Why Does Pre-Workout Make You Itch?

Why Does Pre-Workout Make You Itch

If you work out with some serious fitness goals in mind, you are sure to want to achieve the maximum possible benefits in the time devoted by you in the gym.

It is a known fact that balanced nutrition post-workout is essential to reap maximum benefits. However, many do not know that consuming something called a pre-workout supplement before the training can increase the benefits of the workout.

Many people either work out on an empty stomach or eat heavily before or after their training session. The ideal way, however, is to find a middle path that works optimally for the body. This is where the pre-workout supplements come in.

In this article, we will explore what pre-workouts are all about, what are their side effects, and how to avoid one of the most common side-effects that they cause i.e itching.

What Is a Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout supplements are essential sports nutritional supplements taken before a workout. They are meant to increase the strength of a person during a workout and hence their endurance during that time. They provide the necessary energy kick to sweat it out more in the gym. Pre-workouts are a concoction of various ingredients and are available in either powder or pill forms.

They are to be mixed in water and consumed before the workout.

These Supplements Mostly Contain

  • Caffeine – This is for the energy spike. Caffeine helps facilitate an increased blood flow to the muscles. The blood carries oxygen to the muscles and hence increases the body’s performance. This happens because caffeine induces vasodilatation, a phenomenon that causes the blood vessels to widen, thus enabling them to carry more blood. Caffeine also increases concentration and alertness by stimulating the central nervous system of the body.
  • Vitamin B12 – This helps in optimizing metabolism and forming new red blood cells which carry oxygen in the body.
  • Creatine – This is a naturally produced amino acid in the body (amino acids are the building blocks of proteins). This is a chemical that gets used up during work out and the supplements serve to add to the body’s existing levels of creatine, hence increasing muscle strength and mass. They also help to achieve explosive strength.
  • Tyrosine – This is again an amino acid. It increases performance and focus.
  • Electrolytes – These are potassium, sodium, and magnesium. They essentially replace these same electrolytes which are lost from the body through sweat during a workout.
  • Sweeteners – Stevia or fruit extracts are great sweeteners. Avoid drinks that have high levels of fructose like corn syrups as sweeteners, else it would amount to consuming unnecessary high empty calories. Many healthy sugar supplements may contain dried beetroot powder added to them because of beetroot’s natural dark red color and its sweetness. The scientific community stands divided into the pros and cons of artificial sweeteners in health supplements. Some studies have concluded them to be safe for consumption while many claim them to be unsuitable at all doses. Nonetheless, artificial sugar substitutes, those thoroughly investigated and passed by the local regulatory authorities may be used in safe doses in the supplements. In the United States, the FDA ( U.S. Food and Drug Administration ) has approved the use of these six sugar substitutes: aspartame, neotame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, advantame, and saccharin. In Canada, many sugar substitutes have been approved but only under regulated doses. These are sucralose, acesulfame potassium, polydextrose, thaumatin, and some sugar alcohols.
  • Beta-alanine – This chemical increases muscle endurance. It buffers the hydrogen ions (H+ ions) formed and helps to maintain high endurance levels for a longer period.
  • Niacin – This is a form of vitamin B3 which increases metabolism and hence spikes up one’s energy levels.

These supplements can have any or all of these ingredients or also other combinations. The markets are flooded with products from various companies with different ingredient combinations.

Man Scratching his Itchy Skin

Are There Any Side Effects?

More than often, yes. Depending on the ingredients used in these supplements, they may cause some side effects in some individuals. Some potential side effects of these can be as follows.

