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Does Pre Workout Cause Acne? Here’s What The Science Says

Does Pre Workout Cause Acne?

If you’ve heard rumours that pre workout can cause acne and aren’t sure what the truth is, you’ve come to the right place.

Throughout your fitness journey, I’m sure you’ve come across pre workout. In fact, pre workout is the most popular and controversial supplement among many athletes and gym-goers.

It’s designed to increase energy and focus which allows you to power through your workouts. Pre workout decreases muscular fatigue and maximise the intensity during each exercise.

However, with all the positives, pre workout does have some downfalls. But is acne one of them? Does pre workout cause acne? Is pre workout safe?

This article provides a science based explanation to the question: Does pre workout cause acne?

But let’s start with what pre workout is and how it works.

What are pre workout supplements?

To get the most out of your workout, you need to fuel yourself with energy to perform those hard and intense exercises. If you don’t, you will be weaker and fatigue faster. That’s exactly what pre workout helps with.  

Pre workout supplements are a multi-ingredient dietary formula, usually in powdered form, to help enhance athletic performance.

It does this by boosting your energy, increasing endurance, and delays muscle fatigue. Studies have also shown that pre workout helps accelerate muscle recovery after a workout.

Pre workout is designed to help you perform longer and harder during your workout session. Overtime, this has shown to increase muscle mass since pre workout allows you to effectively use your muscles for a longer duration.

Research suggests taking pre workout 30 – 60 minutes before a workout to provide time for the ingredients to be absorbed and show its effects.

With numerous pre workout brands, there are many different formulas and ingredients used. However, the main ingredients in pre workouts are:

  • Caffeine
  • Beta-alanine
  • Taurine
  • L-citrulline
  • BCAAs

However, there have been claims that some ingredients in pre workout supplements do cause acne. So, if you’re a fitness enthusiast and concerned about your skin health, you need to be aware of these ingredients.

Hot Debate: Does Pre Workout Cause Acne?

Pre workout is one of the most researched supplements in the fitness industry however science still doesn’t know much about the link between pre workout and pimples.

In fact, there are a variety of factors that cause acne for example:

  • Sweat
  • Bacteria on skin
  • Genetics
  • Stress

Hence, these factors contribute more to an increased risk of acne.

However, although there is no direct relationship between pre workout and acne, there are some ingredients that may cause breakouts.

We will go through each ingredient found in many pre workout supplement that causes our skin to break. By analysing each ingredient, we should be able to find out if your pre workout is causing acne.

Here is the list of those specific ingredients:

  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • High Sugar
  • Caffeine
  • BCAA’s

1. Artificial Sweeteners

This is a topic of it own. Many pre workout brands use artificial sweeteners to make delicious craving pre workout drinks. And although this makes your pre workout more enjoyable, do these sweeteners cause acne?

Research has shown that artificial flavours indirectly contribute to a significant increase in acne and skin breakouts. How?

Well, artificial flavours trigger cephalic phase insulin release, which leads to an increase in insulin levels. Studies have proven that high levels of insulin make androgen hormones more active which “stimulates sebum production and acne formation”.

Further studies have also claimed that these artificial sweeteners can promote intestinal inflammation which is present during the “development of acne lesions”.

Artificial sweeteners can also cause imbalance of bacteria in the gut. This can cause gas, bloating, widespread inflammation, and yes – acne!

Overall, try to limit the consumption of artificial sweeteners since acne is just the tip of the ice burg. These sweeteners, especially if taken in high doses, have a lot more negative impacts to our health.

2. High levels of sugar

So, instead of using artificial flavours, what if we use normal sugar? Will this limit acne caused by our pre workout supplement?

Unfortunately, high levels of sugar in pre workout can also cause acne. In fact, a study found that people who frequently consume added sugars had 30% increase of developing acne.

Why is this?

Well, refined carbohydrates (like sugar) get digested quickly into our blood stream, causing rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.

High insulin levels are not good for those who are prone to acne.  

Hence, if you’re in search for a pre workout and don’t want it to cause acne, find one that is less in sugar.

3. Caffeine

Caffeine is the PRIMARY ingredient in pre workout. It’s responsible for the energy boost and enhances cognitive function. However, does this stimulant cause acne?

Well, although there is no evidence that caffeine causes acne, research does suggest that it can make it worse!

Caffeine increases the production of stress hormones like cortisol which increases the oil produced by your sebaceous glands. This may cause breakouts.

Although there have been limited studies on the relationship of caffeine and acne, it is a concern for those with sensitive skin.

4. BCAAs

Many pre workout supplements include BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) to add some extra protein. These amino acids are key to build muscle and enhance recovery.

There is very limited research that BCAAs cause acne however they are linked to insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). This increases sebum production which leads to acne.

Other physical factors that cause acne

The truth is, the acne and breakouts you’re experiencing might NOT even be because of the pre workout.

There are many other physical factors that cause acne for example:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Sweat
  • Makeup

So, before coming to the conclusion that pre workout is the reason for your acne, let’s take a look at each in more detail.

1. Lack of sleep

Studies show that there is a strong correlation between acne and poor sleep quality.

Among many other factors, not getting a good night rest increases a stress hormone called cortisol. As a result, your sebaceous glands produce more oil which blocks your pores and follicles.

According to a 2021 study, lack of sleep can have a negative impact on your immune system as well. Our immune system is responsible in defending infections and microbes.

The increased production of cortisol has a direct correlation on the immune system which causes skin problems like acne.

So, if you think pre workout causes acnes, take a look at your sleep routine.

If workout at night, I would strongly advise you to avoid take pre workout. This is because the excessive caffeine will block the adenosine receptor keeping you awake. And, as we mentioned, less sleep equals more acne.

