Have you ever felt the tingling sensation or the so-called pre workout itch? Chances are you have and it might have even ruined your workout.
The feeling of itchiness can be annoying and sometimes even distracting, but what causes it? In this article I’ll provide you with all the answers you’re looking for.
What’s causing you to itch?
It’s most likely the beta alanine in your pre-workout supplement.
This is because Beta alanine causes acute paresthesia (also known as the beta alanine itch to the fitness community).
Paresthesia is the medical term for a sensation of tingling, pricking, or burning of the skin with no apparent long-term physical effect.
The most common form of paresthesia occurs in the hands, feet, and limbs.
“Beta-alanine is a nonproteinogenic amino acid (i.e., it is not incorporated into proteins during translation). It is synthesized in the liver and can be ingested in the diet through animal-based foods like beef and chicken.”1
It’s often added to pre-workout supplements for its supposed performance-enhancing effects.
One study has shown that beta-alanine can improve exercise capacity during moderate duration (0,5-10 minutes), high intensity activities like middle-distance swimming and running.2
However, one of the side effects of this amino acid is, as mentioned earlier, acute paresthesia, which is the feeling of itching or tingling on the skin.
If you want to avoid this, I’d suggest checking out one of the tastiest and effective pre workout supplements called Gorilla Mode, which doesn’t include any Beta Alanine.
Now let’s explore why does beta alanine cause this tingling sensation?
How Does Beta Alanine Work?
Beta alanine works by increasing the levels of carnosine in the muscles. Carnosine is naturally produced within the body and is made up of beta alanine and histidine. It’s also referred to as L-carnosine, not to be confused with L-carnitine.
“Carnosine may attenuate acidosis by acting as a pH buffer, but improved contractile performance may also be obtained by improved excitation-contraction coupling and defense against reactive oxygen species.”3
Why Does Beta Alanine Make You Itch?
The increase in carnosine levels can also lead to an increase in nerve firing, which can cause the feeling of itching or tingling.
Supplementing With Beta Alanine
If you’re experiencing the itch after taking a pre-workout supplement, you can try supplementing with beta alanine on its own.
That way you can take it in smaller doses than what’s in a pre workout serving and avoid the side effects.
Note: supplementing with carnosine is not as effective as supplementing with beta alanine because most of the carnosine, when taken orally, is broken down during digestion meaning that it doesn’t reach your muscles.4
Another reason why beta-alanine supplementation proves to be more efficient is because beta alanine is the limiting factor in muscle carnosine synthesis.
Beta alanine is similar to creatine in that it takes a few weeks before the muscles’ carnosine levels are saturated.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) suggests a daily supplementation with 4 to 6 g of beta-alanine for at least 2 to 4 weeks for it to have a significant impact on your performance. 5
Niacin, or vitamin B3, is another ingredient often found in pre-workout supplements, although not as commonly as beta alanine.
Like beta alanine, niacin can also cause the feeling of itchiness or tingling due to the flushing and inflammation of the skin.
“Niacin helps to convert nutrients into energy, create cholesterol and fats, create and repair DNA, and exert antioxidant effects.”6
How Does Niacin Work?
“Niacin works by lowering both your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol and other fatty substances (triglycerides) in your blood and raising your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol.”7
Supplementing With Niacin
For exercise performance benefits, I wouldn’t even worry about niacin as it can be found in many foods like:8
- Red meat: beef, beef liver, pork
- Brown rice
- Fortified cereals and breads
- Nuts, seeds
Now you know why you’re experiencing that itch after taking a pre-workout supplement.
If you want to avoid the beta alanine itch, check the pre workout ingredients for beta alanine before buying, to avoid the beta alanine itch.
You can also try beta alanine supplementation separately to avoid the side effects by taking it in smaller doses throughout the day.
Niacin is less likely to give you itchy skin, since you need higher doses than most pre workouts provide.
You can also try taking niacin in smaller doses although I don’t think it would be worthwhile.
In my opinion, from the research I’ve come across, the overall benefits of taking beta alanine or niacin are negligible. You could argue that they are beneficial for certain sports but to me, the cons outweigh the pros.
They won’t help you build lean muscle mass, get stronger or improve your workout performance to a significant degree. If they do then it’s most likely a placebo effect.
I would much rather focus on caffeine and creatine, as there is a lot of research showing their effectiveness for exercise performance.
Or if you really want to, you can do some digging on recovery supplements like for example L-Glutamine and/or tart cherry extract.
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How do I stop itching from pre-workout?
The best solution is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The active ingredient in pre-workouts that causes itching is beta alanine. Try finding a pre-workout that doesn’t contain beta alanine.
Is it bad if Preworkout makes you itchy?
It’s not harmful in any way, although it can disturb your workout. The only way to find out is to try a pre workout that gives you the itching sensation and see if it affects your focus.
Does Beta Alanine make you itch?
If taken in large enough doses at a time, then yes. Everyone’s tolerance is different, so it’s hard to pinpoint the threshold. To find out yours, I’d suggest that you experiment with different dosages.