Oh man oh man, where to begin? It’s been 5+ years since I started working out actively and regularly. In those years I came across numerous advice, tips and tricks. Out of everything I read and heard, protein powder “rules” stuck with me the most.
Unfortunately, as I was reading more and more articles I got the idea that protein powder is crucial if you work out and want to look good. What a fool I was. Since I had no money to buy protein powder at the time my mind was a monkey mind.
At first I used to worry if I’m getting enough protein at all. Then I got to a point where I thought my workout isn’t that effective if I don’t drink a protein shake afterwards. I used to stress over the fact whether I will or won’t miss the anabolic window.
I was always thinking what my next meal will be. During daily activities I was calculating calories and macros in my head like a crazy person. Now I’m actually getting a little stressed out as I’m thinking about all of that again haha!
Eventually, the time has come. I was able to buy my first ever protein powder. If you’re wondering which one it was it is MyProtein Impact Whey Protein. So at this point I had a shaker bottle and protein powder.
I was excited, I was ready to destroy my workout each day. There were many new recipes I was trying out such as protein cookies, protein pancakes, protein smoothie bowls, etc. I thought this is it, this is what’s going to help me build muscle, help me get toned and look better.
I think it was all in my head because I felt like my body was changing for the better. Like my legs were stronger, bigger and my muscles more defined. However, looking back at my progress pictures, not much has changed during the time I was consuming protein powder.
One thing did change though – I started having really bad breakouts. I never had a problem with acne but all of a sudden my face was full of them. Clueless as to what was happening, I tried to convince myself it’s just some phase I’m going through and it’ll pass soon. I kept buying different face creams, tried many home remedies but nothing was helping.
Eventually I ended up going to my dermatologist (at this point I wasn’t taking protein powder anymore). He had a quick look and recommended a face cream for me. I was also supposed to do quite a few medical tests to see what could be causing my acne.
However, I didn’t have money at the time and all the medical tests combined were pretty expensive for me. I ended up not going. A month or two later I noticed my acne getting better. They weren’t as often but I was left with a lot of scars on my face.
As the time went by I didn’t stress about it as much and still tried to convince myself it’s just a phase. Summer 2017 and I decided to buy protein powder again. The acne on my face started acting up again but since I had so many scars I didn’t register it as ‘that bad’.
However, something else happened that made me anxious and stressful once again. Alongside the acne on my face, I got acne on my back. At first it wasn’t so bad but then it kept getting worse and worse.
Since it was summer I thought my sunscreen could be the reason for it. Then again, it wouldn’t explain how it was only my back skin that reacted. One day it just clicked for me. I was thinking about when I bought protein powder and when my acne problems started.
The times overlapped and once I figured it out I stopped taking protein powder. So that is my story and my reason for not taking protein powder anymore. My face still has a lot of acne scars but actual acne breakouts have decreased by around 85%.
How Can Whey Protein Cause Acne?
Firstly, what is whey? Whey is one of the two main proteins in milk (other being casein). It is a liquid that remains once the milk has been strained and curdled. Liquid whey is later pasteurised and dried into powder. And as most of us are aware, whey powder is used in the bodybuilding/fitness/sports industries.
Some studies have been done to determine the relation between whey protein and acne and although there is some data to support it, specific research is inconclusive. Whey protein comes with insulin-like growth factor 1 or simply IGF-1. IGF-1 is a growth hormone which plays a big role in childhood growth and later has anabolic effects in adults.
IGF-1 is produced by liver and body tissues of mammals and normally it is regulated by your body to keep your hormones in balance. One of the theories suggests that straight drinking the stuff gets your hormones out of whack and creates imbalances.
Makes sense when you think about it, doesn’t it? More often than not, acne problems come down to hormonal imbalances.
Furthermore, whey encourages the production of insulin and insulin influences the production of sebum.
To put it shortly, you drink whey – whey contains IGF-1. IGF-1 spikes up your insulin levels and insulin influences sebum production. Sebum is the oily substance that can clog your pores and cause acne.
Since acne causes vary from person to person, this is just one of the theories. If you’re using whey at the moment and suffer from acne, ditch it for a couple of weeks to see if anything changes. Or simply visit a dermatologist.
Other reasons to re-think buying/taking protein powder
#1 Anabolic window is crap.
“Drink protein shake within 30 minutes of finishing your workout or you won’t make any gains.” I’m sure you read that somewhere by now. I know I have, on multiple websites unfortunately.
And yep, you guessed it, it’s bulls*it. I feel like articles like that were written by people who are strongly addicted to their protein shakes and want to promote a certain brand.
Don’t sweat it, don’t stress about it. You have 1 – 2 hours post workout to have a nice healthy meal so take your time.
#2 Not worth the money.
To be fair, protein powder saves time. It’s convenient, you can take it anywhere and it’s the easiest way to get enough protein in a day. That being said, I find it expensive and unnecessary.
The only justified reason to take protein powder is if you really cannot consume the required amount of protein through food. Of course, that is just my opinion.
#3 Too processed.
Most of the whey protein powders are too processed. Just take a look at the ingredients list and you’ll find loads of artificial colouring, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavourings.
Getting tired of the word artificial? I am trying to stick to as much unprocessed food as possible and protein powder isn’t one of them.
Figuring out what causes your breakouts is a long process of trial and error. Of course there are some basic guidelines you should follow, such as eating healthy, washing your face regularly and changing your pillow case often.
However, we’re all different and in majority of the cases it comes down to genetics. For example, whey protein could have zero effects on your skin but for me it causes bad breakouts. For some people it can be the food they’re eating, the lifestyle they’re leading or something bigger like hormonal imbalances.
On the other hand, I recommend going to dermatologist first to see whether he/she can determine the cause of your acne. Second thing I recommend is keeping a journal. In this journal you can keep track of the food you’re eating and take notes of any skin changes you notice.
Also, if you’re currently taking whey protein cut it out for a month or so and see if you notice any differences.
I hope this post was helpful to you and feel free to express your thoughts on this topic and your own experience with protein in the comments down below!