2. Sweat

Pre workout boosts your energy and positively impacts performance during your workout. It allows you to train harder for a longer duration.

However, since you’re training hard, you will sweat a lot as well. Excessive sweating plus the build-up of oil, dirt and bacteria can all cause acne.

Hence, I would recommend you take a shower immediately after finishing your workout to remove the bacteria of your skin.

3. Makeup

Let’s admit, we all want to look great while we workout, right? However, is makeup while working out healthy for you skin?

Absolutely NOT!

If your face is covered in foundation before your workout session, your sweat and oil that is developed during your workout will mix with the makeup. This will cause blockages in your pores and result in breakouts.

It can lead to acne, dry skin, and skin irritation. Hence, is it really worth it?

Dermatologists recommend removing any makeup before your workout to prevent any skin related issues, like acne.

How to avoid or limit acne while using pre workout?

There are certain things you can do to avoid acne being caused by your pre workout. Side note: a lot of them simply has to do with your hygiene.

1. Taking a shower after a workout

As we’ve mentioned previously, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that pre workout causes acne. It is likely that the things we do during exercise and after exercise is what causes it.

One way to prevent acne or breakouts is to have a shower after long, hard, sweaty workout. Pre workouts makes your workout more intense and allows you to push yourself to the next level.  So, obviously you’ll be sweating a lot more.

Hence, taking a shower after you workout will wash away all the sweat, bacteria, and sebum that’s developed during your workout.

In fact, sweat is one of the main causes for acne. So, make sure you take a shower within 30 minutes of your workout.

Plus, who doesn’t like a cool and relaxing shower after a workout?

2. Drink Plenty of water

Pre workouts are extremely high in caffeine which acts as a diuretic. This means it causes your body to pass more urine.

While exercising, you will also sweat a lot which means you will be losing a lot of fluid that needs to be replenished.

Hence you need to drink enough water throughout the day. Especially if you are prone to breakouts since dehydration can cause acne.

3. Clean your workout gear

Do you wash your gym towel regularly? If not, that might be the cause of an increase in acne.

When we exercise, the sweat and bacteria build up of your clothes, towel, and other workout gear. Bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments and hence cleaning your workout gear before reusing is essential.

So, don’t just wear the same gym clothes you wore yesterday without washing them. Firstly, they stink, and secondly, they can clog your pores and cause acne.

4. Choose a high quality pre workout brand

With so many different supplement brands, it can be hard to choose which one is the best. Check reviews, brand recognition, assess each ingredient.

High-quality and top brand pre-workout supplements are tested to make sure they are safe and effective. Yes, they are maybe a little expensive but they will provide the best effects without any dangerous side effects.

Can you still use pre workout if you have acne?

Overall, gym is just that place where you can build muscle and acne at the same time. Hence, adding supplements that may make the acne worse isn’t the best idea.

As we mentioned, most pre workout formulas have ingredients that may lead to breakouts or acne. So, if you do want to include pre workout into your diet, I would suggest going for ones that have less of these ingredients.

But is there any pre workout supplement alternatives?

Pre workout alternatives if you have acne

If you’re concerned about the great testing, energy boosting pre workout is causing acne, it might be time to say goodbye to it.

But what are the other alternatives? Here are five of my favourite pre workout alternative that I use every time before going to the gym.

1. Simple Carbohydrates

The primary reason we take pre workout is because it provides that quick burst of energy, right? However, did you know that a piece of fruit can also give you a similar effect.

Consuming whole fruits (like apples, berries, and bananas) 30 – 60 minutes before a workout is best for optimal workout results.

This is because, simple crabs (like fruits) get digested more quickly compared to complex carbs. This releases rapid bursts of glucose (energy) into the blood stream.

2. Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbs can fuel your body to perform at its highest ability during your workout. However, unlike simple cars, complex carbohydrates take longer to digest. Hence, they must be taken to 2 – 3 three hours before your training session.

In fact, studies have proven that ingesting carbohydrate 3-4 h before exercise increases liver and muscle glycogen. This enhances our endurance when we train and maximises out performance.

Here are some examples of complex carbs:

  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Whole grain bread

3. Greek Yogurt

One of my favourite pre workout snacks is Greek yogurt, topped with some oats and fruits. With more protein then regular yogurt, it promotes muscle growth and recovery process.

Here are some ways to make Greek yogurt more powerful as a pre workout snack:

  • Greek yogurt + banana + oatmeal
  • Greek yogurt + berries + almonds
  • Greek yogurt + muesli

4. Smoothie – The Best!

This is the best option since you can combine everything into one. So, get your fruits, oats, Greek yogurt, and some milk and put into a blender.

There you have it! An efficient and more convenient way of getting all essential nutrients in just one drink. Plus, it tastes amazing!

And no. You don’t need to add protein powder into your smoothie. Personally, I take my protein supplement after I finish a workout. But, it’s up to you and your preference.

Smoothies will provide healthy carbs, fat, and protein making it a great pre workout alternative.

Key Takeaway

To summarise, there is no clinical evidence that suggests that pre workout causes acne. However, there are certain ingredients that do contribute to breakouts.

Therefore, it’s good to know what those ingredients are so that you can avoid or reduce their consumption.

We hope this article helped you understand the effects of pre workout on skin and acne. We also hope that you found relevant tips to prevent acne while working out and using pre workout.

As always, stay Fit & Healthy and I will see you guys’ next week!

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Hey, I'm Shalin

Welcome to Just Fit & Healthy. From the right nutrition to the best science based workouts, here is the one stop shop for ALL information. Let’s achieve goals together!

Shalin Anam

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