Many people like to drink dietary supplements for a pre-workout boost. These often contain caffeine, creatine, and other ingredients that are said to have benefits for exercise performance. Many come in powder form, designed to be dissolved in liquid before consumption. However, a worrying trend unleashed on TikTok and other social media platforms has seen an increase in the so-called “dry picking” of these powders, and a new study of Canadian teenagers found that 16.9% of respondents had tried this technique in 12 years. previous months.
What is dry digging and what are the risks?
Dry spooning literally means eating a spoonful of powder without first mixing it into a drink. Those who remember the viral cinnamon challenge – for reference, we’re talking about the heady days of the Harlem shake and the ice bucket challenge – will be aware of the concept.
Aside from the discomfort of trying to swallow a mouthful of dry powder, there are some serious potential health consequences you should be aware of. This was highlighted by a mother in 2015 after her four-year-old son tragically died when he accidentally ingested nearly an entire container of powdered cinnamon. The woman implored people who still consider the challenge viral to think again, describing how the cinnamon powder got into her son’s lungs, eventually suffocating him.
Accidental inhalation and gagging is a risk when ingesting any powdered substance in large quantities, but some of the ingredients specifically found in pre-workout supplements can cause their own problems.
Take, for example, caffeine. The caffeine doses in these types of products can be very high, and taking the powder without diluting it first means you’re effectively getting all the caffeine at once. This can lead to rapid heartbeat, chest pain, and dizziness, among other symptoms. If not treated in time, caffeine toxicity can be fatal.
The US National Capital Poison Center also notes that pre-workout supplements are not well regulated and therefore may contain other — potentially toxic — ingredients that are missing from the label.
Essentially, the message is that these products must be diluted for a reason and should only be taken according to package directions. So why the rise of dry digging in the first place and how widespread is this trend?
Why are people drying out and how common is it?
The main rationale for dry scooping is the claim that it allows pre-workout supplements to be absorbed and therefore take effect more quickly than consuming them properly. Speaking with Fatherly, the physician of primary care and sports medicine, Dr. Benedict Ifedi, pointed out that while this may be true, it is not necessarily a good thing.
Aside from the risks we’ve already discussed about consuming large amounts of these ingredients in a short amount of time, there isn’t a lot of research to suggest that pre-workout supplements are worth worrying about.
A 2018 review found that certain pre-workout supplements can be a useful addition to an athlete’s training regimen, but highlighted the dearth of long-term safety studies and the importance of discussing supplementation with a healthcare professional to ensure that there are no interactions with other medications that may need to be taken into account. Another review highlighted the need for better regulation of these products, to try to mitigate the risks associated with fraudulent ingredient labeling. And, as nutritionist Kate Patton told Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials, you can get the same benefits from a carefully balanced diet.
With all the videos and media coverage warning about the dangers of dry digging, however, there has not been an attempt by researchers to clarify just how widespread the practice may be in different groups. That is, until a new study analyzed data from 2,371 youth enrolled in the Canadian Study of Adolescent Health Behaviors.
“To date (…) there have been no epidemiological studies investigating the occurrence of dry cupping among youth, leaving significant information unknown,” lead author Kyle T. Ganson of the University of Toronto said in a statement.
In total, 16.9% of youths included in the survey reported dry digging in the previous year. It was significantly more common in those who identified as male (21.8 percent) compared to those who identified as female (14.2 percent) or transgender/gender non-conforming (8 percent).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, dry scooping was more likely to be reported by those who participate in weight training and those who spend more time on social media. “Our data shows that new food phenomena that become popular on social media and in gym culture can lead to a higher likelihood of engagement,” said Ganson.
The researchers were also concerned about the link they found between dry cupping and clinical symptoms of muscle dysmorphia – a mental health condition in which people become preoccupied with building muscle due to the distorted perception that their bodies are too small. The need to achieve what they consider to be the ideal body can lead them to dangerous practices such as dry scooping.
What is clear from all of this is that more research is needed to better understand how pre-workout supplements might affect people in the long term and how they can be safely incorporated into a fitness regimen. The researchers emphasized the need for better education about the potential harms of dry cupping, as well as increased awareness among healthcare professionals.
“We need healthcare and mental health professionals to be aware of these unique dietary practices designed to increase performance and muscle, such as dry scooping,” concluded Ganson.
The new study was published in the journal Eating Behaviors.