Could the Pill Be Affecting Your Workout Results?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

If you take the oral contraceptives and are trying to build muscle, a new study shows it could be negatively affecting your results. Researchers studied 73 women between the ages of 18 and 31 who completed a 10-week strength training program. About half of the women took the pill and half did not. The results showed a significant difference in the increase of lean muscle between the two groups.

Participants followed the same 3-day per week exercise program. They were also encouraged to eat a half a gram of protein per pound of body weight daily to ensure they were getting enough calories and protein to aid in muscle building. At the end of the study, the women who did not take birth control pills gained 60% more muscle than those who did.

Blood samples showed that women on the pill had lower levels of testosterone (a muscle-building hormone) and higher levels of cortisol (which can result in a decrease of muscle tissue.) It's not exactly clear why this happens, or if there's anything a person on the medication can do to counteract the effect. But if you've not been seeing the results you'd expect from your exercise program and you're on the pill, this could be a reason why.

If you currently use oral contraceptives, do you notice a difference in your progress since you started taking them? If you no longer use them, do you notice a difference since you stopped? Are you surprised by these results?

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  • 104
    Not that I'd stop taking the pill over it, but this is a pretty big bummer. Muscle building is hard enough for me as it is. I'll never stop trying though. I'm on an every three month routine because of the migraines I get during PMS. I'll probably ask my doctor what she thinks on my next visit. - 9/9/2014   10:45:33 AM
    After a complete hysterectomy, this is, most fortunately, a non-issue for me. - 1/25/2012   9:23:07 PM
  • 102
    Being on the pill, even a low dosage variety, has a significant impact on my ability to gain lean muscle mass. It's almost as if the stubborn last ten pounds from cling like crazy. But the benefit of being on the pill greatly outweighs this one pesky problem that can be overcome with proper diet and exercise. The primary benefit is the reduced risk of uterine cancer, and decrease in PMS, not to mention an unwanted pregnancy.

    I say if you are on the pill, stay on it. But of course, any birth control decision should be made in consultation with a physician.

    Kelly - 9/11/2011   10:30:24 PM
  • 101
    I have been on different types of birth control since I was about 17. When I started Depo Provera (The Shot) about two years ago I actually loss about 5-10 pounds. I'm not sure if its effected my ability to form muscle, but then again I'm not really into strength training. - 7/7/2010   5:24:02 PM
  • 100
    I've been on the pill since I was 11. I'm now 23. I gained weight starting at about 20 years old. Seeing as I'd rather not be pregnant right now, I think I'll stay on the pill regardless of whether or not it takes me longer to build up muscle. (*Laughs*) - 6/15/2010   10:11:38 PM
    This doesn't surprise me in the least. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the pill will affect hormone levels which can affect weight gain/muscle gain and oh by the way any NUMBER of things in the body. It's exactly what it's supposed to do. - 6/15/2010   2:16:57 PM
  • TRH0507
    I've been on the pill for about 3 years now and I haven't gained or had any problems losing weight. The only time I've ever had problems was when wasn't working out regularly and wasn't eating healthy, but that's nothing new from before I started BC. I don't believe u can make a blanket statement and say BC makes everyone gain weight or makes it difficult to lose weight...our bodies are all different and they react differently to different kinds of contraceptives...if you're having weight trouble with the form of BC you're on you should consider talking to your doctor about trying a different kind. - 6/15/2010   8:54:28 AM
  • 97
    I have been on the BC since I was 20. I am now 50. I have not had a problem with the pill but I did have the DepoVera Shot a while back. I went from 120 to 175 lbs. in 5 years. I worked hard and couldn't lose the weight until I went off the shot. I slowly went down to 150 but had to work the rest off. I excercised hard and watched what I ate. I dropped down to 107 lbs. Then I had surgery and went to 112 lbs. I went on the HCG drops to lose unwanted body fat. I loved it. I am 5'4" and I now weigh between 103 to 104 lbs and even dropped down to 102. I weigh myself every day and I love being able to keep track of what I eat on Sparkspeople. - 6/1/2010   3:11:55 PM
  • HEATHER2823
    okay, there's the article and all... but is anyone reading the different results that are being posted here? i've been out of high school almost 20 years. i've been on the pill for the last 10. my weight has not changed, give or take 5 lbs. what does that say about anything? nothing aside that i'm different from every other lady up here, just like we're all different. these studies may have some benefit but they can also be psychologically damaging at the same time. we can't make huge lifestyle choices, like going off the pill (or having surgery), just to gain some muscle. that is totally absurd. have patience with your body, monitor your habits and review what your true needs are; these three things must be done honestly in order to have any results at all. - 5/8/2010   10:49:16 PM
  • 95
    So glad I'm not on the pill. It also looks like having extremely high testosterone levels is a benefit. - 4/9/2010   10:22:02 PM
  • 94
    I was on the BC for a long time and I liked the fact that you have less chance of pregnancy. I did have the weight gain during the BC, shot..
    If you consult your doctor they will get you the right dosage for your body. The only thing is that our bodies changes in days, months and years.
    So we are kind of unpredictable.
    When you have your yearly paps find out how things look to your doctor and let them know of changes if good or bad. Then talk about sticking to the BC or trying something new.
    I think overall stick to your nutrition plan, work outs and activities.

