Why Does Pre-Workout Make You Itch? The Beta Alanine Tingles, Explained

A man wearing purple t shirt with black background

If you have ever felt itchy from a pre-workout supplement without being aware of the pre-workout tingle beforehand, you may have been in for a wild surprise. You likely resorted to questions like Is something wrong? Am I allergic? Is this supposed to happen?

A common side effect of pre-workout supplements is an itchy or tingling sensation. It doesn’t happen in all cases, but some may be wondering why does pre-workout make you itch and if there is any cause for concern. In this article, we’ll go over which ingredient causes this phenomenon, its benefits, and how to lessen the itch. 

Why Does Pre-Workout Make you Itch and Tingle

1. Beta-Alanine: The Primary Culprit

Beta-alanine is a common ingredient in many pre-workout supplements. Evidence shows that it can have a multitude of beneficial effects on athletic performance. However, there is a strange side effect that many beta-alanine users experience—the infamous beta-alanine itch. The most common reason for the itching sensation after taking a pre-workout supplement is beta-alanine. 

Researchers aren’t sure of the exact mechanisms behind the itch, but it likely has something to do with G-protein function. Beta-alanine causes blood vessels to expand, a process known as vasodilation. As the vessels expand, more blood flows to the muscles, which can be beneficial for exercise. However, this sends signals to nerve endings to cause a tingling sensation but not a strong enough signal to cause pain. This phenomenon is known as paresthesia.  

Every brand is different, so there are various pre-workout formulas on the market. Some may contain more beta-alanine than others. Typically, larger doses lead to stronger itchy sensations. 

2. Niacin Flush

Another ingredient in many pre-workout supplements is niacin or vitamin B3. High doses of niacin can cause what’s called a “niacin flush”—a reddening of the skin accompanied by a warm, tingling sensation that can verge on itching. This happens because niacin expands the blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the skin.

3. Other Ingredients

There’s a vast array of ingredients in different pre-workout formulas. Caffeine, for instance, can sometimes cause tingling or redness in sensitive individuals. Always check the label, and be aware of how you react to different components.

The Beta-Alanine Itch: Cause for Concern?

The good news is that the pre-workout tingles are not a cause for concern. There is no evidence to suggest that paresthesia is dangerous in the short or long term. It can be a bit unsettling for those new to taking pre-workout with beta-alanine, but it is harmless. 

The tingling sensation is normally felt around 15 minutes after taking pre-workout and is typically felt in the face, neck, shoulders, and arms. It is often only experienced in the upper body. The itchiness diminishes with time, tending to subside within an hour. 

Benefits of Beta-Alanine: Improved Performance for Your Workout

A skinny women in a black gymwear exercising

Even though it has this particular side effect, beta-alanine is included in many pre-workout supplements for a reason. It has been shown to reduce muscle fatigue in short-term exercises, increase exercise capacity, and increase time to exhaustion.

These effects are the results of beta-alanine boosting carnosine levels in the muscles. Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that combines with histidine to form carnosine. Lactic acid is produced during resistance exercise, which causes muscle fatigue. Carnosine acts as a buffer to lower muscle acidity and prolong fatigue. 

Exercise Performance 

Because of this, beta-alanine reduces muscle fatigue and increases exercise capacity. This is why beta-alanine’s benefits are especially pronounced during shorter, high-intensity exercise or weightlifting.

In 2021, researchers reviewed studies from the past decade to see if the supplement beta-alanine helps performance in exercises that mix both steady and intense bursts of activity. They found that beta-alanine had a small but positive effect on certain performance tests.

In a study with 14 experienced cyclists, taking beta-alanine supplements allowed them to cycle intensely for a longer time and possibly improved their speed in a 4 km race. However, the supplement didn’t make a difference in shorter or longer races. So, this supplement might help in some cycling situations, but not all.

Finally, a systematic review reviewed studies to see if the supplement beta-alanine helps boost performance and resistance to fatigue in both athletes and non-athletes. After looking at 23 studies from 2005 to 2015, they found that while beta-alanine might help reduce feelings of tiredness and improve some muscle-related measurements, it didn’t significantly improve overall performance or endurance. So, while it might help you feel less tired, it might not make you perform better.

Strength 

The relationship between beta-alanine and strength gains is inconclusive. However, it’s reasonable to presume that if someone is working out harder and longer due to decreased fatigue they will be more susceptible to building lean muscle mass in the process. 

Dosage 

The ISSN recommends an effective dose of 4-6 grams of beta-alanine per day. The side effects may be mitigated by taking smaller doses of 1.5 grams. Though it is most commonly found in a pre-workout supplement, beta-alanine can be supplemented on its own. 

How Do I Avoid the Itching and Tingling from Pre-workouts?

The first method of preventing the itch and tingling from pre-workout is to avoid supplements with beta-alanine. However, if you want to reap the benefits of this amino acid, rather than taking one dose before a workout, you could take two separate doses to spread out the total amount of beta-alanine. This means you’ll be getting less all at once, which is likely to cause less itching or tingling. When to take the other small dose is entirely up to the user. Just bear in mind that most pre-workouts contain caffeine, which shouldn’t be consumed within eight hours of bedtime to avoid interfering with sleep. 

You could also try a different brand that uses a different dose or form of beta-alanine. Though they do not work the same, creatine has similar benefits for athletic performance. Creatine is also commonly found in pre-workout formulas to prolong muscle fatigue and maximize performance. 

