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July 19, 2023
If you regularly use pre-workouts, then you’re likely used to that familiar tingling and itching in your lips and skin. Some say this is evidence that the pre-workout is doing its job. This isn’t incorrect, but these sensations come from a few specific ingredients that may or may not have anything to do with whether a pre-workout is working.
The tingling and itching are usually attributed to two common ingredients – beta alanine and niacin.
In this article we’ll discuss these ingredients and how they contribute to exercise performance, as well as why they cause the itching and tingling sensation you may be familiar with. Then we’ll dig deeper into things you can do to prevent or offset the pre-workout tingle and itch.
The short answer is yes, but these sensations come from certain ingredients – beta alanine and niacin. There is a handful of common pre-workout ingredients that have various effects, ranging from energy to increased blood flow. The most common pre-workout ingredients are caffeine, creatine, beta alanine, taurine, citrulline and tyrosine1.
Caffeine is likely the most notable and understood ingredient – caffeine gives you energy and helps prolong performance. But too much caffeine, and you’ll start to feel jittery, even anxious.
This isn’t the only ingredient that can cause annoying or weird side effects. The others are a bit more benign, but no less weird.
As mentioned above, the tingling and itching sensations you may experience after drinking pre-workout are not properties of the pre-workout as a whole – they are caused by two common ingredients found within the pre-workout.
These ingredients are beta alanine, an amino acid, and niacin, a B vitamin.
Let’s take a closer look at why these two ingredients cause the familiar tingling and skin itching or flushing...
So, if you’ve ever gulped down a pre-workout, then a short while later felt your lips and maybe fingers tingle, you’re not alone. This is a sensation called paresthesia, and it’s a normal effect of beta alanine intake.
WHY beta alanine causes itching isn’t completely understood, but it has to do with how it works in the body – when beta alanine enters the blood, it binds with the amino acid histidine. This triggers a little bit of neurologic activity in the peripheral nervous system (the part that signals to the extremities), which causes that notorious tingling. It’s typically concentrated in the lips because, well, that’s how it got in!
You shouldn’t be alarmed by the tingling – this is a normal effect of taking beta alanine, especially at doses greater than 1g, which is what you’ll likely find in most pre-workouts1. In fact, some bodybuilders tend to see the tingling sensation as a sign that the pre workout supplement is doing its job. What’s more interesting, some cyclists have even reported that the tingling actually contributed to increased performance in time trials – in other words, the tingling gave them the feeling of a boost1.
In actuality, this is more of a placebo effect (unless they are dosing beta alanine properly - more on that in a moment).
The tingling and itching brought on by beta alanine usually has a peak intensity no matter the dose, but it will tend to last longer based on how much you’ve taken, or what you do.
The best thing you can expect is ~20 minutes of tingling. There's no way to stop beta alanine itch or beta alanine tingles, but the itchiness and tingling tends to subside once you start working out, so be sure you put that pre-workout to use!
It’s time we discussed how beta alanine helps with performance, and how that contributes to the tingling and itch.
Beta alanine is commonly found in pre-workout supplements. It has been well studied, and is known to dramatically reduce muscle fatigue during intense resistance training1,2.
Beta alanine, when combined with the amino acid histidine, forms carnosine. Carnosine removes hydrogen ions that are waste products of muscular contraction. As hydrogen ions build up in the muscle, the muscle environment becomes acidic, which contributes to fatigue and the burning sensation you feel when you get close to failure.2,3
Supplemental beta alanine helps to generate more carnosine, meaning better hydrogen removal, and improved fatigue resistance.
Now that we know WHAT beta alanine does, let’s discuss how to supplement with it to get the best results.
As mentioned, beta alanine works to reduce muscle fatigue during a given exercise. But, taking it with a preworkout may not be the best way to maximize its effects...
As you see, beta alanine can be an effective supplement to help you boost your performance, but you should supplement with it separately from a pre-workout to get the most out of it. In fact, there may be no real use for beta alanine in pre-workouts other than giving consumers the tingling sensation to show it’s working.
Now that you know the secrets of beta alanine, let’s shift our focus to niacin, another pre-workout ingredient that may cause tingling and itching.
Niacin is another ingredient found commonly in pre-workouts that contributes to energy levels but may be better known for the tingling and skin flushing that it causes, which usually feels and looks like a sunburn.
Niacin is a B vitamin (B3) that helps the body generate ATP during respiration and is found in many different foods naturally. It is an essential nutrient, and adults need ~14-16mg daily, and the average dietary intake is ~20-30mg4. This is important to note because niacin intake can quickly approach toxicity levels, and niacin toxicity, while rare, can be severe.
Niacin is not like beta alanine or other amino acids and nutrients – it is an essential nutrient that helps with vital processes in every cell of the body and does not exclusively contribute to improved performance. It may help boost endurance during lifting or cardio, but this isn’t well-studied.
