The dangerous fitness trend 'dry scooping' and how to address it with gym-goers

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published March 1, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Pre-workout powders are popular among gym-goers, and some athletes are ‘dry scooping’ them or consuming them sans water.

  • ‘Dry scooping’ can be dangerous as it can increase choking risks or caffeine overload.

  • You may want to talk to patients about risks or educate them on the importance of carbohydrates as food-based fuel.

Pre-workout powders have risen in popularity in the fitness community. But while the substance is designed to be mixed with water, some "fitspos" are downing it dry.

‘Dry-scooping’ is a method popularized on social media channels like TikTok, where gym-goers swallow a scoop of their powder sans water before hitting the weights. Some claim the method enables them to get a more concentrated dose of the substance, thus boosting their energy levels during their workout—and, ideally, their gains after.

But while some TikTok stars swear by it, dietitians are less enthusiastic about the method—saying that dry scooping has no known scientific benefit on performance but some known risks. 

“If you’ve seen videos of people performing the dry scooping trend, you might notice many of them unintentionally inhaling the powder through the mouth or nose, coughing, and more serious effects include chest pains and arrhythmias,” says Amity Lui, MS, RD, a sports dietitian at Worksite Wellness Nutrition.

Lui adds that the method can also cause wheezing, choking and act as an irritant to the throat or stomach. When talking to patients who are frequent gym-goers, it may be a good idea to ask them about their current fueling methods and discuss risks that come up.

“The foremost immediate risk of dry scooping pre-workout would include aspiration pneumonia (think about the old cinnamon challenge), which occurs by inhaling any food or liquid and can be fatal if left untreated,” says Lui.

The consequences of a caffeine pump

Pre-workout powders predominantly consist of caffeine and perhaps other ingredients like beta-alanine or electrolytes, depending on the brand, says Lui. 

“Caffeine is usually the main ingredient responsible for providing that ‘boost’ in energy and decreasing rate of perceived exertion (RPE), so your muscles don’t feel fatigued as quickly through intensity or duration of exercise,” she explains. “While caffeine absorption occurs rapidly in our gut, it is actually absorbed quicker through our oral mucosa.”

A person may feel the effects of caffeine from caffeinated gum more quickly than they do a cup of coffee if taken at the same dose, she adds. This concept could translate to pre-workout powders—or, at least, to how TikTokers view them.

“Dry scooping may result in the pre-workout powder to linger around your tongue for longer, and therefore, enhance absorption through receptors on your tongue,” says Lui. “However, this same effect can be achieved in a safer manner by simply swishing the pre-workout mixed with water around in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing.”

She adds that no known research shows that the powder metabolizes faster or more effectively with or without liquid, assuming a person is taking the same dose. Even if it did, however, more caffeine isn’t necessarily a good thing.

“Excess caffeine intake can cause headaches, restlessness, anxiety, gastrointestinal symptoms, insomnia, decrease in fine motor skills, high blood pressure, and heart abnormalities,” says Lui. “Consumers have reported admissions to the hospital following ingestion of pre-workout supplements without any underlying history of heart conditions.”

Advising patients on safe use

Pre-workout—and supplements in general—are not FDA-regulated, meaning it can be hard to ensure their safety even when following directions. Poison control warns against both dry scooping, saying the trend can lead to toxicity and be life-threatening.[][] 

To mitigate risks as much as possible, Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CSCS, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness and the author of Unapologetic Eating, recommends advising gym-going patients to purchase brands that are third-party tested for safety, and “when in doubt, follow the instructions on the package—because that is what it is designed for.”

Most pre-workout brands instruct users to mix with liquid. (Pre-Kaged, a popular pre-workout brand recommended by Forbes Magazine, tells users to mix a scoop with 12 to 16 ounces of water and shake to mix before consuming.)

Alternative sources of fuel

Pre-workout powders aren’t the only way for athletes to energize their trip to their gym. And taking current risks into account, it could be a good idea to educate patients on alternatives.

Lui recommends talking to patients about the importance of using carbohydrates, not caffeine, for a power boost.

“Caffeine doesn’t actually provide any energy,” says Lui. “Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of fuel, and this will ensure that you have enough energy for your muscles to get the most bang for your buck during training.”

More intense workouts require more carbs, she adds. She suggests offering your patients high-carb snack alternatives, like bananas, bagels, granola bars, and potatoes, to consume about half an hour before a workout.

But, in doing so, you may also want to prepare yourself for resistance. 

“Social media is easily accessible and trends are constantly changing, so be prepared to respond appropriately without making your patients feel like they’ve done anything wrong,” Lui says. Still, she encourages doctors to engage in the conversation when possible: “We can definitely use more qualified health professionals giving our two cents!”

What this means for you

If your patients are frequent gym-goers, talk to them about their pre-workout fueling habits. If they rely on pre-workout mixtures for energy, advise them of the importance of taking this with water—or, offer up other ideas like high-carb snacks.

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