I'm hitting the gym and my instructor here tells me that there will be minimum muscle gain without protein. My problem with protein is that I get horrible acne after its use. I have used protein shakes in the past and have been dealing with acne for a long time since its use.

I was reading if there is a genuine correlation between protein and acne and have found that insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in whey is actually a causative factor for acne. IGF-1 is a growth hormone and thought to accelerate muscle growth, but also unfortunately accelerates acne.

I had a hard time eliminating the acne last time, took almost 6 months. I hope I don’t have to go through that once again.

Isnt there a healthy way to build muscle without any protein or such?

  • Are you sure it's protein in general and not specifically whey? There's really nothing special about whey such that other protein forms couldn't be substituted, so it would be worth your time finding out for sure.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 21:58
  • youtube.com/watch?v=uOOVwbOFL8s Commented May 10, 2016 at 23:00
  • Whatever is in protein powder is also in the meat you would eat otherwise... Correlation DOES NOT imply Causation.
    – John
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 9:34
  • OP, if you are really sure it is the protein then you can still get what you need from eggs, chicken and fish. Its harder to eat 3000 calories than to eat 2500 and drink the rest but it is certainly possible. IF you are still unsure if it the powder, try doing GOMAD stronglifts.com/gomad-milk-squats-gallon-gain-weight and see if that affects your skin.
    – John
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 9:41

2 Answers 2


First of all, know that you regularly consume protein and have been all of your life. If you did not, you would be in quite terrible health.1 That being said, IGF-1 is involved in bone growth, muscle growth, connective tissue growth, motor neuron growth, and so on. It's also produced within the body.2 Your body uses it for growth and healing, and this has nothing to do with whether or not you drink protein shakes or work out.

The human brain has an incredible capacity to make connections where they're not obvious; one could argue this is the source of human intelligence, but sometimes it gets these connections wrong. I'm telling you definitively that IGF-1 was not the cause of your breakout, and neither was protein. Most likely you just so happened to break out at the same time you were drinking protein shakes. Feel perfectly comfortable drinking them now.

Furthermore, your body relies on the amino acids in protein to rebuild itself, and keep you alive. The fact that you're breathing right now means that you consume protein regularly. When you work out, you are causing tiny amounts of muscle damage, and the muscle building basically results from the body overcompensating as it heals the muscle.3 This healing relies on these amino acids, which are taken from protein as it is broken down in digestion. You can't heal (and therefore grow) muscle without protein, just as you can't live without protein.

Moral of the story: Drink protein shakes if you like, eat plenty of meat and fish if you don't. It won't cause acne.


  1. http://www.livestrong.com/article/73310-happens-dont-enough-protein-diet/
  2. https://thinksteroids.com/steroid-profiles/igf-1/
  3. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/musclesgrowLK.html
  • 1
    Your sources support your assertions about protein being essential, which I'm sure no one disputes anyway, but they don't support your assertion that protein shakes don't cause acne. There is evidence that in fact they do. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22988649
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 22:51
  • 1
    @CareyGregory 5 teenagers don't make a study. In statistics, we have the idea of statistical significance, basically, the likelihood that results were caused by a real effect instead of just random chance. With only 5 participants, it's a case study, not a controlled study, and it says as much within the reference itself. Commented May 10, 2016 at 23:11
  • I understand all that. I merely grabbed the first reliable source that indicates your assertion that whey has no connection to acne may not be the given you think it is. I ignored dozens and dozens of other sites making the same claim that it does indeed have a connection. The point being you need to support that assertion. It's not a given.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 1:19
  • That study is barely useful, not only was the study group small but those studied were not done so in a scientifically rigorous way that could mean that a causation could be asserted. Teenagers are more susceptible to acne because hormones and (usually) poor hygiene.
    – John
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 9:38
  • +1 Just because it is in powdered form does not make it suddenly bad for you (assuming you check your protein powder on labdoor before buying it).
    – John
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 7:03

You could try replacing whey based supplements with plant based protein sources instead, to see if it solves your acne problem. It's also reportedly healthier. Just search online for "plant based protein supplements" or ask at your local health store. There are also documentaries like "The Game Changers", and vegan bodybuilders such as Nimai Delgado on social networks, which can provide more information or inspiration.

Personally, I recall gaining weight some years back, without any supplements whatsoever. I just felt more hungry from intensive workouts and therefore ate more overall, and also remember eating peanuts more frequently but in moderation.

I think it's just common sense that if the body is going to repair muscle and build extra mass, it needs extra nutrients, protein being a fundamental one. I'd guess that a balanced diet, is even more important. One theory/speculation of mine is that if one eats more of a balanced diet, one would naturally get more protein, but whether that would be enough to be build the desired level of muscle is another story. I remember doing some research on this and even Thomas L. Tadlock recommended getting extra protein in his free book.

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