What happens when we take oral contraceptives?
We intake exogenous hormones (hormones from outside our body) and suppress circulating levels of endogenous hormones (those existing naturally in our body).
The contraceptive pill works by producing high estrogen levels during the follicular phase, inhibiting mid-cycle gonadotropin surge and preventing ovulation.
What the research says
Research into this topic is low to moderate in quality…
Showed a small trend towards greater muscle mass (+ 3%) when taking the oral contraceptive but NO difference in strength.
Showed a trend towards less lean mass when taking the oral contraceptive, with those using oral contraceptives with the highest androgenicity experiencing the greatest impairments.
Study 3 (meta-analysis looking at 42 studies)
Showed probability of a small reduction in training performance if taking the oral contraceptive. This study concluded that the evidence does not warrant guidance on oral contraceptive use vs. non use.
Things to consider
Any kind of contraceptive is a highly personal choice and there are many factors to consider. Please remember:
- We can’t take anything from one study and as you can see, research varies wildly
- Even if the pill marginally impacts muscle gain, there are so many potential benefits that outweigh this (e.g. alleviating heavy cycles, bad PMS, mood swings)
- Clients must make empowered choices… and coaches must take an individualistic approach