Persistent fatigue or lack of energy affect as many as 45% of people in the United States. Therefore, supplements promising to increase energy are wildly popular. Studies show that 30% of people who use supplements do so to gain an energy boost.
Before self-treating, though, it’s important to make sure that energy levels aren’t depleted because of a health condition that would require interventions.
This article briefly discusses nine common supplements people take to increase energy and combat fatigue, side effects, and precautions to be aware of.
What Causes Low Energy?
Decreased energy and fatigue can result from the following:
Some common medications can also lower energy levels, including:
Remember that a supplement won’t cure a root cause of low energy, like sleep apnea. Work with your healthcare provider to determine what’s the cause of your fatigue.
What Supplements Increase Energy?
Many supplements are marketed as energy boosters. Here’s what you need to know about some popular supplements and whether they live up to the hype.
Keep in mind that energy and fatigue include physical aspects, like endurance and strength, as well as mental ones, like cognition.
Remedies to increase energy may improve either physical or mental symptoms or both.
Around 1% of U.S. males and 11% of U.S. females have low iron levels. A deficiency of iron can cause symptoms such as the following:
- Low endurance
- Restless legs
- Anemia (a reduction in hemoglobin, a component of red blood cells)
Iron is crucial for the transport of oxygen throughout the body. In iron-deficiency anemia, the muscles don’t get as much oxygen as they need. This lowers exercise endurance.
For most people, iron levels can be maintained through iron-rich foods like red meat. However, people with anemia will need iron supplements, which can be over-the-counter (OTC) or intravenously (through an IV) in a healthcare setting.
It’s unclear whether iron supplements benefit people who are low in iron but don’t have anemia. A review of 18 trials concluded that iron improved feelings of fatigue in adults without anemia but didn’t impact any physical markers of exercise ability.
Iron’s main side effects involve the gastrointestinal system, including nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.
Protein supports muscles, bones, and the nervous system. It’s also crucial for physical performance as people age.
The average person needs around 0.8 grams (g) of protein per kilogram (g) of body weight (g/kg) daily. Typically, this is obtained through the food you eat.
However, athletes may need almost twice this amount (up to 1.5 g/kg body weight) in order to meet their energy needs.
A small study of 60 healthy adults showed that protein supplementation for 90 days reduced periods of low energy by 25% compared to placebo (an ineffective substance). People who took protein also had improvements in exercise performance.
Still, there’s not much data on long-term protein supplementation, and it’s not warranted for most people. Generally, getting protein from your diet is better than from nutritional supplements when possible.
Protein powders are known to cause dehydration and stomach problems like nausea and constipation. More serious side effects of protein, especially at high doses, include:
People with kidney conditions should speak to their healthcare provider before changing their protein intake.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is needed for DNA production and energy in your body’s cells. It’s also required for oxygen transport.
Low levels of B12 are associated with symptoms like the following:
Supplementation is needed for people with low levels of B12. However, there’s not enough evidence to recommend it for the general population who get adequate B12 through the diet.
Also, high levels of B12 may be associated with an increased risk of hip fractures and lung cancer.
Other B Vitamins
Along with vitamin B12, most other B vitamins are important for energy production in your body’s cells.
B vitamins that may help combat fatigue include the following:
Low levels of these vitamins can cause conditions like the following:
These conditions are each characterized by weakness and fatigue.
A review of seven clinical trials found that supplementing with high doses of B vitamins was associated with improvements in the following:
- Self-reported energy levels
- Mental health
Creatine is a popular supplement used by athletes to build muscle and enhance exercise performance. Creatine provides energy to cells in the muscles.
It is made in the body, and levels can be boosted through the diet (for instance, with red meat and fish) or by taking supplements. Most people need between 2 and 3 g of creatine a day.
Creatine is likely beneficial for short bursts of high-intensity exercise.
It can also improve symptoms of mental fatigue and enhance memory and cognition.
Some research suggests it could benefit people with chronic fatigue syndrome or long COVID, but more research is needed.
Tyrosine is an amino acid that is made into chemical messengers called dopamine and norepinephrine in the body. These messengers may fight fatigue.
Tyrosine is available as a dietary supplement. It’s also found in lots of foods, including the following:
- Dairy products
- Whole grains
Tyrosine did not appear to improve physical performance, according to a review. However, the authors suggested it may benefit mental performance during high-stress situations.
In a human study, a single dose of tyrosine improved cognitive function in the short term.
Selenium is a micronutrient found in foods like meats and fish. It’s also available as a dietary supplement, though getting it from the diet is more effective in raising levels.
Adults typically need 55 micrograms (mcg) daily, and requirements increase during pregnancy and lactation.
Selenium is highly concentrated in the thyroid gland. It’s involved in the production and breakdown of thyroid hormones. Adequate levels of selenium in the body are needed for healthy thyroid function and to prevent thyroid disorders. If your fatigue is associated with a thyroid condition, selenium could be a helpful add-on.
Remember that high amounts of selenium (above 400 mcg a day) can cause toxicity. Some symptoms of toxicity include the following:
Ingredients commonly found in tea, like amino acid L-theanine and stimulant caffeine, may help combat fatigue.
A small study of 44 young adults showed that tea containing caffeine and L-theanine can improve symptoms associated with low energy levels, such as the following:
- Accuracy performing tasks
Caffeine’s effects are increased by taking it in combination with L-theanine.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant that protects the brain and reduces inflammation.
The jury is mixed on CoQ10’s effects on energy levels, and benefits may vary.
Trials show that taking at least 300 mg daily may help people with fibromyalgia. It’s also been studied for chronic fatigue syndrome, but with mixed results. While one study reported improved energy levels for those who took CoQ10, another did not.
For those without underlying conditions, CoQ10 may or may not increase energy. More research is needed to know for sure.
Dietary supplements are not regulated the same way as drugs in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. Choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab.com, or NSF.org, whenever possible.
However, even if supplements are third-party tested, they are not necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and ask about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.
Other Treatments for Low Energy
Treatment for low energy will vary depending on the cause and may include wellness activities like the following:
Some supplements may help improve energy levels and combat fatigue. Before self-treating, though, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider to rule out any underlying issues that could be depleting your energy. If a root cause of fatigue like apnea or a vitamin deficiency isn’t corrected, supplements are unlikely to work.
Frequently Asked Questions
What supplements help with energy and fatigue?
Many supplements are marketed for these indications, sometimes without much scientific evidence to support them. Some supplements that have been studied include B vitamins, creatine, iron, selenium, tyrosine, and protein.
Are there side effects from supplements that boost energy?
Adverse effects are possible with any medication, including vitamins and supplements.
Side effects of supplements that people use for energy vary. Some, like creatine, are unlikely to cause serious side effects when used correctly.Others, like protein, may cause serious side effects, particularly when used at high doses.
Because the FDA does not regulate supplements in the same way it does for drugs, supplements typically do not undergo rigorous testing like prescription medications do. This means that often not much is know a lot about the possible side effects of supplements, especially when they are used long-term.
Discuss supplement use with your healthcare provider to optimize safety.
How quickly do supplements for energy start working?
The time it takes to see the effect of these supplements can vary.
Caffeine, for instance, is quick-acting. Maximum results are typically seen within 30 to 60 minutes.
CoQ10 does not act as quickly and may take eight weeks to see effects.