If your first lift for a workout involves raising a scoop of dry protein powder to dump in your mouth, it’s time to rethink your routine.
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Researchers say the practice known as “dry scooping” qualifies as dangerous — and even potentially deadly. Add it to the list of questionable TikTok trends to explode onto the scene thanks to millions of video views.
Let’s look at the risks with dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CCSD, LD.
What is dry scooping?
To start, let’s look at what is being scooped: pre-workout powder. Most powders are packed with caffeine and other stimulants, plus various vitamins and nutrients. They’re designed to supercharge your system and provide energy for a workout.
Traditionally, pre-workout powder is added to water and consumed about a half-hour before putting your muscles to the test. Diluting the powder helps pace your body’s absorption of the product. Plus, it’s much easier on the tummy.
Dry-scoopers, however, take a different approach. They fill up a scoop with pre-workout and dump the powder in their mouth. A swig of water can help wash it down. (It is pretty chalky, after all.)
“Apparently, they think they’re noticing some kind of enhanced effect because the powder is absorbed faster,” says Patton.
But that effect comes at a cost.
Is it bad for you?
Dry scooping essentially floods your system with caffeine with one swallow. Your blood pressure and heart rate may skyrocket as your body takes in the stimulant, particularly as you start exercising.
The jolt of caffeine — which could be equivalent to three or more cups of coffee in an instant — could lead to an irregular heartbeat, too. “That sort of rush can cause palpitations,” says Patton.
In April 2021, a 20-year-old who tried dry scooping after seeing it touted on TikTok later posted a video on the social media platform from her hospital bed saying she was treated for a heart attack. (She survived.)
The use of TikTok to promote dry scooping is cause for concern given its reach among teens.
“This may mislead millions of impressionable minors into improper use of pre-workout, which could lead to respiratory or cardiovascular distress and/or death,” according to a study presented at the 2021 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition.
Other risks of dry-scooping include:
- Accidentally inhaling the powder, which could cause choking.
- Increased risk of injury while working out due to stimulant-fueled overexertion.
“There is potential for a lot of harm,” says Patton. “If you’re going to use pre-workout powder, follow the directions and take it with water. You’ll still get the beneficial effects — just not as fast.”
Is pre-workout powder safe?
Used correctly, it can be a useful tool for athletes in an intensive training program, says Patton. She emphasized, however, that the same basic results can be achieved through what you put on your plate.
“I’m not a believer, really, in using pre-workout,” she says. “Food is fuel and can give you all of the energy you need.” (Learn more about what foods should be part of your pre- and post-workout eating routine.)
But if you do use a pre-workout powder, Patton offers these recommendations:
- Be cautious of products with sketchy information on the ingredients. “Stay away from anything that uses phrases like ‘proprietary blend’ instead of listing exactly what’s included,” says Patton.
- Keep an eye on caffeine content. One serving of some pre-workout powders can exceed the 400 mg limit recommended by federal health officials. Look for powders that pack a more reasonable punch.
- Look for products that have been third-party tested. A seal of approval from organizations such as NSF International serves as a verification of ingredients in the product.
- Follow the instructions for use. “If you’re going to use pre-workout, use it the way it’s supposed to be used,” says Patton.
And in regards to the last recommendation, that means no dry scooping.