Briatney Portillo, a 20-year-old TikToker with quite an impressive social following, actually suffered a heart attack after ingesting a dry scoop of Redcon1 Total War Pre-Workout powder. Dr. Harish Manyam, chief of cardiology at Erlanger Hospital in Tennessee, explained in an interview with Chicago’s ABC 7 Eyewitness News that the incident was likely caused by the consumption of such a large amount of caffeine at one time, which increased her blood pressure significantly and likely led to the heart attack.
This latest TikTok trend known as dry scooping isn’t as harmless as it looks on the videos — and fitness experts and doctors are hoping to warn everyone of the dangers it involves.
What is dry scooping?
Dry scooping requires a person to ingest a full scoop of a powdered pre-workout supplement without mixing it with water or another type of liquid as recommended by the product in its directions label. The premise behind dry scooping is that it can potentially maximize the benefits of the pre-workout powder such as increasing energy and stamina because it is not diluted with any liquid. However, Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S, D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition, DrAxe.com and author of Ancient Remedies, notes that there is absolutely no evidence that it has any of these advantages at all. One thing, however, is for sure: dry scooping is very dangerous.
“Pre-workouts are designed to give someone more energy to exercise so that they can train harder and longer, but many contain stimulants such as caffeine or supplements such as creatine that have been shown to boost anaerobic work capacity,” explains Robert Herbst, C.P.T., a weight loss coach and powerlifter.
Why is dry scooping so dangerous?
From a mechanical standpoint, an individual risks inhaling the powder because it does not dissolve easily in the mouth, warns Herbst, which can lead to choking and may even damage the trachea and lungs. From a biochemical standpoint, he points out that the amount of undiluted caffeine being ingested is a real issue, especially when you factor in other amounts of caffeine that person might have ingested earlier that day, from coffee or soda, for example. “This high level of caffeine can lead to health issues such as heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke,” he says.
The high level of caffeine can lead to health issues such as heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or high blood pressure which can lead to stroke.
Another factor is the creatine that’s commonly found in these pre-workout powders. Creatine is an additive that is used to boost muscle mass and enhance physical endurance. However, for this substance to be properly utilized by the body, Herbst explains that it must bind with water. “If the creatine in the preworkout is taken dry, the body will take water from elsewhere to process the creatine, which can lead to cramping, an electrolyte imbalance, and other symptoms of dehydration.” In short, this creates the perfect recipe for a slew of health issues that can be exacerbated by the workout you intend on performing after taking it.
According to experts, if you’re looking to amp up the effects of your pre-workout, several healthier alternatives don’t involve dry scooping. Here are some of their safer solutions.
Select a quality pre-workout and take it as directed
The safest way to supplement before a workout is with a quality pre-workout powder that contains straightforward ingredients. “In terms of what to look for in a pre-workout powder, consider trying one that contains branched-chain amino acids or protein powder made from whey, collagen, hemp, or bone broth protein,” he says. “These help fuel muscles and may improve strength gains. Look for one that’s low in sugar and contains no strange chemicals or fillers.” Dr. Axe warns against purchasing a pre-workout that contains too much caffeine. How much is too much? Anything that contains more than 100 milligrams per serving is too much caffeine.
Stop taking pre-workout for a while
Although this method seems counterintuitive, halting your pre-workout intake can actually make it more effective when you start using it again. “If you regularly consume a lot of caffeine, you’ll build up a tolerance and become less responsive to the rather delightful effects,” explains Rob Sulaver, C.S.N, C.S.C.S., creator of Bandana Training and founding trainer at Rumble Boxing. “Giving up caffeine for a few weeks will reset your tolerance.”
The best way to go about this, according to Sulaver, is going cold turkey. “Day 2 and 3 are a bit sluggish, but after that, it’s not so bad,” he says. “Once you’ve been off caffeine for 2-3 weeks, you can begin using it again; just know that you’ll be more sensitive, so you might consider products that have less caffeine in them.”
Find an alternative energy source
Pre-workout is hardly the only source of energy to help enhance your workout. “Some people also simply like having a cup of coffee a bit before working out, or some green tea or matcha powder, to give them a boost in energy,” says Dr. Axe. “B vitamins can also come in handy, as well as some amino acids like L-carnitine.”
Staying hydrated and consume energy-boosting foods
A healthy diet can also improve endurance and muscle performance and recovery. Dr. Axe recommends focusing on a diet rich in complex carbs and protein, especially around the time you work out to support muscle growth. “Emphasize healthy foods in your diet like beets, functional mushrooms like cordyceps, coconut oil, berries, coconut water, high-quality protein, and leafy greens like spinach,” he says.
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