The Dry Scooping Pre-Workout TikTok Trend Went Dangerously Wrong for These People

Dry scooping pre-workout powder is the latest craze on TikTok—although some who have tried it have ended up in hospital.

Social media users are filming themselves as they swallow mouthfuls of the powder without adding water. Some claim that doing this allows the body to digest the substance faster and enhances its effects.

However, medical professionals such as YouTuber Bernard Hsu have said this is not true. Others have warned about the high, and often unregulated, amounts of caffeine in the powder—up to three times as much as a normal cup of coffee.

The risk of choking is also a concern. It seems the internet didn't learn much from the cinnamon challenge, as doctors are again issuing warnings about the danger of inhaling the powder while it's in your throat.

In a statement to Newsweek, a spokesperson for TikTok said of the trend: "The safety of our users is our top priority. We launched an investigation as soon as this content was brought to our attention. We work to either limit, label, or remove content that depicts dangerous acts or challenges. We have applied warning labels to these videos, reminding users that behavior of this kind can result in serious injury. We encourage everyone to exercise caution in their behavior whether online or off."

Various TikTokers have already documented their dangerous experiences with the trend.

Closeup of weightlifter clapping hands before barbell
Weightlifter claps hands before barbell workout. Dry scooping pre-workout powder has become a popular—and dangerous—TikTok trend. Getty Images

Bernard Hsu's story of JA's brain injury

Bernard Hsu posts educational videos on YouTube about "patients who I, or my colleagues have seen. They are de-identified and many instances have been presented in more depth in an academic setting."

One of his latest videos is about "JA"—a TikTok fitness influencer who attempted to dry scoop on camera in a bid to gain followers. He managed to swallow two scoops before he began choking. However, the video did attract followers and views.

Deciding to ride the wave, JA tried again. This time, he doubled his intake to four scoops. Anticipating that he would end up choking again, he chased down the dry powder with a pre-workout shake. The shake contained another four scoops of the powder mixed with water, making his total intake eight scoops.

During his heavy lifting workout, JA found himself sweating and jittery, and could feel his eyes bulging. His mother later found him "huddled on the floor" in his room, unconscious. After he was rushed to hospital, doctors discovered his blood pressure was 330/180 and one pupil was bigger than the other, indicating a brain injury.

"The combination of huge amounts of caffeine and beta phenylethylamine in eight scoops of pre-workout swallowed all at once, with heavy lifting, all together could have increased JA's blood pressure so high that it caused his brain to start to stroke in the form of a bleed," said Hsu.

Doctors only discovered the cause after watching the videos, because standard tests do not search for pre-workout powder ingredients in the body. Part of JA's skull was removed, allowing the pressure in the swollen brain to be relieved. He made a full recovery after months of rehabilitation.

A woman stopped breathing while filming herself

TikTok user @mkaaaybabee filmed herself trying the trend, with the help of a male friend who warned her not to inhale as she swallowed the powder. He can even be heard in the video explaining that he once threw up after breathing in the substance.

The clip was shared on April 22 and shows the TikTok user appearing physically uncomfortable as she tries to swallow the powder, following it with some water. However, the video takes a turn for the worse as she begins to choke.

"I can't breathe," she attempts to say, while crying. Her friend tries to guide her through it, but @mkaaaybabee gestures that she needs her inhaler.

"Maybe not a good idea, if you have asthma, to dry scoop, because that was scary," says the man off camera.

The video has amassed more than 1 million views, but clearly didn't deter some TikTokers from trying the trend for themselves.

Briatney Portillo suffered a heart attack after dry scooping

Briatney Portillo, 20, shared her dry scooping experience to TikTok on April 15. With the clown filter on her face, she wrote: "Taking a dry pre-workout scoop because I saw it trending on TikTok. Ending up in the hospital because I had a heart attack."

In follow-up videos, Portillo explained that she had suffered an NSTEMI—a type of heart attack that tends to be less dangerous because it often means only part of the blood supply to the heart has been blocked.

"After I took the pre-workout, I started to feel tingly and itchy all over my body, which wasn't a good feeling, but I Googled it and it said that was a normal side effect, so I began to do my workout," she told BuzzFeed. "I started to feel a heavy feeling in my chest and slight pain, but it wasn't too bad. I thought it was maybe anxiety or a bad panic attack, so I decided to just ignore it and push through my workout."

After returning home and showering, the symptoms had lessened, so Portillo continued to head to her job as an exotic dancer. While in the changing rooms, though, the pain returned.

"I started getting hot, even though it was cold in there. I started sweating a lot and was drenched even though I was wearing a bikini," she told BuzzFeed. "Then my chest pain came back and this time it was more intense."

"The pain went to my back and to my left arm, and my left arm went slightly limp, so I knew those were symptoms of a heart attack. I called 911 and the ambulance came," she said.

In a later video, Portillo claimed the powder had had a strong effect on her because of her low caffeine tolerance.

Update 6/5/21, 03:27 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include a statement from TikTok.