Pre-workout supplements are designed to help you train longer and harder than normal.
Loaded with energizing and fatigue-fighting ingredients, a pre-workout can be the difference between having a good training session and a GREAT one!
And, on those days that you don’t feel like exercising at all, a shot of pre-workout can get you up and moving so you don’t skip your session altogether.
Pre-workouts are, by and large, safe to use. You may feel a little buzzed, anxious, or jittery if you take too much, but these are short-term, tolerable side effects for most people.
That said, one side effect that can be more off-putting is the itchiness or tingling that some pre-workouts cause.
For some people, this is just an indicator that their pre-workout is effective. For others, it’s a reason not to use this type of supplement.
So, why does pre-workout make you itchy, and is this side-effect anything to worry about? We reveal the answers!
What Pre-Workout Ingredients Make You Itch?
Pre-workouts contain a range of energizing and fatigue-fighting ingredients, and formulations vary from one supplement company to another.
Some products trigger minimal itchiness or none at all. Others make it feel like you are wearing a rough woolen undershirt!
Supplements that are high in beta-alanine and niacin are most likely to trigger itchiness…
Beta-alanine is an amino acid. Amino acids are derived from protein.
Beta-alanine combines with another amino acid, histidine, to make carnosine.
Carnosine is a proven performance booster and fatigue fighter.
Carnosine is broken down shortly after ingestion, so it’s not a very useful supplement.
However, taking beta-alanine means your body can make carnosine on demand and in abundance, producing a more noticeable and long-lasting effect.
Beta-alanine is particularly helpful during short, intense workouts such as strength training and HIIT cardio.
It lowers the acidity within your muscles and buffers them against the effect of lactic acid.
With a little less lactic acid to deal with, you should find that you can pump out an extra couple of reps or recover a little faster between sets, making your workout more productive (1).
While beta-alanine definitely works, in significant doses (over 500mg), it triggers flushing and reddening of the skin, which is usually accompanied by tingling and itchiness.
Most pre-workouts contain large amounts of beta-alanine.
Interestingly, more modest doses of beta-alanine have been shown to be as effective as larger doses.
This begs the question, why do most pre-workouts contain such large amounts?
The answer is simple: some people like to feel their pre-workout working.
So, if you prefer to work out without itchiness and flushing, look for pre-workouts that have modest amounts of beta-alanine, such as 300mg or less, or that are beta-alanine-free.
Alternatively, look for pre-workouts that contain BetaPrime. This is a patented ingredient designed to replicate the effects of beta-alanine without the itchiness.
Niacin is another name for vitamin B3. It’s found in a wide range of animal and plant-based foods, including:
- Dairy products
- Whole grains
- Fortified cereals
Pre-workouts often contain 200% or more of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of niacin.
It’s this large dose of niacin that is responsible for much of the itchiness associated with using a pre-workout supplement.
There’s even a name for the sensation caused by taking too much vitamin B3 – niacin flush (2).
While vitamin B3 is a crucial compound for things like regulation of your metabolism, nervous system function, and it has powerful antioxidant properties, it has no performance-boosting effects.
Pre-workout manufacturers add niacin to their products simply to trigger flushing and itchiness, so users feel their pre-workout is working.
This has a placebo effect, and you’ll train harder simply because you can feel your pre-workout rushing through your system.
The easiest solution to this source of tingling is to avoid pre-workouts that contain niacin.
Remember, it doesn’t even boost your performance or ward off fatigue; it’s just there to give you’re the tingles so you can feel your pre-workout supplement working.
How To Prevent The Itchiness
Pre-workouts containing a lot of beta-alanine and niacin will cause more itchiness and tingling than those with less of these ingredients.
If this itchiness bothers you, seek out products that are low in beta-alanine and niacin or that are free from these ingredients entirely.
There are lots of alternative energizing ingredients, including caffeine, creatine, citrulline malate, and betaine, none of which cause tingling or itchiness.
If you are okay with a bit of itchiness, try taking a smaller dose of your pre-workout. Itchiness is usually proportional to the amount of niacin and beta-alanine you consume.
Experiment to determine the ideal intake that gives you the results you want with the level of itchiness you can tolerate.
You may even find that, over a few weeks of regular use, your tolerance to beta-alanine and niacin improves, and the itchiness gradually decreases and becomes less of an issue.
Of course, you don’t HAVE to use a pre-workout at all. A cup of strong homemade coffee may be all you need to get pumped up before a workout.
Caffeine is a potent energizer. In fact, up until the 1960s, caffeine was on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) list of banned substances, and more than a couple of cups of strong coffee could get you banned from competition!
Pre-workout supplements can be useful for all exercisers. They help boost energy and ward off fatigue, so you can train longer and harder than usual.
This could make your workouts more productive.
Pre-workout supplements contain a range of ingredients, varying from product to product, but the ones responsible for tinging, flushing, and itchiness are niacin and beta-alanine.
Niacin does nothing for your workout performance. In fact, it’s only used to trigger itchiness, so you can feel your supplement working.
Some users associate this itchiness with an effective product, so it may have something of a placebo effect.
Beta-alanine is a legitimate performance booster and helps reduce the fatiguing effects of lactic acid.
In large doses, it too causes itchiness but tends to have fewer side effects in more moderate amounts.
Interestingly, a little beta-alanine goes a long way, and you don’t need a lot to boost your energy.
Pre-workout flushing, tinging, and itchiness are nothing to worry about, but they can be uncomfortable and distracting.
If you are bothered by itchiness, look for supplements with little or no niacin and beta-alanine.
There are plenty of other compounds that are just as energizing but that have fewer side effects. Visit the Fitness Equipment Reviews homepage for more expert information.
1 – PubMed: Β-Alanine Supplementation to Improve Exercise Capacity and Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27797728/
2 – PubMed: The Mechanism and Mitigation of Niacin-Induced Flushing https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2779993/