There's a new trend that is spreading like wildfire called Dry Scooping. But this is one social media  "challenge" you should skip because it's not only stupid but dangerous. In fact "dry scooping" pre-workout powder directly into your mouth without first diluting it with water has sent several people to the hospital. It's not safe to try, and because it's done on the way to the gym, even if you actually manage to gulp down the powder, the stimulants that are designed to power your up for a workout get into the bloodstream too quickly. The powder-workout combination has caused one young woman to have a heart attack.

Pre-workout powders are different from protein powders since they usually contain caffeine or another stimulant, along with popular ingredients such as creatine, vitamins, and minerals. They are meant to be diluted with liquid, and without that dilution, they get absorbed quicker, which can be overwhelming to your kidneys, liver, and heart. That’s why many people are hopping on this trend — looking for fast, effects of powering up with a pre-workout drink, but too much of these stimulants can be dangerous.

The trend got a sober wake-up call when a 20-year-old TikTok-er named  Briatney Portillo told her followers that she had to be rushed to hospital with heart attack symptoms after trying it. "Taking a dry pre-workout scoop [because] I saw it trending on TikTok," she captioned a video posted on TikTok she made in the hospital: "Ending up in the hospital because I had a heart attack."

Trust us when we say, no matter how desperately you want more views or likes, you’ll want to skip this challenge and avoid the potentially serious side effects. Here’s why.

What pre-workout powder does to your body

Athletes and anyone who wants to build lean muscle will add pre-workout powder to their water bottle or morning smoothie is a way of helping the body rev up for the gym. They then drink a protein powder shake after their workout to help repair the muscle fiber that gets micro-torn during exercise, which happens during any intense training, such as when doing HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) or weight training.

People who use protein powder often choose plant-based protein because it is less inflammatory than whey, and feels cleaner on the body. Many of these pre- and post-workout supplements are marketed with claims of helping improve exercise performance. Although the ingredients of each brand differ, a 2019 article published in Nutrients took the top 100 commercially available pre-workout powders to analyze their top ingredients and dosages. They found that the average pre-workout powder contains around 18 ingredients with about 8 of the ingredients having unknown quantities since they are part of a proprietary blend.

The top ingredients of these pre-workout powders include:

  • Caffeine: A stimulant, which many of us get plenty of already, from our morning coffee and some teas, and is used to increase energy and focus during exercise.
  • Amino acids: Many of the amino acids included (such as citrulline, tyrosine, taurine, and beta-alanine) help our body make nitric oxide, which relaxes the blood vessels and improves blood flow. Beta-alanine specifically is the reason you may experience a tingling sensation after taking this powder pre-workout, which is called paresthesia.
  • Creatine: Often sold as a stand-alone supplement, creatine is created naturally in our body and can help with energy production and muscle strength.

Research that backs up the claims of these powders as helping boost performance is lacking, but many people still use it to boost energy and power through a workout.

The effects of pre-workout intensify when taken dry

Without the 8 ounces of water that powder typically gets mixed with, the effects become much more intense at a faster rate of uptake by the body and can enter the bloodstream all at once.

In an interview with BuzzFeed, Portillo explained: “after I took the pre-workout, I started to feel tingly and itchy all over my body, which wasn’t a good feeling, but I Googled it and it said that was a normal side effect. So I began to do my workout.” From there she mentioned that she “started to feel a heavy feeling in my chest and slight pain” but she thought it could’ve been anxiety and “decided to just ignore it and push through my workout.”

As the day progressed, Portillo found that her chest pain wasn’t as severe and she got ready for work as an exotic dancer. “In the locker room of my job, I started getting hot, even though it was cold in there,” she commented in the same interview. “I started sweating a lot and was drenched even though I was wearing a bikini. Then my chest pain came back and this time it was more intense.” From there she mentioned that the “pain went to my back and to my left arm and my left arm went slightly limp” which made her recognize the heart attack symptoms and she dialed 911.

Once at the hospital, medical staff told Portillo that her troponin levels were unusually high. Troponin is released by the heart into the blood when the heart has been injured, such as after a heart attack. Her final diagnosis was that she had a NSTEMI (non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction), which is a less damaging heart attack.

“They said to stay away from caffeine and watch what I take — especially pre-workout, since it isn’t regulated by the FDA,” comments Portillo. “They said I was OK to work out within 3 to 4 days after my hospitalization and to start watching my heart rate on either a Fitbit or a smart watch.”

Many people who are “cleared” to use pre-workout powders by their doctors can still end up dealing with unwanted adverse effects. A 2019 study surveyed 1,045 individuals who used multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements to assess their side effects. The majority of the participants used these supplements for well over a year, often as 4 or 5 days a week. Over half of the participants noticed skin reactions, heart abnormalities, and nausea.

Healthier ways to boost exercise performance

Many of the ingredients found in pre-workout powders can be easily added to our diet naturally, and safely, through eating whole foods or drinking tea or coffee. For more caffeine simply add another cup of coffee. Recent research has indicated that drinking 3 mg of caffeine for each kg of body weight 30 minutes before aerobic exercise can potentially increase your body's fat-burning rate.

Taking coffee in a cup of cold brew can ensure that you’re not overdoing it. Some pre-workout powders contain upwards of 500 mg of caffeine and the maximum amount adults can safely have in a day is generally accepted to be a total of 400 mg or below.

You can also assist your body’s nitric oxide production simply by adding beetroot powder to your water bottle, something that is growing in popularity by the day. Plus, instead of potentially harming your heart by overdoing it with ingredients, beetroot powder has been linked with improved cardiovascular health and lowered blood pressure.

Overall, combining a healthy diet along with adequate hydration and a good night's sleep will likely provide you more benefits at the gym and after, such as energy and healthy muscle repair, than a stimulating supplement.

Bottom Line: The dry scooping challenge should be avoided, and those with heart conditions should be checking in with their doctor before using pre-workout powder at all.

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