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Does Pre Workout Cause Acne?

If you suffer from acne-prone skin like me, you’re probably pretty careful about what you put in your body. As acne sufferers, we know that even one bad meal can trigger a breakout and put us in a bad mood for a week. 

However, we might not realize that some everyday products can make us break out – and it always seems to be the products that we least expect. 

Today I’m going to talk about pre-workout, an everyday item that might be flaring up your breakouts. So, does pre-workout cause acne?

What is Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout is the general name given to various fitness supplements: these supplements come in pill and powder form and help enhance your physical performance when working out. 

Does Pre Workout Cause Acne?

While we may think that anything fitness-related must also be great for our skin, I have bad news. Many pre-workout formulas are laden with caffeine and artificial sweeteners and sugars, making it a nightmare for acne-prone skin. 

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are heavily featured in many pre-workout products – it’s these artificial sweeteners that give pre-workout that sugary strawberry or vanilla taste. Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners are no friend to us acne-prone folk: artificial sweeteners increase the body’s production of insulin, which can trigger the skin to overproduce sebum. Insulin can also stimulate the production of androgens, which overstimulates sebum oil production. 

Caffeine

Caffeine is another pre-workout staple ingredient known to cause acne inflammation. Overconsumption of caffeine contributes to overall stress and anxiety (which impacts our skin), but it also dries out the skin, which disrupts the skin’s oil production. Dry skin and acne do not mix well: when the skin is dry, it will overproduce sebum and compensate for your skin’s lack of hydration: this can lead to clogged pores, oily skin, and dreaded skin pimples. 

Some pre-workout formulas can be loaded with up to 400mg of caffeine. Given that studies generally recommend an adult daily intake of no more than 400mg of coffee, pre-workout ingredients could spell disaster for the management of your acne-prone skin. So if you’re looking to keep your skin as free of acne triggers as much as possible, you should probably avoid pre-workout altogether. 

So, Does Pre-Workout Cause acne?

Unfortunately, it’s a possibility. If you have acne-prone skin, the pre-workout sweeteners and caffeine will both dehydrate your skin and trigger a spike in insulin at the same time, leading to breakouts in those of us with skin susceptible to acne. There are other powdered pre-workout products on the market, but are they just as bad?

Do Pre Workout Powdered Drinks Cause Acne?

When it comes to pre-workout drinks, powders can be the worst culprits. Like whey shakes and protein powders, many pre-workout drinks use milk products to give the drink a creamier, thicker texture. However, these milk products are typically unprocessed, which can wreak havoc with your skin. Studies show that dairy is already bad for acne-prone skin: dairy products contain casein and whey protein, which stimulate IGN (insulin-like growth factor) levels and send our oil production into overdrive. If you see a pre-workout shake promising a vanilla or chocolate flavor, you can be sure it will be bad for your skin. Combined with the potential caffeine component and other pre-workout sweeteners, consuming these products risks being a massive detriment to an otherwise healthy, skin-centered diet. If you want my honest opinion, you should avoid protein shakes and pre-workout products if you want to clear your skin. 

Does C4 Pre Workout Cause Acne?

C4 is one of the most popular pre-workout formulas on the supplement market, but does C4 pre-workout cause acne? It only takes a google search to see that many C4 users experience breakouts, even those without acne-prone skin. C4 might cause acne due to its formula: C4 is laden with sucralose, and this artificial sweetener is a staple pre-workout ingredient known to cause acne breakouts. Like all artificial sugars, sucralose triggers a spike in the hormone insulin, which stimulates the oil glands and can cause acne. 

If you still want to use C4 pre-workout, the brand offers a Sucralose-free, naturally sweetened alternative called C4: Extreme Zero. If you believe your acne breakouts are caused by sucralose, changing to this formula might help your skin. However, this pre-workout still contains 200mg of caffeine, so it might not be the best choice. 

Can I Still Use Pre Workout If I Have Acne?

When it comes to pre-workout, most formulas will contain ingredients that have the potential to aggravate your acne and cause breakouts. Even the supposedly “acne-friendly” ingredient creatine, often touted as an alternative, will dehydrate and irritate your skin. Gyms are already a breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria, so throwing a skin-aggravating supplement into the mix feels unwise. 

If you have acne-prone skin and are still determined to use pre-workout, I’d recommend looking for a formula without typical pre-workout ingredients. It would be best to avoid caffeine-based supplements altogether: many companies that produce protein powders and pre-workout supplements will offer caffeine-free versions of their best-selling products. Take a look at my guide below on ingredients to avoid in these types of pre-workout drinks:

Natural Pre Workout Alternatives For Acne-Prone Skin

If you decide to ditch the pre-workout, you can still enjoy an energy boost before working out. Take a look at my list below for some natural, healthy alternatives to pre-workout. 

Fruit

Fruit contains natural sugar and is a natural carbohydrate: snacking on fresh fruit before your workout is a healthier way to top up your energy for optimal gym performance. As I explain in my ebook, Unmasking Acne, low-fructose fruits are the best when it comes to combatting acne. These include raspberries, pineapples, cranberries, and strawberries.

