When I began using a pre-workout I had read about the “pins and needles” feeling that many of them will give you when they start to take effect. When it hit me the first time it was all over and that made me decide it was time to read and understand this side effect better!
Why does pre-workout make me itchy? This is due to an ingredient called Beta-Alanine which appears to have a side effect when a dose of over 1-2g is included in the pre-workout formula. Beta-Alanine can cause acute Paresthesia or abnormal sensation of the skin with no apparent physical cause.
Lets dig into this topic a little more and understand why beta-alanine is included in pre-workouts and whether it provides any benefit. Once you know this you may change up your decision on which pre-workouts to purchase!
Why Does This Happen With Pre-Workouts?
The pre-workout formulas will typically include Beta-Alanine(source) or high doses of niacin as a way to support this “tingle” sensation. They use this as a sales point to let you know that “it is working” and that the pre-workout has kicked in.
The Beta-Alanine has been shown in even small doses to incur the “tingling” sensation due to paresthesia, a symptom of loss of sensation to your skin. While this helps them make you believe it is “working” this tingling doesn’t happen to everyone at the same levels.
If the creator of the supplement doesn’t include Beta-Alanine then you want to look for niacin on the nutrition label. This is because high levels of niacin (over 200mg) can cause the same effect and is typically cheaper to add.
Now that you know where the itchy feeling comes from you is it something that is beneficial or can it be harmful to you? Lets look more at why it happens and if it could be dangerous to you personally even if legally able to be added.
How to Stop Pre-Workout Itch
Unfortunately as pre-workouts go the most common way to stop or limit the itch or tingles is to spread out into smaller doses throughout the day, as noted this doesn’t work for a pre-workout to be staggered.
There have been some newer blends that companies are starting to produce which supposedly have less change for the tingles to occur. I couldn’t find any currently online when searching that specifically called this out as a “benefit”.
How Long Does the Pre-Workout Itch Last?
For most people the pre-workout itchy feelings will begin about 15 minutes after taking the supplement. This is typically just the time necessary to ingest and start being processed into your body.
After you take the supplement you will typically experience the tingles for about 15 minutes after the symptoms show up. So basically this would leave you possibly experiencing the itchiness for around 15 minutes total.
What about Niacin?
Well if your pre-workout doesn’t have Beta-Alanine and does have a high does of Niacin then whats the difference? Well niacin is a B vitamin and though they are good to consume a high dose of niacin causes skin flushing and tingles, this is why it is included.
Skipping from a Beta-Alanine to Niacin based product won’t get you any noticeable changes in the tingle sensation for almost everyone, other than you will lose any benefits that Beta-Alanine provides you.
Is the Itch Harmful to You?
Overall the itchy feeling isn’t dangerous to the general public, though if you had issues with niacin then you may want to pay attention to whether the pre-workout you look at contains a high dose of niacin.
According to a position statement released by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, “to date, there is no evidence to support that this tingling is harmful in any way”.
Personally I don’t prefer it and I tend to move on from them when I find I don’t react how I like. When I find them to have this, the issue is almost every pre-workout has this to ensure that “feeling” after consuming.
Does Beta-Alanine Actually Help My Performance?
Now with all the negative feelings around the itching sensation caused by having Beta-Alanine in the product why would companies include it if it is more expensive than Niacin? Well it has shown to help your muscles during intense exercise as it helps manage acid buildup in the muscles.
Reading into it more is that Beta-Alanine helps your body in carnosine production, that carnosine is what helps your body with the exercise. So choosing to avoid the tingle sensation you could be causing yourself some performance losses.
According to a position paper on beta-alanine written by the International Society of Sports Nutrition:
- Improved exercise performance, with more pronounced effects in open end-point tasks/time trials lasting 1 to 4 min in duration
- Attenuation of neuromuscular fatigue (particularly in older subjects)
- Possible improvement in tactical performance
Final Thoughts on the Pre-Workout Itch
I love taking a pre-workout to help get motivated to move, I am more a sloth when it comes to cardio and getting motivated to get out there. Pre-workouts give me that kick in the behind I need to move my butt and start the cardio workouts.
For each of you though the pre-workout may not even be a requirement as you may be able to get along just fine without it. For some it becomes a habit even when it isn’t providing results any longer, this is what you should watch out for.
Building your health and fitness is a journey and not a sprint, for those days where you are just failing to kick start your fitness this is the perfect solution!
As with all supplements I suggest you speak with your doctor to ensure there is no side effects or health issues with yourself and the substances in the pre-workout as each person is different and if you take medications you HAVE to know interactions before taking anything that could change your health!
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