Is Dry Scooping Pre-workout Safe?
A registered dietitian explains exactly why this faulty nutrition hack has got to stop circulating the web.
There is never a dull moment in the dietary supplement world. In other words, there's no shortage of nutrition hacks or dietary supplements floating around that are supposedly going to help boost your fitness or improve your workout.
One hack that's been circulating the Internet is dry scooping pre-workout powder, which is not only lacking in scientific support but can also be extremely dangerous. The approach of dry scooping pre-workout powder—without fluid—has invaded wellness forums and conversations based on its claims that it can absorb energy faster and give you the boost you need to train harder.
So, Why Is It Unsafe to Dry Scoop Pre-workout?
There are three main reasons why dry scooping pre-workout powders isn't safe.
The first reason is the risk of aspiration from consuming the powder, the second reason is the rate at which you are consuming the ingredients in the powder (mainly caffeine), and, finally, the third risk is the lack of transparency in ingredient lists. There are other reasons why this is a risky practice similar to taking any supplement—for example, the products are not regulated and, especially for athletes, they may not be considered safe for sport.
Risk No. 1: Aspiration
Dry scooping videos show people consuming pre-workout powder dry, without any liquid to dilute it. The thought behind this process is that swallowing the powder in one gulp will maximise the benefits of the supplement ingredients, such as caffeine, creatine, b vitamins and amino acids.
One of the issues with consuming a powder without water is the risk of aspiration. Aspiration is medically defined as breathing a foreign object into the airway, such as food. Aspiration poses the risk of developing pneumonia as well as the possibility of scarring lung tissue.
Risk No. 2: Overconsumption of Caffeine Per Serving
In addition to the risk of aspirating on pre-workout powder, dry scooping is dangerous due to the rate at which you're consuming stimulants, such as caffeine. According to the US Food & Drug Administration, consuming about 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (the equivalent to four or five cups of coffee) is considered safe; however, there is wide variation in this number depending on the person. For children and adolescents, for instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of caffeine.
Genetics, diet, underlying health concerns and lifestyle all play a role in a person's ability to metabolise caffeine. While 400 milligrams may be OK for one adult, it could be way too much, and even dangerous, for another, especially someone with an underlying heart condition. Pre-workout supplements contain, on average, 300 milligrams of caffeine per serving, and though this level falls within a "safe range", these supplements are usually consumed with liquid over a period of time—not in one giant swallow.
When dry scooping a pre-workout powder that contains approximately 300 milligrams of caffeine, you are basically consuming three cups of coffee in one swallow. Potential negative effects of caffeine ingestion include rapid heart rate, anxiety, dizziness, dehydration and headaches. Certainly these aren't ideal symptoms for overall well-being, and not the best way to feel during or after a workout.
Risk No. 3: Lack of Transparency and Regulation of Ingredients
Pre-workout supplements often make broad sweeping claims, boasting their ability to provide everything from lots of energy and mental focus to a boost to muscle growth. Typically consumed in powder form, these supplements come in capsules and drinks as well. It's important to note that dietary supplements are not regulated by a governing body (like the FDA). In short, unlike with medicines, there isn't a watchdog ensuring what's in the bottle matches what the ingredient label states. It also isn't mandated to test these products for potency and purity.
In addition to a lack of regulation on ingredients, purity or potency, many pre-workout supplements contain proprietary blends. According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, "a proprietary blend is a unique preparation of ingredients in a dietary supplement that is formulated for a specific purpose".
You might have seen "proprietary blend" listed on a nutrition ingredients label and though the names of ingredients are listed, the quantities of the ingredients are not. For people who already consume caffeine, vitamins and minerals or take prescription medications, it's especially important to know how much of a given ingredient is in your supplement. One vitamin that can cause adverse side effects when mixed with a pre-workout supplement is niacin, or vitamin B3. That's because most brands already include this vitamin in their pre-workout supplements, which could put you at risk of toxicity.
According to a review, published in a 2019 issue of the Journal Nutrients, out of 100 pre-workout supplements analysed, almost half contained niacin in amounts that exceeded the recommended dietary allowance. If someone is already taking a B-complex supplement or a multivitamin with niacin and they aren't aware of how much niacin is in their pre-workout powder, this could lead to unwanted side effects from overconsumption such as skin flushing, headaches, dizziness, or decreased blood pressure.
Supplements should also be third-party tested for purity and potency. You can seek these products by checking for third-party labelling on the packaging. A particularly important label is NSF Certified for Sport product, which means it's tested for compliance with label claims and ensures the absence of more than 200 substances banned by many major athletic organisations.
The Bottom Line
Unfortunately, there really is no shortcut or hack to having an incredible workout.
The best way to prepare for consistently effective workouts is by consuming a balanced diet, drinking plenty of fluids and making sure you are getting enough sleep.
If you like to exercise using pre-workout supplements, make sure you consume them as directed: mixed in a liquid. The same advice goes for other workout supplements such as protein powder, for example. There is little research to support fast ingestion of any workout supplement, and the dangers are too high to test it yourself. And remember, it's always best to get nutrition and exercise suggestions from trained professionals, such as doctors and registered dietitians—not videos and posts from social media.
Words by Sydney Greene, MS, RDN.