If you’ve ever used a pre-workout supplement to get you pumped for a hard workout, then you’ve probably felt prickling or itching sensations on your skin: your face gets itchy and your hands and feet feel tingly. However, while this is usually a harmless incident that fades as soon as you begin pumping out reps, it’s an unusual enough bodily sensation that has you scratching quite literally all over.
Pre-workout products are a combination of various components used to enhance your workout. Due to the fact that most pre-workout supplements include caffeine, they are very popular as an energy booster.
Pre-workout supplements, which may be in the form of powdered or tablet form, are meant to increase energy, strength, and endurance by providing a variety of vitamins and compounds. They’re often made with caffeine and B12 (for energy), creatine (to improve strength and muscle size), and tyrosine (to boost performance and attention). However, they usually contain two chemicals that can make a pre workout make you itch (properly called acute paresthesia): beta-alanine and niacin.
In this post, we discuss the pre-workout components that cause itching and what you can do to avoid it.
Culprit no: 1 Beta Alanine
Beta-alanine improves muscular endurance during high-intensity activities by boosting carnosine levels in the muscle. Carnosine is a well-studied fatigue fighter and performance booster. When you exercise at a high intensity, acid builds up in the muscles and causes muscle burn. Carnosine, on the other hand, helps to minimize acid production, so you won’t feel this burn as swiftly. However, it can also cause unpleasant side effects.
Beta-alanine reduces acidity in your muscles, which helps to alleviate some of the fatiguing consequences of lactic acid. It’s because of this “buffer effect” that you can perform a few more reps on pre-workout and need shorter rest periods between sets.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, which means it may be manufactured from other amino acids and does not require a dietary source. Beta-alanine activates specific types of receptors in certain skin neurons. The activation of these neurons generates burning, itching, and tingling sensations.
Beta-alanine, in doses of 500mg or more, can cause skin flushing and paresthesia. This feeling is safe and has no long-term consequences. However, that’s not much consolation if you’re having unpleasant itchy, flushed, tingly skin.
Surprisingly, you don’t need megadoses of beta-alanine to improve your exercise performance, high doses of beta-alanine are designed to make sure you feel the substances in them working, but more doesn’t always equal better workout performance. With smaller dosages, you might achieve the same strength-building benefit with fewer unpleasant side effects.
So, the best strategy to avoid any harmful side effects of beta-alanine is to take it in smaller amounts and generally avoid pre-workout drinks that contain a lot of this substance. Or, you could go for a beta alanine-free product and then maybe take beta-alanine separately as per your tolerance. You may then divide your dose throughout the day, taking advantage of beta-alanine’s advantages while avoiding unwanted side effects.
Also, consider testing your beta-alanine tolerance with a smaller serving of pre-workout. As you become more accustomed to any tingling or itching, gradually increase the amount of pre-workout you take.
Culprit No: 2 Niacin
Niacin, on the other hand, is less common in pre-workouts but can still produce unpleasant side effects. A lot of pre-workouts include high dosages of niacin, also known as vitamin B3. A pre-workout supplement may contain up to twice the recommended daily intake. Niacin (B3) is a water-soluble B vitamin (B3) required for energy metabolism, and higher dosages of niacin have been used to reduce blood cholesterol.
Vitamin B3 is present in a variety of animal and plant-based foods, including beef, liver, poultry, eggs, dairy products, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, avocados, and whole grains. It is also found in fortified cereals and bread. Vitamin B3 is widely available in nature and is rarely lacking in anyone.
Vitamin B3 is important for energy metabolism, but taking large doses of the vitamin in the form of a pre-workout does not appear to have any performance-boosting benefit. In reality, B3 is added to pre-workouts because it gives a tingle, making consumers feel as if their pre-workout is working.
Vitamin B3 is less expensive than other pre-workout ingredients, which may be why some supplement producers include so much of it.
In a nutshell, if your pre-workout has a lot of vitamin B3/niacin, it’s one of the reasons why your skin is tingling. But it’s a tingle with no practical application since B3 does not improve exercise performance and is unlikely to be needed in greater amounts in your diet.
If you come across a pre-workout supplement with niacin in it, you may very well be better off skipping it altogether. It’s possible that vitamin B6 could actually speed up the burning of your muscle glycogen reserves. Your body’s main source of energy is glycogen, which is formed from the carbohydrates you consume. However, niacin might induce a pre-symptomatic depletion of glycogen in your muscles, which can affect performance.
Whether you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or CrossFitter, taking a pre-workout before your workout will assist you in giving it your all. However, they are not as effective for long-distance runners, such as marathoners.
Pre-workouts contain a variety of substances that are supposed to increase your energy, decrease tiredness, and speed up recovery between sets. The most common products are those that include caffeine, although many of them are stim-free and contain beta-alanine. Others include vitamin B3 and other vitamins.
It’s nothing to be concerned about if you don’t mind the tingling and itching caused by B3 and beta-alanine. In certain cases, it is actually considered a benefit. Some people welcome this side effect since it indicates that their supplement is working.
For others, however, paresthesia is distracting and even unpleasant. It might be enough to deter them from using pre-workouts altogether.
The good news is that some pre workout supplements have little or no vitamin B3, which has no effect on your performance, and others include more modest amounts of beta-alanine. If paresthesia is a concern for you, look into various pre-workouts to see which ones are less likely to cause it.
Finally, remember, you don’t have to take a pre-workout to train hard. If you get a good night’s sleep and eat properly, your energy levels should be naturally high. Pre-workouts should be taken as a complementary supplement to, rather than a substitute for, naturally increasing your energy levels.