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How Your Diet and Gym Habits Are Causing Acne?

By Dr Davin Lim
March 16, 2023
5 minutes

You go to the gym, work out hard, and attain the best physique. But what’s the purpose of the gym if your face and body are filled with pimples, cysts, and acne?

Are you wondering how your diet and gym habits are causing acne? Try to develop the habit of consuming refined foods and going to the gym for intensive exercises. The excessive sweating combined with the buildup of bacteria, dirt, and oil beneath the skin is likely to cause acne. However, it’s easy to control the development of acne even if you do your workouts every day.

Equally, your diet if not well planned can cause acne. Certain foods trigger inflammation during exercise and cause sweat pimples throughout the body. These pimples have the potential to trigger acne outbreaks. A diet containing high sugar content can cause a raise in insulin levels. This can lead to developing acne.

Besides diet and gym, other causes of acne include hormonal changes during puberty, menstrual cycle, consumption of large doses of medications like steroids mostly by bodybuilders, high-dose testosterone, and genetic factors like pollution, and stress.

In this article, we’ll go through what’s causing your acne, what can make acne worse, supplements that can make acne worse, and how to prevent acne when working out.

Factors that Contribute to the Formation of Acne

Acne comes in many levels and factors that contribute to the formation of acne are varied. Acne is an inflammatory skin disorder that’s caused by the clogging of the skin pores.

Factors that cause acne formation include;

• Genetics (sensitive oil gland)

As much as acne is a skin disorder, it’s also an oil glands disorder. The oil glands or sebaceous glands usually secrete oil to maintain the skin moist. If the glands get clogged, pimples may start to develop and they may worsen into acne.

• Foods

Diet and acne have been interlinked for many years and there are many authoritative studies that have proven diet can cause acne. A diet containing foods such as sugary drinks, cornflakes, and white rice if taken before gym workouts does lead to acne formation.

So, which foods really spike up or increase your insulin can make acne worse:

a) Processed foods

Processed foods mainly sugary foods have very low glycemic indexes such as glucose, fructose, and refined carbohydrates like white bread can spike up your insulin levels. As a bodybuilder or fitness influencer insulin spikes are good for muscle formation. On the contrary, high insulin levels stimulate sebaceous glands or oil glands to produce excess oil.

The excess oil leads to congestion, oily skin, and hence outbreaks. Simple carbohydrates which push up IGF (Insulin-like growth factor 1) levels and processed foods should be avoided before gym workouts.

Anything that’s contained in a packet of cereals, nuts, flakes, and oats are processed foods that should be avoided before going to the gym for better health and acne-free skin.

b) Dairy products

Milk especially full cream and skimmed milk are acne triggers. Skimmed milk spikes up IGF level 1 and is processed.

Milk contains casein which also contains whey protein. It’s very nice if you love going to the gym as it contains very high bioavailability. The high bioavailability in milk is what causes acne. If absorbed in plenty it easily increases the spike of your insulin-like growth factor 1. This increases your sebaceous insulin activity leading to more oil production and hence acne breakouts.

If you love yogurt and cheese, you don’t have to worry. With cheese and pepper, you don’t have a high spike in IGF factor 1 and the same applies to yogurt. Yoghourt contains probiotics which is a good natural treatment for C acnes. This is the bacteria found in acne lesions

Other studies show dairy products have hormones and bioactive hormones that cause inflammation in the skin that lead to clogging of the pores triggering acne.

The best alternatives for dairy products are Almond, Coconut, and Cashew milk.

How to Get Rid of Acne Caused By Protein

To continue with your gym workouts and still maintain an acne-free face, you’ve got to balance between high-protein foods which contain casein that causes acne. Or, low protein foods that will leave your skin smooth, well moisturized, and without gym sweat causing pimples.

To get rid of acne caused by products rich in whey protein, you’ve got to avoid proteins with high bioavailability like whey protein. Does working out in the gym cause acne? You’ve got to compromise your rich protein supplements with other protein supplements such as meat and organic protein-rich foods.

Another source of protein you can consider include Soy protein since it has very low bioavailability, egg white, and plant protein which can be found in many supplements.

How to Prevent Protein-Causing Acne When Working Out

Besides taking a low-carbohydrate diet to prevent acne triggers, it’s also good to learn how to prevent protein from causing acne breakouts.

Here are a few things you’ve to do to prevent protein acne triggers:

a) Use simple dermatologist-recommended acne treatment products to reduce inflammations like salicylic acid, tetracycline, retinol, and niacinamide.

b) Reduce the intake quantity of whet protein or the frequency before visiting the gym. Alternatively, ensure your meal plate contains organic protein.

c) To avoid the accumulation of gym sweat causing pimples, wear loose clothing during gym workouts.

d) Shower immediately after a workout and wipe yourself thoroughly with a clean towel to keep the skin pores open and prevent the accumulation of bacteria and dirt.

e) Avoid consuming foods like processed food, sugary foods, and carbohydrates, and supplement by drinking plenty of water to promote skin dehydration.


How you balance your diet and gym habits determines whether you trigger acne formation. Does it make sense to develop acne throughout your body to have an admirable physique? To prevent acne-triggering factors during workouts, always balance acne-forming foods and low-bioavailability foods.

Wearing loose gym clothes and taking a shower immediately after gym exercises are simple ways you can make a habit if your skin is prone to acne.

Dr Davin Lim
I am Davin Lim a Board Certified Dermatologist practicing in Brisbane, Australia. My intentions? Simple! To cut out the hype & mystery of the skin care industry. I cover everything from products, DIY, & skin procedures including lasers, peel, injectables & surgery.
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