Pull of social media drives potentially dangerous ‘dry scooping’ fad, expert says

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - magnez2
©Getty Images - magnez2

Related tags: Sports nutrition products, Sports nutrition sector, Sports Nutrition Summit USA, powdered caffeine

The latest craze in the social media driven world of sports nutrition has gym rats eschewing water and taking scoops of powdered supplements straight.

The trend gained visibility via a presentation of a research paper at a  recent virtual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics​. Called ‘dry scooping,’ the fad involves ingesting the powder neat, without mixing it with water first.

The researchers reportedly counted millions of likes on TikTok for the practice, which experts said included potential dangers.  

A 20-year-old participant in a dry scooping ‘challenge’ on TikTok reportedly suffered a heart attack​ after ingesting an unspecified quantity of a pre workout powder via the method.  Some pre workout products can contain high dosages of caffeine.

Even with higher dosages, it would be difficult to suffer a caffeine overdose when using the products as directed, because it would entail drinking many liters of liquid at the same time.  The risk the dry scooping scenario poses is similar to that which led the US Food Administration to issue a guidance warning against powdered bulk caffeine​ products in 2016.

No data to predict outcome

Chad Kerksick, PhD, of Lindenwood University in St Charles, MO, said the influence of social media is as powerful in the sports nutrition realm as it is in other sectors of society, especially among younger consumers.

“It makes for a great TikTok video if nothing else.  In this category you are always battling that element,” ​Kerksick told NutraIngredients-USA.  Kerksick will be one of the speakers at NutraIngredients-USA’s upcoming Sports & Active Nutrition Summit in San Diego.  The summit, which returns this year as an in-person event, is scheduled for Feb. 14-16, 2022.

Kerksick said he couldn’t say whether there might be a performance boosting aspect to the practice.  As a researcher he said he’s careful to base his opinions on data, and in this case there just isn’t any.

“ Is it going to affect their performance?  I am not aware of any studies that have systematically addressed that pattern of administration.  There is very little evidence either way.  The only ‘positive’ result is the feedback these people are getting on their social media feed,” ​he said.

Kerksick said it might be easy to just shake one’s head and pass this off as just another goofball fad, such as consuming dozens of eggs raw (the performance boosting ‘supplement’ du jour of a few decades ago). But this practice is cause for legitimate concern.

“From a scientific standpoint there are a lot more reasons to be concerned than not,”​ he said. “If these kinds of supplements are used as directed, they are mixed with water and meant to be consumed over a 15-minute to 20-minute time period.”

“And then there are those who will think, if one scoop is good, two scoops are better,”​ he added.

Genetic differences

A potential confounding factor could be the now well-established genetic differences in how consumers metabolize caffeine.  Depending on the variant of the CYP1A2 gene​ a person has, they might clear caffeine from their systems quite quickly.  Or not, which is thought to be the primary reason why some people find that one cup of coffee causes an unpleasant case of the jitters while others can drink many cups. 

It’s unlikely any of the originators of the dry scooping fad have considered whether genetic factors could affect the outcome. Someone who metabolizes caffeine slowly could be at greater risk in an overdose situation.  That’s not to mention the acute effects other stimulant ingredients could have when ingested this way.

“My gut tells me this is just a nutty thing that gym rats are doing,”​ Kerksick said.

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