A scoop full of protein powder is shown.
Taking supplemental powders without water can be dangerous. You should also carefully research any products before you try them. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Dry scooping is a trending topic on social media these days.

What is it? An individual swallows a pre-workout powder—protein, caffeine, creatine or other ingredients—without adding any liquid.

But don’t do it.

Medical experts have thrown cold water on the trend, warning it can be dangerous and lead to a jump in blood pressure or heart rate, which can lead to heart rhythm problems.

While some people can take the dry powder without experiencing a negative reaction, others can face significant danger—and the potential unknowns are particularly concerning.

Beyond that, research suggests dry powder alone does not increase your athletic abilities.

Caffeine wild card

Supplements are supposed to help with your performance, giving you a longer and better workout, according to Matthew Axtman, DO, a sports medicine specialist with Spectrum Health Medical Group Orthopedics.

“A lot of problems with pre-workout substances are, generally, because they are not (FDA-approved) and you don’t know what’s in them,” Dr. Axtman said.

Caffeine is one of the most likely major active ingredients in a powder. It adds a caffeine boost, which can increase awareness and performance.

But you must be careful, Dr. Axtman said.

“The problem with some of the pre-workout substances is that they contain high levels of caffeine that can be dangerous, especially to people who don’t drink a lot of caffeine,” he said. “It can be equivalent of having up to four cups of coffee.”

High levels of caffeine can cause chest pain, nausea, light-headedness, heart palpitations and tingling in the arms and legs, Dr. Axtman said.

“There actually have been some stories about people in their 20s who have had heart attacks because of the heart rate and blood pressure increases due to exercising coupled with caffeine,” he said.

Know before you try

If you decide to take a pre-workout powder, know what’s in it and what you are doing.

It’s something not to take lightly—you have to understand what you’re taking, Dr. Axtman said.

The powder should be taken with water because, when taken dry, it puts individuals at risk of choking. The substance could enter their lungs and cause pneumonia.

Consumers have a myriad of protein powders to choose from, including some plant-based or animal-based, said Holly Dykstra, a Spectrum Health cardiovascular dietitian specializing in preventive cardiology and rehab.

You also have to be careful because many of these powders have excessive amounts of sugar and sodium, which may not match your nutrition goals, Dykstra said.

“Some people may benefit from adding protein powder to their diet if they don’t meet their individual protein needs through meals or snacks,” she said. “But a lot of Americans get more protein than they need and so it may not be necessary to take a pre-workout powder. It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor or a dietitian to be sure.”

Not worth the risk

One suggestion to consider: Avoid pre-workout powders altogether.

That’s the advice of Phillip Adler, PhD, a licensed athletic trainer and operations manager for Spectrum Health Orthopedic Outreach.

“From an athletic trainer perspective, I’ve always discouraged supplements, especially those with caffeine in them,” Dr. Adler said.

The risks can outweigh the benefits.

“You’re artificially increasing your heart rate before participating in an activity that normally increases that rate,” Dr. Adler said.

To get ready before your workout, properly hydrate with water and do appropriate stretching exercises.

“I would highly discourage dry scooping because of the potential risks and limited, if any, benefit,” he said.

Dr. Axtman also urges people to play it safe.

“Nothing in research has shown that pre-workout supplements have any benefit in building muscle directly, even if taken with water, but can help with increasing endurance during workouts,” Dr. Axtman said. “If you are concerned about your pre-workout, you can drink some coffee, eat some cheese or meat for protein before your workout and obtain the same effectiveness.

“You’re going to get the same essential ingredients without the need for spending hundreds of dollars on expensive supplements.”