DMMA (dimethylamylamine) is a stimulant that has been a common ingredient in a number of the most popular pre-workout supplements to have hit the market. It is also commonly referred to as methylhexaneamine, geranium extract and geranimine.
While no causal link between DMAA use and serious health risks has been established to date, its safety was recently called into question following the deaths of two US soldiers who suffered fatal heart attacks and were “incidentally” found to have had DMAA in their bloodstreams.
Subsequently momentum behind the removal of DMAA from the supplement market has begun to snowball. Many retailers have pulled products containing this substance from shelves and industry regulators, including the FDA in the United States and the United Kingdom Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have instructed sports nutrition and supplement manufacturers to cease selling products containing the controversial ingredient.
Another camp adding fuel to the anti-DMAA fire is the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA), which put the ingredient on its prohibited list back in 2009. WADA is however less interested in the safety profile of DMAA, but more interested in whether or not it’s fit for use in sport. With DMAA’s chemical structure being very similar to amphetamine, the consensus is that it is very clearly a stimulant and thus the reason for its prohibition in sporting disciplines adhering to WADA’s anti-doping code. Unfortunately, since its prohibition, DMAA has been the focus of dozens of doping scandals worldwide, affecting athletes of all disciplines from countries as diverse as Jamaica, England, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Greece, India and Australia. Some of these unfortunate athletes include the Commonwealth Games women’s 100m champion, Damola Osayemi, who was stripped of her gold medal, as well as a dozen Indian athletes, nine Australian athletes and, more recently, two Springbok rugby players, Bjorn Basson and Chilliboy Ralepelle. Fortunately for many of these athletes, because of the ingredient’s ‘omnipresence’ in sports supplements worldwide they have been able to defend the presence of the substance in their systems on inadvertent ingestion, which carries a more lenient penalty.
All of these factors have led to the next evolution of pre-workout supplements as part of the post-DMAA era. Most pre-workout supplement manufacturers are now in search of new natural stimulants to replace this contentious ingredient.
Fortunately for consumers of pre-workout intensity-boosting supplements, the sports and performance nutrition industry is a dynamic one. New ingredients and formulations are constantly coming to the fore at a rapid rate, which means that when one ingredient falls out of favour, something quickly replaces it.
Below are just a few of the ingredients that are being touted as suitable replacements for DMAA in pre-workout supplements:
- Dendrobium extract
- Citrus aurantium or bitter orange extract (synephrine)
- Beta-phenylethylamine (BPEA)
- N-acetyl tyrosine
- Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE)
Dendrobium seems to be the hot contender to replace DMAA. It comes from the orchid family and is actually a delightful looking flower. Dendrobium extract has been shown to offer some interesting stimulatory effects seems to work in a few ways, with almost all user reporting an ”upliftment” in mood. This is probably due to the fact that it is a natural’ source of phenylethylamine which is known to help boost mood and increase focus. Phenylethylamine seems to react differently with each user and makes some people feel more alert and focused, where other users may feel confident. Dendrobium extract also seems to help boost metabolism. In a nutshell, this extract is a stimulant, but unlike other stimulants it doesn’t restrict blood flow. However, in many users it certainly gives them extra energy and allows them to train with more intensity and focus.
Citrus aurantium, commonly referred to as bitter orange (synephrine), enhances energy and has a stimulatory effect. The fruit is also known as zhi shi (in traditional Chinese medicine), and as green orange and sour orange in other parts of the world. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat chest congestion and stimulate gastrointestinal function. It contains the chemical compounds tyramine, synephrine and octopamine, amongst others. It triggers the body to release the hormone noradrenalin (norepinephrine), which activates biochemical reactions that boost the breakdown of fats, enhance the body’s metabolic rate and increase energy levels and focus, which supports more productive workouts.
Extracts from citrus aurantium contain a rare combination of adrenergic amines, with synephrine being the main active compound found in citrus aurantium extracts. Synephrine is chemically very similar to the ephedrine and pseudo- ephedrine found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, and in earlier weight loss and energy supplements that contained Ma Huang. Because synephrine is a stimulant, similar to ephedrine, it has similar, albeit ‘milder’ effects in terms of providing an energy boost, suppressing appetite and increasing metabolic rate and caloric expenditure.
This naturally occurring neurotransmitter (chemical signal messenger between nerves) is normally synthesised in the brain from the amino acid phenylalanine. PEA has the unique ability to increase the activity of the major neurotransmitters, increasing the effects of dopamine (for increased feelings of wellbeing and pleasure), norepinephrine (the brain’s stimulant for wakefulness and higher performance), acetylcholine (for improved memory and mental activity), and serotonin (for better mood, emotions and impulse control). PEA is a highly-concentrated neurotransmitter in the limbic system (the brain’s emotional centre) that increases motivation and physical drive. All in all it appears to be a very useful addition to pre-workout formulations intended to help boost performance and overall workout experience.
Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid, which means that it can either be obtained through your diet or it can be naturally synthesised in your body as needed. N-acetyl L-tyrosine (NALT) is an acetylated derivative of the amino acid L-tyrosine, which is synthetically altered by the addition of acetic acid to its molecular make up. This increases tyrosine’s bioavailability and absorption into your bloodstream. N-acetyl L-tyrosine thus provides a highly bioavailable and efficacious source of L-tyrosine, which is a biochemical precursor in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters, epinephrine (adrenalin), norepinephrine (noradrenalin) and dopamine, which are key role players in the regulation of the stress response.
When you are under stress, for instance during an intense workout, your body may not be able to synthesise tyrosine quickly enough to meet your body’s demands for the likes of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which can result in a decline in intensity, levels and workout performance. Supplementing with tyrosine, in the form of N-acetyl L-tyrosine, may therefore help to improve workout performance when you are under the extreme stress of a high intensity session.
N-methyltyramine is a stimulant alkaloid found in bitter orange and various other plants such as barley. N-methyltyramine is the methylated, highly bioavailable version of L-tyramine (by way of the addition of a methyl group), a naturally occurring compound that acts as a catecholamine-releasing agent.
NOTE: Catecholamines are hormones produced by the adrenal glands, which are found on top of the kidneys. They are released into the blood during times of physical or emotional stress. The major catecholamines are dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine.
By increasing adrenergic hormones and other neurotransmitter levels, as well as cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) levels, L-tyramine can help improve focus and energy levels, which supports greater training intensity and fuels more productive workouts.
Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) is related to choline and may be a biochemical precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, although this conclusion has been disputed. Proponents claim that DMAE increases the brain’s production of acetylcholine, which affects functions such as short-term memory, learning, REM sleep and attention. Of more interest to bodybuilders and other exercise enthusiasts is the fact that studies have shown an increase in alertness and mental focus, as well as a positive influence on mood following DMAE use. Users often report a decrease in anxiety and a boost in energy attributed to increased dopamine levels. DMAE may therefore be a very useful inclusion in pre-workout formulas intended to boost mental and physical performance.