This Nutrient Supercharges Your Workouts Without Breakouts

Dr. Janet Zand

March 6, 2020

People who care about their skin typically care about how their bodies look too. To keep their body looking great, they eat right and exercise.

But there are several myths floating around about a certain supplement and its effects on the skin. And if you believe this myth and avoid this supplement, you’ll be missing out on a great strategy for maximizing your time in the gym.

You may have heard of creatine. It’s a popular supplement for people who want to boost their athletic performance. And it works. In fact, it works well enough that people often assume it’s too good to be true. And there are a number of myths floating around about this natural substance.

Yes, I said natural. Many people think creatine is a steroid. But it’s not. Creatine is actually an amino acid. Your body makes some of the creatine you need in your liver, pancreas, and kidneys. And most people get some from their diet too. You’ll find it in seafood and red meat. Some dairy products contain creatine as well.

Why You Need Creatine

Your brain and your muscles use plenty of creatine. The body turns creatine into phosphocreatine. This is a good source of energy for the muscles. If your muscles require extra energy because of your fitness routine, they can benefit from more creatine than your diet and natural production levels supply. So many gym-goers use a supplement called creatine monohydrate to give their muscles a boost.

For most people, this can be a good strategy. Creatine has a great track record for boosting muscles and brain function. But your dermatologist might tell you to avoid this amino acid. Here’s why:

Some people think that creatine causes breakouts. But there’s actually no evidence to support this. In fact, there is evidence that suggests creatine can actually help your skin. It may reduce sagging skin, smooth wrinkles, and even help you fight sun damage. In fact, you can apply creatine topically to body parts where skin is wrinkling. There is some question in the literature about its absorption, but I’ve had patients tell me they use it on their arms and legs with success. So it’s very safe for the skin.

So why the rumors? There are at least two possible sources. One is that some people mistake creatine for an anabolic steroid. As you probably know, some people supplement with steroids to build muscle. Unlike creatine, these steroids are synthetic drugs. They have a lot in common with testosterone. And unlike creatine, steroids can cause breakouts. Athletes might turn to creatine and steroids for similar reasons. But they work very differently.

What’s Causing the Breakouts

Another reason for the breakout rumors may be that creatine does what it claims: It powers your muscles so you can work out harder and longer. This can translate to more sweat – and sweat that stays on your face longer.

If you’re breaking out after working out, the creatine isn’t to blame. But sweat might be. Sweat can quickly clog your pores and create a breeding ground for bacteria. To avoid this, be sure to wash your face as soon as you’re done at the gym. A quick swipe with a wipe probably isn’t enough. If you notice pimples popping up along your hairline, you’ll want to try to shower when you finish your workout too.

Be careful with how you treat your face during your workout as well. Gyms are notorious for being germy. Keep your hands off your face. If you keep a towel nearby to wipe sweat, make sure it’s clean.

And the gym isn’t the place for makeup either. If you can’t stand the thought of going out in public bare-faced, the gym might not be for you. Makeup mixed with sweat is a recipe for breakouts. Try exercising at home instead. You may find that your skin clears up enough that venturing out sans makeup isn’t so scary!

What About Side Effects?

Some people claim that creatine has negative side effects. These include nausea, dizziness, and muscle cramping. However, there is little evidence to support these claims. Like breakouts, these also might simply be the result of overdoing it at the gym. Yes, creatine can help you work out longer and harder. But you still need to increase the intensity at a reasonable rate. In general, it seems that the only people who need to be concerned about creatine’s side effects are those who have kidney or liver issues (as they may not be able to process extra creatine). Healthy individuals will likely only experience benefits.

Some experts suggest creatine causes water to collect in the muscles. Unless you have edema, this isn’t really a negative. In fact, if you’re working out, the extra hydration in your muscles is good for them. And if you’re dehydrated, it will protect your muscles against damage. If you have edema, though, you should talk to your doctor before taking creatine.

Why Vegetarians Need Creatine Supplements

In fact, you may get some extra benefits if you follow a particular diet. As I mentioned above, red meat and seafood are primary dietary sources of creatine. So vegetarians and vegans don’t get much of it, unless they choose to supplement with it. New research suggests that this might be a good idea.

We store some of our creatine in the brain. And people who don’t eat animal products usually have lower levels than meat-eaters. Our bodies don’t quite make enough to close the gap. Researchers wanted to know if those lower levels affect cognitive functioning.

A research team at Florida’s Stetson University recruited vegetarian and meat-eating volunteers. They divided the participants into two groups. One group took creatine daily for four weeks. The other group took a placebo.

Before and after the four-week period, the researchers gave the participants a test called ImPACT. It measures neurocognitive function.

Only one group of people showed significant improvement on the test: the vegetarians who received the creatine supplement. This suggests that the non-vegetarians were already getting sufficient creatine from their diets.

Limiting animal products can be a healthy choice, particularly for the skin. This is especially true if you replace dairy and meat with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But vegetarians and vegans do need to be mindful about nutrients they might be missing or getting in insufficient quantities. It’s probably not worth having glowing skin if your mind feels dull all the time.

Most vegetarians know they need to get enough vitamin B12. But this research about creatine is fairly new. So if you’ve recently started cutting back on red meat or dairy and noticed your brain feels a little foggy, creatine might be the answer. Even if you aren’t an intense exerciser, you could benefit. Your skin might thank you as well.

Take Creatine to Help Heal Injuries Faster

If an injury sidetracks your workouts, you don’t have to stop taking creatine. Creatine can actually help injured muscles heal more quickly. In fact, one study of creatine looked at how creatine could help people who had to have a limb immobilized for recovery. Typically, this can lead to muscle atrophy and trouble with rehabilitation.

This study looked at people who had to have their leg in a cast for two weeks. Those who received creatine supplements had better muscle fiber gains and higher peak strength during the 10-week rehab process. So creatine can help you get back on track quicker and resume your healthy habits.

Creatine can even help keep you from getting injured in the first place. That’s certainly good news for your skin, as anyone who has ever had to wear a cast can attest!

One final benefit of creatine I’d like to draw your attention to is its effects on blood sugar. Several studies have indicated that creatine can help your muscles take in more sugar from your bloodstream. One 12-week study looked at people who exercised and ate high-carb meals. Those who received a creatine supplement had better blood sugar control than those who didn’t.

We’ve talked a lot about how damaging sugar can be to the skin. It’s highly inflammatory. And it is a major source of oxidative stress. The faster you can move it out of the bloodstream and transform it into energy, the better. Taking a creatine supplement isn’t an excuse to eat extra sugar. But it can help you keep damage to a minimum if you indulge every once in a while.

One Word of Warning

Creatine itself is generally safe. But you’ll often see it as an ingredient in body-building products and other products marketed to athletes. Some of these products do contain anabolic steroids. And those can cause unwanted side effects, including breakouts. So make sure you find a reputable product that just contains creatine. Your doctor may be able to give you a recommendation.

I always recommend you review any supplements or exercise routines with your doctor. But a plethora of studies indicate that creatine is safe. The only regularly noted side effect is weight gain. This may be something you’d rather avoid. That’s certainly understandable. But keep in mind that those gains may be due to increases in muscle mass. So the scale might not budge much, but your physique will be sleeker.

If you’ve been avoiding creatine for the sake of your skin, you don’t need to worry. Just be sure you clean your face thoroughly after any workout, whether you really pushed yourself or took it easy at the gym. If you add creatine to your routine, you won’t start breaking out because of it – but you might break some personal records!

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