Ready to Try Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout comes with a myriad of benefits, and beta-alanine plays a decent role in delivering these benefits. However, if you really don’t enjoy the tingling or itchiness, there are viable options out there without it. 

Though fitness junkies swear by pre-workout, it is definitely not necessary to achieve ultimate fitness, but of course, it depends on your goals. Pre-workout can come with side effects and can be a bit pricey, but that’s not to say that there aren’t some good value pre-workout supplement powders to try. We can get everything our body needs through a healthy balanced diet to fuel us for a workout.

Per usual, if you are considering trying pre-workout to advance your fitness goals, make sure to talk with a nutritionist or health professional before taking pre-workout regularly. Always consult your doctor before taking dietary supplements if you have pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medication. Contraindications exist between some supplements, foods, and medicines. 

Where to Find CarnoSyn® Verified Products

CarnoSyn supplements facts table chart

Many brands use CarnoSyn, which is a patented form of beta-alanine. It is certified by the Natural Products Association (NPA), Swiss Medic, Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Health Canada, and Natural Food Certifiers (NFC), giving it credibility for safety and effectiveness. There is the option to choose instant release and sustained release. Of course, sustained release may be less likely to cause intense itchiness.  

Thorne’s beta-alanine supplement utilizes CarnoSyn’s sustained-release formula, as you can see in the photo below. 

Conclusion 

That tingling itchiness after sipping your pre-workout might catch you off guard, but drinking pre-workout with beta-alanine is safe; you just may have to feel the itch for a bit until you get into your workout and the feeling subsides. While it’s generally a harmless side effect of some ingredients designed to boost your workout performance, always listen to your body. If something feels off or if the sensation is too strong, it might be time to reevaluate your pre-workout regimen.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Does the Beta-Alanine Itch Hit and How Long Does It Last?

It is most common to feel itchy or tingly on the face, neck, shoulders, and hands. It should go away in less than an hour, but most find it resolves sooner.

How Does Beta-Alanine Help You Workout Harder?

Beta-alanine is an amino acid used to make carnosine. Carnosine creates a buffer to reduce acid buildup in the muscles, which prolongs fatigue. Hypothetically, if it takes you longer to feel tired, you will work harder. 

How Long Does the Pre-Workout Itch Last?

Most feel it about 15 minutes after taking the supplement, and the sensation subsides during the workout. It resolves itself within an hour, but it normally doesn’t last that long. 

How Do You Stop Pre-Workout From Itching?

You can’t necessarily stop it in its tracks, but you can try to prevent it next time. Things like reducing the total dosage or breaking up your dose into smaller ones can help lessen the side effects.  

Is Beta-Alanine Bad For You?

It isn’t bad for you as long as you only take the recommended dose. The itchiness may be uncomfortable to some, but it isn’t harmful. Research suggests no known adverse effects from beta-alanine supplementation. 

Why Does Pre-Workout Make You Tingly?

This is primarily from the ingredient beta-alanine. It is a common ingredient in pre-workout formulas to combat muscle fatigue. 

Is It Safe to Be Itchy From Pre-Workout?

A small amount of tingling, itching, or numbness from pre-workout is normal. Paresthesia from beta-alanine may feel uncomfortable, but it is harmless. 

Why Does Beta-Alanine Make Your Skin Tingle?

Researchers are unsure of the exact mechanism, but it has something to do with sensory neurons that innervate the skin, creating a unique feeling, but one that is painless. 

Can You Get Rid of Pre-Workout Itch?

No, you just have to wait it out. However, you can try to prevent the itch by taking smaller doses. 

References

Bellinger, P. M., & Minahan, C. L. (2015). The effect ofβ-alanine supplementation on cycling time trials of different lengths. European Journal of Sport Science, 16(7), 829–836. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2015.1120782

Berti Zanella, P., Donner Alves, F., & Guerini de Souza, C. (2017). Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on performance and muscle fatigue in athletes and non-athletes of different sports: a systematic review. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 57(9), 1132–1141. https://doi.org/10.23736/S0022-4707.16.06582-8

Dolan, E., Swinton, P. A., Painelli, V. de S., Stephens Hemingway, B., Mazzolani, B., Infante Smaira, F., Saunders, B., Artioli, G. G., & Gualano, B. (2019). A Systematic Risk Assessment and Meta-Analysis on the Use of Oral β-Alanine Supplementation. Advances in Nutrition, 10(3), 452–463. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmy115

Huerta Ojeda, Á., Tapia Cerda, C., Poblete Salvatierra, M. F., Barahona-Fuentes, G., & Jorquera Aguilera, C. (2020). Effects of Beta-Alanine Supplementation on Physical Performance in Aerobic–Anaerobic Transition Zones: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients, 12(9), 2490. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12092490

Liu, Q., Sikand, P., Ma, C., Tang, Z., Han, L., Li, Z., Sun, S., LaMotte, R. H., & Dong, X. (2012). Mechanisms of Itch Evoked by  -Alanine. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(42), 14532–14537. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.3509-12.2012

Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Hoffman, J. R., Wilborn, C. D., Sale, C., Kreider, R. B., Jäger, R., Earnest, C. P., Bannock, L., Campbell, B., Kalman, D., Ziegenfuss, T. N., & Antonio, J. (2015). International society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y

Madison Wilferd | MSc Nutrition

Madison Wilferd | MSc Nutrition

Madison is a freelance health writer and advocate for evidence-based and holistic health information. She holds a BS in Kinesiology and Health Promotion from the University of Kentucky and an MSc in Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Public Health from the University of Bristol.

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