Have you ever knocked back your pre-workout, only to get to the gym and find yourself itching non-stop? Or mid-set, your skin feels prickly and sharp? Most people attribute it to their pre-workout kicking in and take it as a sign it’s working, but it’s not.
The itchy, tingly, burning sensation you feel all over your body—especially in your chest and face—is usually the result of beta-alanine and niacin.
While neither is likely to interfere with your performance, being itchy and uncomfortable can be a huge buzzkill. So, we’re talking about how beta-alanine and niacin contribute to performance and how you can avoid tingles during your workout.
What Causes Tingles?
The tingling sensation (pins and needles) that you feel in your body after taking a pre-workout is acute paresthesia. While usually localized to the hands, arms, feet, and legs, it can happen anywhere on the body.
You’re probably familiar with pins and needs when your hand or leg falls asleep, which is caused by pressure on a nerve and subsides after the position is changed, this type of paresthesia isn’t the result of a compressed nerve—it results from high doses of beta-alanine, a non-essential beta-amino acid, that stimulate neurons in the skin.
One of the significant side effects of supplementing beta-alanine is paresthesia, which happens when amounts exceeding 800mg are consumed in a single dose 1. However, the symptoms experienced from beta-alanine are transient and caused by elevated plasma concentrations.
While the exact mechanism for why beta-alanine causes itchiness and paresthesia isn’t clear, it’s thought to involve the neurons present in the skin that are responsible for signaling the itch sensation.
When the nerve receptors interact with beta-alanine, sensory neurons trigger a reaction that sends signals to the brain that cause itchiness 2.
And while it may be downright uncomfortable and annoying, there’s no evidence suggesting it’s harmful, so keep pushing through your workout if you can deal with feeling tingly.
The other compound that can cause flushing and tingles is niacin or vitamin B3. It’s an essential nutrient involved in the generation of ATP during respiration. At doses around 30mg/day, niacin is known to cause what’s referred to as “niacin flush.”
High-dose niacin causes the tiny capillaries in your skin to dilate, which increases blood flow to the surface of the skin and causes flushing 3.
Flushing usually manifests as redness or warmth of the skin (usually on the face and chest) but can also be accompanied by tingling or itching. The response is transient and typically lasts about an hour, but may cause some discomfort.
What Is Beta-Alanine?
If you take a pre-workout, you’ve probably heard about beta-alanine. It’s a non-essential amino acid that plays a big role in muscle carnosine levels.
Here’s the short version.
Increasing muscle pH (intramuscular acidosis) is one of the primary causes of fatigue during intense exercise. Carnosine plays a significant role in regulating muscle pH and is produced in skeletal muscle from the precursor amino acids L-histidine and β-alanine 1.
Because beta-alanine is the rate-limiting factor involved in carnosine synthesis, supplementation can increase muscle carnosine content and improve muscle buffering capacity, thereby improving physical performance and reducing fatigue during high-intensity activities 4.
Several studies have shown that long-term beta-alanine supplementation (1.6–6.4g/day for 2–10 weeks) can significantly increase muscle carnosine concentrations 4.
Some research suggests that beta-alanine may be most effective for exercises that rely heavily on ATP synthesis from anaerobic glycolysis. Here’s why.
As training progresses, hydrogen ions produced from lactic acid disassociation exceed the intracellular buffering capacity of muscles, which causes the pH of the muscles to fall (become acidic).
Hydrogen ion accumulation is thought to contribute to the onset of fatigue during short-duration, maximal exercise because it interferes with several metabolic processes, resulting in decreased force production and fatigue 5.
In the simplest terms possible, hydrogen ion accumulation (acidic muscles) disrupts the proper function of muscles and interferes with their ability to contract.
Some of the key benefits linked to beta-alanine supplementation include:
- Increases carnosine synthesis and muscle buffering capacity
- Improves athletic performance
- Enhances muscle growth
- Increase physical work capacity
- Accelerates muscle recovery
- Boosts endurance
Tips For Maximizing Your Workout Without Jitters
1. Choose Slow-Released Beta-Alanine
While there are several benefits to taking beta-alanine, if you don’t want to experience the itchy, cutting it out isn’t your only option—check out sustained-release options.
Because large doses of beta-alanine drastically increase blood concentrations, leading to major tingles, slowing down absorption is key to mitigating the side effects.
Most studies agree that over 800mg in a single dose will result in tingles, so either spreading your amount out or taking sustained-release supplements like SR CarnoSyn® sustained release beta-alanine is ideal for reducing jitters and tingles.
2. Minimize Stimulants
Caffeine may not cause tingles, but it can cause jitters when taken in large amounts, curbing your focus just as itchiness and tingles can.
Although caffeine does offer performance benefits, mega doses—that is, doses exceeding 9 mg/kg body weight—aren’t shown to have any additional performance benefits over doses of 3-6 mg/kg body weight 6.
So, if you want to maximize focus, concentration, and performance, avoid overdoing it on caffeine. Stick to low-moderate doses for optimal performance.
If you’re looking to avoid unwanted side effects from your pre-workout, the best advice is to choose a pre-workout with beta-alanine or be mindful of how much is in your pre. With Pre Lab Pro, you’re getting all the perks of a solid pre-workout, sans beta-alanine.
It’s a complex of natural compounds designed to increase nitric oxide production to boost blood flow and turbocharge your workout while reducing the mega-stimulation with most conventional pre-workout supplements.
- Artioli GG, Gualano B, Smith A, Stout J, Lancha AH Jr. Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(6):1162-1173.
- Liu Q, Sikand P, Ma C, et al. Mechanisms of itch evoked by β-alanine. J Neurosci. 2012;32(42):14532-14537.
- Kamanna VS, Ganji SH, Kashyap ML. The mechanism and mitigation of niacin-induced flushing. Int J Clin Pract. 2009;63(9):1369-1377.
- Bellinger PM. β-Alanine supplementation for athletic performance: an update. J Strength Cond Res. 2014;28(6):1751-1770.
- Hobson RM, Saunders B, Ball G, Harris RC, Sale C. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids. 2012;43(1):25-37.
- Mielgo-Ayuso J, Marques-Jiménez D, Refoyo I, Del Coso J, León-Guereño P, Calleja-González J. Effect of Caffeine Supplementation on Sports Performance Based on Differences Between Sexes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2313.