Dry scooping: A TikTok workout trend that could kill

scoop of pre workout powder What's the scoop? (Image: Canva)

There’s something sinister is happening in TikTok beyond the cringe-inducing song-dance, lip-syncing abominations. The platform has been credited with spawning many a trend, some good, some ghastly. One such trend that is getting amplified on TikTok these days is dry scooping pre-workout, which could potentially kill.

Back from the jaws of death is a 20-year-old TikTok influencer who suffered a heart attack after she had a scoop of protein powder before a workout. What’s bad about that you ask? She had it dry, straight out of the container without mixing it with a liquid first.

After reporting a tingling and itchy sensation all over her body, the influencer dismissed it as a normal side effect and continued working out. She soon started experiencing tightness and pain in her chest, which she mistook for a case of a panic attack.

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Long story short, she ended up in the hospital with a case of non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction — a type of heart attack.

An account from a Redditor is also equally alarming: “I took a scoop of powder, opened wide and confidently dry scooped it like a boss… Immediately my body has a VIOLENT reaction, coughing and gasping for air. My throat swelled up and burned, and it felt like the powder was in my lungs. Fighting the urge to pass out and sincerely thinking ‘this is how I die’ I scrambled to fill up a glass of water and keep drinking hoping desperately to water the powder down enough to be able to breathe.”

Newsweek reported the story of a woman who ended up with brain swelling and high blood pressure after she downed four dry scoops of the pre-workout supplement.

Bernard Hsu’s take on dry scooping:

What are pre-workout supplements?

Fitness enthusiasts often take supplements prior to their exercise to give them a little boost for the workout.

These supplements contain a blend of ingredients like caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, amino acids and nitric oxide agents.

The combination of the ingredients improves athletic performance. For instance, nitric acid expands blood vessels, improving blood flow across the body; caffeine enhances mental alertness and fat burning; creatine helps in muscle strength and energy production.

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What’s dry scooping?

Dry scooping is the practice of consuming pre-workout powder without mixing it with water. The objective is to increase the efficiency of amino acids, caffeine and micronutrients in the powder. By having the powder straight, some of these fitness influencers believe that the body can absorb more of its benefits.

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While TikTok has recently fanned the flames of the trend, dry scooping has been commonly and controversially practised in the fitness community for a while.

While it doesn’t necessarily sound bad, “dry scooping”, as it’s colloquially called, can be dangerous.

Is dry scooping bad?

Many equate dry scooping with the cinnamon-challenge level of idiocy. If people ending up in the hospital are not proof enough, here’s what science says.

Firstly, pre-workout powders come loaded with special ingredients and have to be taken as instructed — in limited quantities and mixed with water. If you exceed the recommended serving amount, ingredients like caffeine can wreak havoc in your system and cause dizziness, palpitation and elevated heart rate.

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Toxicologist Kelly Johnson-Arbor, M.D, tells Self that caffeine in excess can be potentially toxic. The effects can be worse in people who have underlying heart conditions, take medication that causes similar side effects, have a low tolerance for caffeine or have other caffeinated beverages prior to dry scooping.

Another issue with workout supplements is that they are not regulated, preventing users from knowing the ingredients present in the supplements and their quantities.

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In 2019, Nutrients published a study on pre-workout supplement labels and found that many ingredients in the final product are under-dosed when compared to guidelines on recommended doses.

Some ingredient quantities were not provided and some like niacin may be more in quantity than the recommended dose, which could be potentially dangerous, especially if the users consume other food with niacin.

Who are at risk?

The same 2019 study found that more than half of the users studied reported side effects following supplement use like nausea, skin reactions and heart abnormalities. They saw these adverse effects in users who followed the recommended serving size.

Women were more likely than men to experience side effects, despite consuming less quantity of the supplements than men.