  • Insomnia or sleeplessness – An individual trying to sleep after a workout, especially after a night workout may not be able to do so if the pre-workout supplement was loaded with caffeine. These levels if as high as 200-400mg in a serving are the culprit. This can be checked at the back of the box. The body would need around 3-5 hours to clear this caffeine load. So anybody wanting to hit the bed after the workout should time the pre-workout supplement accordingly.
  • Diarrhea – Certain supplements may cause diarrhea in some individuals on account of either the ingredients present in them or due to a faulty way of consuming them.Always follow instructions on the label. These can be diluted with more water to counter the effect of the ingredients. Else, if your body still doesn’t accept it, don’t force it on yourself.
  • Dehydration – Some supplements may increase your urine output and you may begin to visit the washroom more often after taking them. Keep yourself hydrated. Not only pre-workout supplements but also sweating requires that the body’s water levels be replenished appropriately.
  • Headaches – The vasodilatation effect of some of the ingredients may induce a headache in some people while it may not in others. Dehydration can also cause headaches. Be aware of which pre-workout is giving you headaches and check its contents. Drink adequate water. The supplement can also be diluted further to reduce headaches. If even that doesn’t help then it is better to avoid that product altogether.
  • High blood pressure – both the pre-workout supplements and the workout itself increase the blood pressure and races the heart. These supplements can be avoided by people having high blood pressure or should be taken only after consulting a good physician.
  • Itching – Many would describe this feeling as a prickly and tingling sensation felt throughout their body. It is often categorized under the side effects of pre-workout supplements. However, it may be subjective depending on the person’s body reacting differently to different ingredients. Though this is nothing very serious yet the person should be aware of the possible reactions beforehand. They would be calmer if any of those reactions happen. Often the ingredients to blame are Niacin and Beta-alanine. However, cayenne, nitrates, and other ingredients may also cause it depending on the person’s sensitivity to them. They may cause:
  • Tingling in the whole body
  • Flushed face
  • Itchy skin
  • Stuffiness
  • Body feeling slightly warm

The culprit ingredients set off a reactionary response in the body, as in an allergy. The body’s immune system starts responding to this agent.

At the level of the cells of the body, this response is brought about by blood components known as basophils and mast cells which are present in these cells just outside the blood vessels.

Hence the reaction is widespread throughout the body. Components known as histamines released into the circulation, cause vasodilatation in the blood vessels and widen them.

They also increase the permeability (make the blood vessels more porous) of these small blood vessels known as capillaries. These extremely thin, thread-like blood vessels are located close to the skin, just under it.

Hence, it induces a localized reaction on the skin which causes the infamous itching after consuming these pre-workout supplements.

The itching may also be associated simultaneously with mild redness. This red flare-up can be blamed on the vasodilatation that occurs in the blood vessels.

Is Itching a Serious Side-Effect?

Many people are very much adapted to this reaction. The reaction may be more pronounced in Niacin-containing supplements and is called by many as the ‘Niacin flush’.

This itching and flush usually happens all over the body but maybe felt more pronounced on the face, hands, and legs are taken by some very positively, indicating to them that the niacin in their supplement is working.

However, many may not be able to adjust to this sensation every time. All these effects are however temporary and may last not more than 10 minutes.

Many people usually just wait it out, or may not even notice it as much if they have begun working out. But it still may be irritating for some.

Fit Man Preparing His Protein Shake

What Can Be Done?

  • Niacin is a form of Vitamin B3. The other form of Vitamin B3 known as Niacinamide can be substituted for Niacin, however, it may not be as effective.
  • Itching induced by Beta-alanine is also short-lived and not of any serious consequences.
  • Research the products in the market well. Don’t fall for marketing. Check all the ingredients and see what works for you. You can also keep your trainer, nutritionist, or physician in the loop.
  • Instead of buying the big-sized boxes that these are sold in, you can ask the company if they provide smaller packings or samples. Try them out before picking a supplement in bulk.
  • Do not fall for non-proprietary products or cheap ingredients that are ineffective.
  • Do not completely rely on these ingredients. Follow a good workout schedule in the gym and supplement it with a good healthy balanced diet.

It is important to mention here that pre-workout supplements are not for all people. Everybody may or may not need them either. Moreover, the habit of using them in excess and injudiciously will always lead to side-effects on the body.

Before you start on them, it is always a good idea to ensure what works for your body. Try out small proportions before buying the products in bulk. Make sure you consult a dietician or take advice from your gym nutritionist to know what would work best for you.

About Gaurav Dhir

Gaurav Dhir, B. Tech, PGDCM is an engineer and MBA by training. A fitness aficionado, Gaurav follows a strict diet and exercise regimen to keep himself vigorously active. He loves playing sports and being outdoors. Gaurav is responsible for the health and wellness of 4 generations including his son, elderly parents and very elderly grandparents.