Pre-workout powders have long been known to produce a number of side effects, including tingly skin, increased heart rate, and visibly pronounced veins. In the weightlifting community, many lifters expect these effects when they purchase these supplements, which often contain caffeine, beta-alanine, and creatine, among dozens of other ingredients.
Lately, some TikTok users have encouraged “dry scooping,” or throwing back the powder without liquid—it is usually mixed in water—ostensibly to speed up absorption, or more likely because they’ve seen someone else do it on TikTok. Not unlike the “cinnamon challenge,” where people tried to swallow a dry tablespoon of cinnamon, this typically involves consuming a heap of substances not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s a trendy method of consumption for sure, but like so many viral trends, dry scooping could have dangerous results.
Last week, a 20-year-old woman ended up in the hospital with a heart attack after consuming pre-workout. That’s not the first time dry scooping has caused someone harm, either. Last April, a 25-year-old TikToker required emergency surgery to relieve the pressure in his brain after downing eight scoops of pre-workout.
“Dry scooping” is not a new concept. For years, the phenomenon was relegated to niche corners of the internet like Bodybuilding.com forums, where people discuss delayed onset muscle soreness, calibrate meal macros, and debate the merits of supplementing one’s diet with branched-chain amino acid capsules. Here, the tingle of beta-alanine is seen as a benefit, the increased heart rate a sign of a caffeine boost, and the visible veins an indicator of the sought-after “pump.” But now, without much thought, TikTokers are consuming these substances for an apparent chance at going viral, without much thought to benefits—or side effects.
Even if you’re not administering pre-workout straight from the jar, consuming these products can carry health risks, said Dr. Jason Nagata, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at the University of California San Francisco.
Since pre-workout powders aren’t regulated, “There are few studies evaluating their safety, side-effects, and long-term health concerns,” Dr. Nagata explained, adding that the lack of oversight means there's no way of knowing exactly what you're swallowing when you consume them. “Pre-workout supplements can be laced with banned substances like stimulants, steroids, and other toxic ingredients,” he said. “Many of these substances can increase risk for heart attacks, liver disease, and other serious medical complications.”
Pre-workout has a long track record of leading to serious medical complications in the past. In 2011, two soldiers in the U.S. Army died after using an extremely popular pre-workout called Jack3D; the product contained dimethylamylamine (DMAA), which the FDA describes as an amphetamine derivative. In 2012, the FDA began notifying supplement companies that “marketing DMAA-containing products violates the law,” and the following year, USPLabs, the maker of Jack3D, destroyed $8 million worth of their pre-workout. (Some jars can still be found on eBay.)
The tag “dryscoop” is not searchable on TikTok, but videos with the #preworkout hashtag have been viewed over 800 million times. Scrolling through these clips, I found a video of what appears to be a tearful teenager, narrated by the robotic auto-caption voice that says, “seven people called me fat at school today." Then, the teen consumes two dry scoops of pre-workout, and the robot says, “Pop a pre worky. Pre worky make the bullies stop.” This sad baby-talk is a genre not limited to pre-workout— it includes a TikTok of a person alleging to mix his cremated dad’s ashes into milk, as the robo-narrator drones, “Pop a daddy milk, daddy milk takes the pain away.” (At least he didn’t dry-scoop it.)
It’s concerning that pre-workout has become a trend on TikTok, a platform primarily for Gen Zers—and not just because of dry scooping. Many experts argue that teens shouldn’t be taking pre-workout in the first place.
“Youth who use muscle-building supplements are more likely to subsequently use more dangerous products like anabolic steroids and develop eating disorders,” Nagata said.
Pre-workout can also be loaded with caffeine, which is dangerous in high doses. “A surge of caffeine can acutely raise your blood pressure and potentially lead to a fast and irregular heartbeat,” he said. In 2014, CBS News reported that an 18-year-old Ohio high school student had died after ingesting a fatal amount of caffeine powder.
Fitness influencers have also started speaking out against the practice of dry scooping, for reasons other than safety. By omitting water, you might leave progress on the table. As Derek from the uber-popular fitness YouTube account More Plates More Dates said in his STOP DRY SCOOPING PRE-WORKOUT video, “I don't really know if people realize that water is literally what facilitates the effects—the mechanism of action—of many of the pump ingredients in these products.”
Even if you're an adult considering dry scooping, Dr. Nagata advises against it. “Dry scooping pre-workout supplements is dangerous and can lead to serious health risks," he said. "I would discourage people from dry scooping pre-workout supplements.”
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