    If there is drastic changes I would consider a plan B. - 4/6/2010   5:16:22 PM
  • 93
    Could this be why I've been stuck at the same weight now for nearly 6 months??? - 4/6/2010   11:42:59 AM
  • 92
    I am not having weight loss problems while on the pill. I did gain weight after I started taking it about 3 years ago, but that was due to a huge decrease in my physical activity and maintaining the same diet that I had when I was burning about 4000 calories a week. Now that I'm doing it right, the pounds are coming off and I'm determined to build muscle during my strength workouts, testosterone or no testosterone. - 2/12/2010   12:13:30 PM
  • 91
    I 'm thinking of going off yasmin, I'm scared of the backfire. Maybe I will gaine weight but i'll continue doing exercise and all, lets see what happens - 12/29/2009   3:21:06 PM
    Actually guys, as a scientist, 73 is a perfect sample size for this study -- in a properly designed randomized trial there is a mathematical formula to determine your sample size (which they followed) -- any larger and it doesn't tell you any more information, it just makes your study more expensive to perform for no benefit. I read the study and they did control for other factors -- it was well done and the results are certainly something for all of us to think about.

    There are definitely advantages to taking the pill, but there are a lot of negatives too -- like every medication, it all comes down to weighing the benefits against the negative effects. Having more information is always helpful.

    On a personal note, (after being on the pill since I was 17) since having my 2 children, my husband took care of his "boys" and I've been able to go off the pill permanently -- and I definitely notice how much easier it is to gain muscle now. I assumed it had something to do with the body changes of the pregnancies, but I guess it was just going off the pill! :) - 11/19/2009   11:25:39 AM
  • 89
    I have been on the pill off and on for most of my adult life and have never had a problem with weight gain or had trouble losing while on the pill. I just started back on the pill last year at the age of 44 to deal with problems with peri-menopause. Since then I joined Sparkpeople and have lost 44 pounds. I don't know about the difficulty gaining muscle mass, I tend to have a lot of muscle mass anyway. Otherwise I don't have any problems taking the pill anyway, it makes me feel better. - 11/14/2009   11:40:46 AM
  • 88
    At age 51 I have been on the pill most of my married life. For me I haven't had any problems building muscle or watching my weight but I work out regularly and am really careful about what goes in my mouth. Actually I am kind of grateful for it because I have had NO hot flashes (unlike most women my age) and feel fantastic! - 11/12/2009   6:33:03 PM
  • 87
    I think not only does BC affect muscle building, but since I went on it 3 years ago I can't seem to lose weight as easily despite my hard and aggressive workouts. I am sure being mid 30's is part of it, but I have to believe the other is due to the hormones! - 11/11/2009   9:07:49 AM
  • 86
    Birth control pills were absolutely the worst thing that I have ever done to my body. My entire personality changed. I broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years, and stopped hanging out with 90% of my friends. I was constantly enraged, depressed, and anxious. I gained 10 lbs in a few weeks, and yes it was becasue my eating habits sucked. But, they sucked because I was miserable. And I was miserable because of the pill. I tried to continue my running routine, which I had previously been VERY enthusiastic about. First it just took a lot for me to get motivated. Running was a HUGE struggle. And then it got to the point where I just refused to do it. I wasn't trying to build muscle at the time, but it definitely effected my running in a massive way. I felt like I had lead limbs.
    Once I got off them it took me another 3 months before I fully felt like myself again. I finally feel like I have some kind of control over myself, and my life. I feel like me. And I will NEVER ever go on birth control pills again.
    I understand that some people don't feel they have side effects. I personally have known people who went on them and clearly did change quite a bit personality wise. And honestly, if you have been taking the same pills for years.... how do you even know who you are anymore?

    Everyone's body is different.... and mine has absolutely zero tolerance for that kind of tampering.

