A Pill That Makes You A Better 'Halo' Player? The Makers And An Expert Weigh In

fpsbrain.jpgGetting your butt handed to you in "Halo 3"?

Take a pill.

About two weeks ago, news of a performance-enhancing pill for gamers made its way around the Internet. Dubbed "FpsBrain" and made by German computer-makers Tomarni, the product promises that a person will have a "remarkable increase in perception and reaction capacities."

To boot, the website claims that their staff uses FpsBrain four times a week to "enhance their mental performance and their work efficieny [sic]." If it doesn't work, the company promises "a 110% money-back guarantee."

Sound like a sketchy, late-night infomercial? I thought so too.

So last week I got in touch with the Berlin-based manufacturer and had an e-mail exchange with CEO Thomas Straßburg. And since I'm no expert on "energy drinks" and performance-enhancing supplements, I also e-mailed a registered dietitian to answer my questions regarding the ingredients of FpsBrain. Here's what I learned...

The idea for FpsBrain came about when Tomarni realized that it wasn't only their computer systems that needed to be optimized for maximum performance -- but the player, too. Straßburg wrote, "Our first idea was to produce it as a giveaway for exhibitions or LAN events. We recognized that there is a market for it, when many people at LAN events asked us where they could buy it." He told me that an "external institute" helped Tomarni develop FpsBrain, and that it works by having "the L-tyrosine goes through your blood straight to your brain and helps you to concentrate and stay focused on your task."

If you didn't pay attention in biology class (like yours truly), what the heck is L-tyrosine? For a more detailed explanation of how the pill works, I had registered dietitian Danielle Marzano of the Sysosset Health & Wellness Center take a look at the ingredients, which are listed on the FpsBrain website. "The ingredients in this product include amino acids, vitamins, minerals and caffeine," she wrote in an e-mail yesterday. "[L-tyrosine] is also a precursory of several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinenphrine (also known as adrenaline), which are the body's main stress related hormones. These hormones signal the heart to pump harder, increasing blood pressure, opening airways in the lungs, narrowing blood vessels in the skin and intestine to increase blood flow to major muscle groups. Vitamin B6 is a certain vitamin that is necessary for the conversion of L-tyrosine into neurotransmitters." In short, L-tyrosine can stimulate your muscles, heighten your awareness, decrease your reaction time and ease the body under stressful conditions. Sounds great, right?

cow.jpgBut Marzano also added that the body uses these amino acids when needed and to maintain good health, one should consume a proper mix of amino acids. The best way to do that? Eat a balanced diet. "Foods of animal origin, such as meat and poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, are the richest dietary sources of the essential amino acids," she said. "Therefore, these ingredients would be included in proper amounts in a well-balanced diet, where supplementation would not be necessary."

Since its a well-known stereotype that most gamers don't have the best eating habits, FpsBrain may be good for a performance boost. But I wondered -- if that's the case, how does Tomarni differentiate the product from any other "energy drink" out there marketed to gamers? "The difference is that we optimized our product not for an effect on your alertness. We optimized it to let you be more focused and concentrated and let you react faster," Straßburg said. He also claimed that there are no side effects or addictive qualities, and the recommended dosage is two capsules per day. When I asked him what would happen if someone takes FpsBrain and drinks an energy drink, he simply said, "There will be a stronger effect."

monsterenergydrinks.jpgWhen I asked Marzano the same question, she said that most energy drinks contain about 80mg of caffeine; FpsBrain has only 5mg. The official website claims that "unlike caffeine drinks FpsBrain does not result in nervousness, shaky hands or a caffeine flash." However, regardless of FpsBrain's low caffeine content, Marzano strongly discourages doubling up on your performance-enhancing products: "In addition to caffeine, most of these drinks contain a high sugar content. In combination these ingredients can cause a rush that will eventually come crashing down. Those sensitive to caffeine may even become dizzy and shaky. Taking this pill with an energy drink or taking more than the recommended dosage may cause these effects."

Currently, FpsBrain is available in Germany, but Straßburg claims that the company is "in talks" with the Food and Drug Administration to release product in the United States, though he declined to disclose details on the process. According to the website for the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, "Generally, manufacturers do not need to register their products with FDA nor get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements. Manufacturers must make sure that product label information is truthful and not misleading." Manufacturers are only required to submit a dietary supplement to the FDA pre-market if it contains a "new ingredient," a substance that "hasn't been present in the food supply as an article used for food." The FDA does monitor the safety of dietary supplements post-market, such as "voluntary dietary supplement adverse event reporting, and product information, such as labeling, claims, package inserts, and accompanying literature."

pills.jpgTomarni is also seeking worldwide partners for release in other countries as well as cooperation with gaming clans and e-sport leagues. "E-sports is going more and more professional," Straßburg said, commenting on why there's a need for FpsBrain in the first place. "When you look at South Korea, pro gamers are making a lot of money. In every sport which is getting more professional, dietary supplementation becomes important." When I asked him if he thought it was "cheating" to take these pills, he replied, "I don't think it's a kind of cheating. It's only a legal way to improve your physical and mental skills. All our ingredients are approved by German and European law."

"FpsBrain is not only good for gaming. It is also good for every [type of] work where you have to concentrate," Straßburg added, who told me he takes FpsBrain everyday. For those looking for other options to improve their gaming performance, Marzano reiterates that "a nutritionally sound, balanced diet" is the best way to reach a consistently healthy mental and physical condition. "Supplementing a diet with these products can lead to peaks and valleys of energy levels, which defeats the original purpose," she said. "Generally, people who watch a lot of television and play video games may have a sedentary lifestyle. In addition to diet, exercise should be incorporated into one's lifestyle to increase energy levels as well."