer’s. Since alpha-gpc can deliver extra choline to the brain, it helps alleviate the rate of cholinergic activity decline.
- Alpha-GPC promotes synthesis of phosphatidylcholine (a structural piece of cellular membranes) via its glycerophosphate component which may help neurons to repair themselves and remain structurally sound.
Boosts Growth Hormone….not quite
One of the other “big” benefits you’ll see bandied about alpha-gpc is its ability to enhance growth hormone levels in the body. A few studies have shown that doses ranging between 600-1,000mg of Alpha-GPC have led to “significant” increases in both growth hormone and fat oxidation.
And, while these findings make for great ad copy (and subsequently sales), in terms of tangible effects for the consumer, these “significant” statistical increases do not yield significant benefits in the real world.
The reason for this is that these spikes in growth hormone are transient (short-lived), which means they will do little to impact the rate of muscle building or fat loss for Joe SupplementConsumer.
In order to see significant benefit from increases to growth hormone, they would need to last 24/7 and reach supraphysiological levels akin to what you’d experience running a course of “special sports supplements.”
Furthermore, alpha-GPC isn’t the first supplement to increase post-exercise growth hormone secretion. Ingredients such as Arginine, L-citrulline, and even the “king” of bodybuilding supplements, creatine, have been found to boost growth hormone levels, but again none lead to profound gains in size, strength, or fat loss.[25,26,27]
In the end, alpha-gpc may have some impact on growth hormone levels, but the effects are not long-lasting enough to have any meaningful impact on your results from training.
Which Form of Choline Should I Choose?
Ultimately, that decision falls to you and which application you intend to use your choline supplement for. When seeking to optimize mental performance and productivity, both CDP-choline and Alpha-GPC are up to the task, which is why we’ve included CDP-Choline in NootropiMax.
However, if you’re looking to improve performance in the gym or on the field of competition, you’ll want to go for Alpha-GPC as it’s the only form of choline supplement shown to enhance exercise performance in humans.
That’s why we’ve included 300mg Alpha-GPC (as AlphaZone) in every serving of our stim-free pump pre workout VasoMax.
What is AlphaZone?
AlphaZone is the first fully stable alpha-gpc supplement on the market.
Other forms of Alpha-GPC currently used in powders are highly hygroscopic (meaning they attract a lot of water), which inevitably leads to clumping and causing consumers to either take a chisel to their clumped tub of pre workout or chuck the whole thing in the trash.
Due to the unique process Pinnacle Ingredients uses to create AlphaZone Alpha-GPC, it is now possible to include efficacious dosages of the nootropic without having to worry about clumping, spoilage, or any other issue that’s plagued both formulators and consumers when it comes to alpha-gpc.
Choline is an essential nutrient that is vital to cognitive development and function. It also plays a key role in establishing a robust mind-muscle connection during training. Choline can easily be obtained through the diet, yet the vast majority of the population remains deficient in it.
As such, choline supplements are becoming more and more popular. Of all the options available, the two that offer the greatest bang for the buck are CDP-Choline and AlphaZone Alpha-GPC.
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