Pre-workout is one of the most popular supplement categories. While the name “pre-workout” implies a whole host of products, ingredients, and formulas, the term has come to refer to a specific category of products.
These products have a few ingredients in common. Caffeine, of course, you’ll find in most of them. You’ll also find relatively high doses of beta-alanine. This is the ingredient that gives pre-workout it’s “itchy,” tingling feeling.
This feeling is called “paresthesia.”
“Paresthesia” refers to various sensations, such as that odd tingling when your foot or arm “falls asleep.” We’re all familiar with this feeling, and we know when our feet fall asleep and we’re walking funny for a few seconds, it’s not the end of the world.
On a physiological level, beta-alanine causes the nerves to exude a parethestic effect.
No, not in a strict physiological sense. Research has continued to affirm that it’s not dangerous.
However, if it’s uncomfortable, then you can find ways to avoid it. There’s also no benefit to the itch itself, it’s just a result of the beta-alanine.
Unlike when your foot falls asleep, this won’t go away within seconds. With a standard dose, it lasts for about 30 minutes and kicks in 15 minutes after consumption. You’re going to have to ride it out until the beta-alanine is fully metabolized. For most, it’s a feeling they could go without.
But it’s not dangerous. You’re not dying. Your skin isn’t about to burst.
The main benefit of beta-alanine is that it delays neuromuscular fatigue by keeping the pH of cells more basic. The buildup of acid is often what keeps us from doing more reps, so beta-alanine, by limiting the acid buildup, gives us that boost.
It’s one of the most well-researched pre-workout ingredients. Even if it gives you the itch, that’s nothing to worry about. In fact, you’ll have enhanced muscular endurance.
It’s a valuable ingredient, however, you definitely don’t need it. And, you can still get these benefits without the itch at lower doses.
There are a bunch of steps you can take to reduce this itchy feeling, ranging from reducing the dose to avoiding it altogether.
The typical pre-workout beta-alanine has about 1.5 grams. That’s a lot. If you don’t usually use beta-alanine, you can get the benefits without the tingling sensation.
A good place to start is with a .5g dose. This means you can either take a third of a serving (which also means less caffeine, which pre-workouts also usually have too much of), find a product with less beta-alanine, or just buy beta-alanine by itself. That way you can select the dose without changing the amount of other ingredients in the pre-workout.
Coffee, for example, is a phenomenal pre-workout beverage without any beta-alanine.
Third, you don’t need to take anything before your workout.
As with anything the basics of training, nutrition, and sleep will do much more for your workout performance than any pre-workout ingredient.
The best “pre-workout” is 8 hours of sleep. Or drinking water. Or eating whole foods meals.
These are all more important than beta-alanine, and it’s where you should focus your attention.
You can also look into interventions like music and targeted warm-up routines, as we outline in this article on 3 pre-workout strategies to have your best workout of the month.
The Itch Isn’t Going Away. Will I Die?
You will die eventually, although not as a result of beta-alanine. As long as you’ve taken a normal dose, there’s nothing to worry about. Now, if you dry-scooped 5 servings of your super-nitro-mega-ultra pre-workout and you feel like crap… then stop taking your pre-workout.