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Pre-workout supplements are advertised to increase energy and improve exercise performance. TikTok trends claim that “dry scooping”–taking supplements without water–helps the body absorb them faster. What is the evidence for or against such claims?
Because these supplements are not regulated by the FDA, it’s difficult to be certain exactly what they contain. Pre-workout supplements typically consist of protein building blocks (creatine and beta-alanine), vitamins, nutrients, and a notable dose of caffeine. Creatine is theorized to increase focus and beta-alanine to an energy boost. Caffeine can increase heart rate and blood flow. On the basis of a few low-quality studies, claims are made that these three main ingredients slightly enhance performance in extreme athletes but may not significantly impact individuals who exercise moderately (Ghose, 2015; Spillane, Schwarz, & Willoughby, 2014; Duncan et al., 2012).
Dry scooping is associated with a risk of inhaling the powder, with a potential for inflammation or infection. There may also be a risk for overconsumption of caffeine.
Used as directed, some of these supplements have as much caffeine as three cups of coffee. This high amount of caffeine, combined with a person’s daily coffee and soda consumption, can lead to nausea and shakiness. There may also be a small risk of heart rhythm problems.
An alternative to consuming pre-workout supplements may be healthy sources of energy such as whole, natural foods. Bananas and other fruits have carbohydrates that break down quickly and give us energy. Coffee is a familiar, safe, and readily available source of a caffeine energy boost. It’s healthy to develop good habits of diet and activity in all aspects of life, not just at the time of a workout.
It’s not clear whether consuming pre-workout supplements has more potential for benefit than for harm. If it holds some appeal for you, ensure the supplements have familiar ingredients and be cautious about your daily caffeine intake.