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Does Pre-Workout Cause Acne?

A woman holding a scoop of pre-workout, while wondering if pre-workout causes acne.

 

You work hard to take care of yourself. You prioritize your health and have made fitness a regular part of your daily life. But could the steps you’re taking to stay fit be making your acne breakouts worse? Are the ingredients in your pre-workout strengthening your muscles and your acne at the same time? 

Pre-workouts have ingredients designed to boost your energy and aid your body in recovery after tough workouts. And while they may be an effective part of your exercise routine, the energizing ingredients may also be aggravating to your skin.

In this post, we’ll examine the hotly debated question: Does pre-workout cause acne?

The Great Debate: Does Pre-Workout Cause Acne?

Though we know some of the factors involved, the exact cause of acne breakouts is unknown and varies from person to person. Because there’s no specific cause we can link back to every breakout, people in the health, fitness, and skin care communities constantly debate whether the things we eat can cause acne. 

So does pre-workout cause acne? The short answer is: maybe. If you’re not prone to breakouts, then you probably don’t need to worry about this. But if you are, it will be helpful to know about some common ingredients in pre-workouts that research has linked to acne. 

Again, there’s no definitive answer for why your skin breaks out, but it’s always a good idea to be well informed about anything you’re putting into your body, including the ingredients in your pre-workout. This is especially important for fitness buffs who exercise — and take pre-workouts — three to five times a week or more.

Below, we’ll break down each of the ingredients commonly found in pre-workouts that could contribute to frequent or severe acne breakouts. By reviewing each ingredient and its potential effects on your health and skin, we’ll provide you with tools to help you determine whether your pre-workout is causing your acne. 

We’ll also discuss a few other common foods that might cause acne breakouts and how you can test your skin’s response to each one. 

Infographic: Does Pre-Workout Cause Acne?

Whey

Whey is one of the main proteins found in dairy products, and the whey protein in your pre-workout is derived from cow’s milk. Whey protein is high in amino acids, which give your body fuel for your workout and aid in your post-workout recovery. 

Unfortunately, most research seems to agree that dairy products worsen acne, especially on the trunk of the body. Scientists theorize that processed milk products like whey contribute to acne because of how they affect your hormones.

This could be due to milk’s natural growth hormones or because of growth hormones added to help with a cow’s dairy production. It could also be because the body releases a specific hormone called IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) when you digest dairy, and this hormone has been linked to breakouts.

One study looked at young male bodybuilders who used a pre-workout with whey protein. The study found an increase in acne, mostly on their backs and chests. If your acne breakouts are concentrated on your body rather than your face, the whey protein in your pre-workout may be the culprit. 

Artificial Sweeteners

Many pre-workouts use alternative sweeteners to create sweet, delicious flavors for the sugar-averse. These may seem like healthier options, but many sources agree that swapping sugar for sugar substitutes could be what’s causing your skin to break out more often.

Because our bodies have no use for artificial sweeteners, we expel them through sweat and urine. When you work out after eating artificial sweeteners, you literally sweat the sugar substitute through your pores. As you can imagine, this isn’t great for your skin. It can increase inflammation, block pores, and lead to — you guessed it — more acne.

Sugar

To avoid sweating artificial sweeteners, you might decide to keep things natural and opt for a pre-workout that uses good old-fashioned sugar. But this sweetener can actually make your skin worse, as well.

Studies have shown that eating more refined carbohydrates, including refined flours, natural sweeteners, sodas, and sugar-sweetened substances like some pre-workouts, increases your risk for recurrent and severe acne breakouts. In fact, according to one study, a frequent sugary pre-workout could increase your risk of acne by up to 30%!

BCAAs

Some fitness buffs opt for BCAAs as a pre-workout supplement. BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, are often added to pre-workouts for an extra punch of protein. These powerful amino acids increase your muscle growth and help you feel less sore and tired post-workout. 

It’s possible that BCAAs affect your hormones, including insulin, but research is mixed. While some people have reported that BCAAs worsen their acne, no definitive proof indicates that this supplement increases your risk. If you’re experiencing breakouts after taking pre-workouts, BCAAs may not be the cause. 

Caffeine

Caffeine is another common ingredient in pre-workouts, helping to boost your energy level through even the most grueling session. Some people swear that giving up coffee helps reduce their breakouts, but no studies have confirmed a link between caffeine and acne. One study even found that caffeine may give you clearer skin.

A possible explanation for the caffeine hypothesis is that excessive caffeine can cause the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which theoretically could increase the amount of oil on your skin. Another explanation is that people who rely on large amounts of caffeine are simply awake for longer and get less sleep. Sleep deprivation creates a kind of perfect storm for acne breakouts, including increased anxiety, unbalanced hormones, depression, high levels of stress, and more hours wearing cosmetics on the skin. Plus, the sleep-deprived tend to eat less healthy diets.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that many people add dairy, sugar, or artificial sweeteners to their coffee or tea, which could be the real cause of their acne.

Test Whether Your Foods and/or Pre-Workouts Cause Acne

Even if your pre-workout doesn’t include any of the common ingredients above, you may still be asking yourself, does pre-workout cause acne? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. The truth is, your breakouts may come from foods not found in your pre-workout. The only way to know for sure is to test yourself through an elimination diet.  

Many foods can cause adverse reactions in one person’s body but not another’s. To find out whether any foods are affecting your body, you can eliminate all the possible offenders from your diet and reintroduce them one at a time. This will show you which, if any, are causing your acne breakouts. (Always consult with your doctor before starting an elimination diet.)

We already discussed two common culprits: cow’s milk and sugar. Other foods that may cause acne include alcohol, gluten, wheat, corn, yeast, nuts, chocolate, white flour, and greasy foods like french fries and potato chips.

To truly test whether a pre-workout ingredient or dietary food is causing your acne, be sure to take a break from your pre-workout — or whichever ingredients or foods you’re testing — for at least four weeks. This will give your body time to reset so that when you reintroduce the item, you can accurately judge whether a food or your pre-workout causes your acne. 

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