Niacin is known to cause itching and flushing of the skin, also known as pruritis. The reason for this is not really understood, but it is known to occur at doses of about 30mg/day4.
Pre-workouts can contain anywhere from 13mg-31mg of niacin, which can be almost double the recommended intake1.
The tolerable upper level for niacin intake is 35mg/day. This means that you can take up to 35 mg/day before experiencing adverse effects and even toxicity.
Niacin isn’t really something you supplement with, in the traditional bodybuilding supplement sense, like creatine or beta alanine. The tingling and flush of niacin is often the property that bodybuilders look for to let them know the pre-workout is working, and supplement manufacturers know this. Unfortunately, companies can hide the amounts of a given nutrient in a proprietary blend, so you never know how much you’re really getting.
When it comes to niacin supplementation, look for pre-workouts that list the amount, or avoid it altogether. Nearly 50% of all pre-workouts contain some level of niacin, so try to find the ones that don’t1.
Before we conclude, let’s take a minute to discuss some strategies for reducing these tingling and itching sensations.
A lot of newer, advanced pre-workout formulas are withholding beta alanine as it is not really useful in a pre-workout (unless you are supplementing it on the side as well on pre-workout off days).
The pre-workout industry has come a long way over the years and companies are really being more thoughtful with their formulas. Still, many pre-workouts (the majority) will have beta alanine, whether it is as a way to "feel" your pre-workout, the company doesn't do it's research, or they just think people expect it.
Again, beta alanine won't do anything for you unless you load and dose every day the proper amount, so if you get a pre-workout without beta alanine, you won't be missing anything in terms of energy, focus, pump, and power. And, you won't get the beta alanine tingle or itch.
If your supplement does contain beta-alanine and it causes tingling and itching, make sure you don't take pre-workout on an empty stomach, as it can make symptoms even more noticeable.
Another thing to consider is avoiding pre-workouts from shady companies and pre-workouts that show you ALL of the the ingredients and dosages. You really never know what you are getting with these pre-workouts. One study found the ingredient doses vary significantly across products, and the doses, when listed, don’t match what the research actually supports for performance boosting1.
Niacin is not a saturation ingredient so it will be effective with one time use. The vast majority of pre-workouts will contain niacin. That said, some pre-workouts contain higher doses that cause skin flushing, and thus tingles. So, if you don't like that, find a pre-workout with a lower dose - around 20mg or less should avoid these side effects while still granting potential energy and blood flow enhancement.
This may not be the best advice, but it seems that the increased blood flow helps to reduce these symptoms, although this is anecdotal and may just be attributed to the 20 or so minutes it takes for these nutrients to be metabolized.
Ultimately, your best bet is to avoid a pre-workout with beta alanine and a high niacin dose.
The ingredient in many pre-workouts that causes tingling is called beta-alanine. It's an amino acid that can enhance muscular endurance, and its side effect is a sensation called paresthesia, which is often described as a tingling or prickling sensation.
The itching sensation, often a result of beta-alanine, is a harmless side effect known as paresthesia. While it might be uncomfortable or distracting for some people, it isn’t indicative of a harmful reaction or a sign that the pre-workout is "working better." However, if someone experiences excessive itching or develops a rash or other skin reactions, it could be an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients, and they should discontinue use and consult a doctor.
The itching or tingling sensation from pre-workout supplements, typically from beta-alanine, usually lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, but it can last up to a couple of hours after consumption for some individuals, albeit rare. The duration can vary from person to person and depends on the dosage taken.
As individuals continue to consume beta-alanine over time, they may notice a decrease in the intensity or duration of this sensation.
No, not everyone experiences the itchy or tingling sensation from pre-workout. The sensation, often attributed to beta-alanine, varies among individuals. Some may feel it strongly, others might experience it mildly, and some might not feel it at all. Factors like dosage, individual tolerance, and other ingredients in the pre-workout can also influence the experience.
In the end, our goal here was to discuss the notorious tingle and itch associated with some pre-workout ingredients. While caffeine is known for its energy boosting, and often jitter-inducing, properties, beta alanine are right up there.
Unfortunately, many supplement manufacturers don’t list the amounts of these ingredients, so it can be hard to know how much you’re getting – too much or not enough.
Your best bet is to find a pre-workout formula that has no beta alanine if you hate the tingles and itch. The best pre-workout ingredients to look for are energy and endurance ingredients like caffeine, theanine, and taurine; pump ingredients like citruilline and glycerpump; focus ingredients like tyrosine and Alpha-GPC; and power ingredients like betaine, elevATP, and creatine.
With that in mind, here are some key takeaways to consider. In the end, don’t forget to add on a few extra reps as it will help you build lean muscle mass in the long run!
In search of a great pre-workout? Check out our list of the Best Pre-Workout Supplements on the market OR simply our top 2 picks below...
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