Coffee and an (acne-friendly) coffee creamer

While coffee is not exactly my most highly recommended acne-buster, I don’t insist that you give up your morning cup of joe altogether. You can use coffee to stimulate the body during exercise and give you the quick energy boost needed for your cardio routine or your lifting. If you really need caffeine for your workout, I’d recommend a small-sized cup of coffee instead of a caffeine-loaded pre-workout drink. Mix your coffee with an acne-friendly creamer, avoiding milk and overly sugary dairy replacements. However, it is important to keep in mind that lots of caffeine can trigger acne breakouts.

Sweet potato

Sweet potato is one of the top foods for clear skin: this superfood is packed with Vitamins C, E and is full of antioxidants to help keep your skin and pores clear. Use sweet potato as the base for a pre-workout snack instead of a sugar-laden fitness drink. 

How to Avoid Acne When Exercising

Many people develop acne breakouts when beginning a new exercise regime during the first few weeks. While skin-aggravating pre-workout ingredients can often cause this, it can also be caused by not taking necessary precautions before and after exercise. If you’re embarking on a fitness regime and want to avoid acne breakouts, I’d recommend the following tips for keeping your skin clear while working out:

Always Shower Within 30 Minutes of Finishing Your Workout

One of the worst things you can do for your skin is let sweat, bacteria, and sebum linger on your skin. Gyms can be highly unhygienic, so it’s essential to take a shower as soon as possible after completing your workout. If you can’t take a shower at the gym, go straight home. If you’re unable to take a shower at the gym, this means that lunch break workouts are a no-no. 

Change Your Workout Gear Regularly

Sweat and bacteria thrive in damp, moist environments. So if you throw your used workout clothes in your gym locker and re-wear them the next day, you’ll be creating an environment where pore-clogging bacteria will thrive, ready to clog your pores.

Do Not Wear Makeup During Exercise

Makeup + sweating = a perfect combination for clogged pores! Sweat will mix with your makeup and often get trapped under the skin when you work out. This can lead to pimply breakouts and congested skin, so save your makeup for after your workout. 

My Verdict?

Does pre-workout cause acne? There’s a strong possibility of a correlation. If you want my honest opinion on pre-workout, I recommend avoiding it if you have acne-prone skin. There are many natural energy-boosters that you can use instead of pre-workout, most of which will also be much more nourishing for the body. As I always say, natural alternatives will always be better for the skin than loading ourselves up with artificial chemicals. In addition, following a healthy, balanced, and anti-inflammatory diet is the best way to achieve and maintain clear skin: this means avoiding pre-workout caffeine and sugar.

Need more help? Ask our team!

I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their acne naturally. If you cannot easily find an answer to your question on the website, please reach out to me by email ([email protected]) or send me a message on Instagram or Twitter. I will reply within 24 hours.

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood

Hi I’m Sam Wood. I’m the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach behind GoodGlow. I’m also an author of one of the top selling acne books on Amazon, a husband, father of two, and a pretty good cook! I’m so glad you found GoodGlow and hope the information I have spent the last 10 years cultivating will help you clear your skin and improve your overall health. I began experiencing acne breakotus as a sophomore in high school, but unlike most of my friends, my acne actually got worse as I got into my 20s. I exercised regularly, ate healthy (or so I thought) and spent hundreds of dollars a month on high end skincare products and supplements to help clear my skin. Despite these measures my acne breakouts and scarring only got worse as the years wore on. This greatly wore on my self confidence and mental health. Simple things like taking pictures or going out with a large group made me feel self conscious. So I avoided these situations whenever I could help it. As a last ditch effort I decided to try an extremely restrictive diet recommended by a close friend with an autoimmune disease. After following this diet for about two months my skin started to clear for the first time in over 8 years. The good news is that this restrictive diet is not actually necessary for 99% of people to permanently clear their skin, and over the course of a few months I was able to add back about 90% of my “normal diet”. After clearing my skin I spent the next 4 years self experimenting on myself with different diets, supplements, skincare products to try and find a pattern for what was triggering my acne breakouts. I even tried different meditation, ice baths, and accupuncture to try and isolate the root cause of the breakouts. In the end I realized that an extremely restrictive diet was not necessary for clear skin. The most important thing to do is to avoid inflammatory foods in your diet. Some common examples of this are fried foods, alcohol, sugar, and dairy. Most impoirtantly I stopped reading trendy websites for skincare advice and began reading medical journals authored by dermatologists and nutritionists. Although the information in the articles was great the information was not easily understandable to most readers (including me). I spent hours dissecting individual posts and looking up terms I did not understand. Over the next 6 months I gradually began to understand these journals and started self experiemting some of the research on myself. After experiencing quite a bit of success personally, I started sharing my research on forums and with close friends struggling with acne. When I shared the research it was in easy to understand, plain English. Everyone I talked to loved what I had to say and kept asking more and more questions. So I decided to start a blog so I could just send someone a link when they asked a question instead of rewriting something I had sent 100 times before 😅 While the same directional principles apply to everyone, acne is very personal and should be treated on an individual basis. That’s ultimately why I created GoodGlow. To help everyone reverse engineer the root cause of their acne and clear their skin permanently. To date I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their skin using a natural, holistic approach. If you are unable to find an answer to your question in any of the articles my team has written please reach out and I will do my best to guide you to the proper information and resources so you can make a thoughtful, informed decision. Read more of Sam's articles.


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