    - 11/10/2009   9:24:49 AM
  • 85
    Wow! That is really interesting. I won't be dropping the pill any time soon but at least when I know I'm ready to come off of it to start a family, I might get some really nice muscles to go along with it! - 11/10/2009   9:19:48 AM
    Hmm. Well I JUST got on the pill last month (a week or so after starting SP) and I haven't had trouble losing the weight (8lbs lost already!). I've also seen an increase in my muscle strength, but perhaps not as fast as if I hadn't started on the pill. - 8/15/2009   12:37:46 PM
  • 83
    Wow, they gained 60% more muscle when not on the pill!?!? That's interesting news to know. I've been on the pill too long! I've lost lots of weight, but I haven't built as much muscle as I would like. Maybe this is why. Hmm. - 7/21/2009   7:03:29 PM
  • 82
    I have been on BC since I was 16 ... I guess this means I will be a buff pregnant lady :) - 7/10/2009   1:39:07 PM
  • 81
    i've been on the pill since i was 16 and have only been off of it to have my two children... but i was considering sterilization anyway and this is yet one more reason to do so!! i'll gain muscle mass, increase my sex drive, lose a little more weight.... win win win. even with all i know about how it affects me i didn't even consider the testosterone/muscle mass angle - but probably because i never considered regular strength training before this! thanks for this article! - 6/5/2009   12:17:04 PM
  • 80
    This is kinda of bad news because I have to take birth control pills without estrogen because of my hormone imbalance. I notice it is harder to lose weight. - 6/3/2009   3:33:08 PM
  • 79
    I am not surprised. A few of my clients are on the pill and we have to work extra hard just to battle the effects. - 5/26/2009   6:34:01 PM
  • 78
    It makes sense, logically, that being on the pill would reduce my results, but for me, SO not worth the risk!! Is there any evidence of a connection between having tubes tied & work out results?! - 5/20/2009   9:52:37 AM
  • 77
    well Im currently on the pill and after reading this i'm kinda of sceptial about the weight i will lose but i know i'm not ready of another baby so guess ill just have to work extra hard using the pills.
    - 5/19/2009   11:42:54 PM
  • 76
    Unfortunately for me, going off the pill makes me far more sensitive to migraines. Even just taking the week off, will cause me to have at least one attack. I wonder how the pill ties in with bloodsugar levels, because my migraines seem bloodsugar related. I think can feel an 'attack' of research coming on (LOL) - 5/16/2009   1:51:58 AM
  • 75
    Even before reading this I was thinking about going off the pill so I could lose the 15lbs I have gained. I know from my experience through the years that being on the pill affects my weight and how effective my workouts are. When I was at my lowest weight and in the best shape ever I was not on the pill. I'm just trying to think of what other method of BC I would be comfortable with. - 5/15/2009   8:47:10 PM
    This is an interesting study , but I agree with most of the others that this was such a small sample of people to conduct the study on. Something to take into account, but definitely needs a larger population to test with. - 5/15/2009   2:20:37 PM
  • 73
    I have just begun taking Loestrin 24 for hormone balancing. I am hoping to no longer have weeks of PMS, insomnia, headaches, and having it hurt to simply hug my wonderful daughters. I hope to lose weight, but frankly, the other is affecting my quality of life much more so than feeling heavy. It is too early for me to know on all of it.... And I also have PCOS. Seems quite common! - 5/11/2009   8:08:04 PM
  • 72
    The was a tiny study and the only reason they released their results was to get more funding. This tells us nothing. It is just another press release of conflicting information. Don't change your medication because of this. I am on BCP and I am in a 90 day weight training program with great results. I have been on and off most of my life and I ready to go off again because I am sick of putting these poisons in my body. If I am going to get healthy working out and eating, I want to include hormonally. I will talk to my GYN first. - 5/6/2009   11:33:56 AM
  • KELLYJO_20_04
    This article makes my overall progress make a lot of sense. I started working out and losing weight in Feb 2008, by October I had lost 55 lbs. I started taking birthcontrol in September because my periods were very inconsistant. Since then my weight has been stuck right around 180-185. It could be just a plateau because I had lost so much already or it could be affected by my pill. Its a good thing to think about. Either way I plan on working through this stubborn 180 and reaching my goal. - 5/6/2009   10:02:02 AM
  • 70
    Yes, sounds very reasonable. I haven't really thought about this interdependence - simply assumed it is logical to be so. - 5/6/2009   9:35:02 AM
    I always experienced the (ironic) lowering of sex drive on the pill...lower testosterone would certainly explain it! Once I got into my 30's (perimenopause?), I never found one that didn't make me feel crummy...gave up after trying many brands. Not sure about the affect on muscle building...
    very thought provoking article! Thanks! - 5/6/2009   8:24:01 AM
    I have been working out seriously for 10 years; 5 without the pill and 5 with the pill. Although I don't think I have a harder time building muscle, I have gained a lot of weight (18 pounds). Still, the pill helps my PMS tremendoulsy, as well as lessens my cramps and shortens my period. I used to have 10 -or 11 - day periods, and now that I'm on the pill they tend to be about 6. I would love to have the best of both worlds, where I could be as thin as I used to be, but not have the emotions of PMS, the cramps and the long periods. That would be IDEAL! - 5/5/2009   11:20:47 AM
  • 67
    I regret ever having asked to go on contraceptives ~ it totally changed my life for the worst!!! Without these dang pills in my life ~ I may not have had to deal with 15 years of DVT's and now Lymphedema!

    I will always look towards a healthier choice of products, rather than take something approved by FDA. Only cuz the side-affects are often worse than the original problem! - 5/5/2009   1:43:56 AM
  • 66
    I have been off the pill for two months after taking it regularly for 5 years. I have gained weight since coming off the pill. I am moodier and my periods longer and heavier since stopping. I was felt and did better on than off... I guess everyone is different! - 5/4/2009   8:56:02 PM
  • CNIKKI33
    I was on the pill for 10+ years and had trouble making my workout effective. I got off the pill a year ago, lost 40 lbs, and am a whole lot less moody, skin stayed about the same and that time of the month, althought not as predictable is shorter and lighter. It was like my body (and everyone around me) sighed when I stopped. It was a good experience not having to continue. - 5/4/2009   7:21:32 PM
  • 64
    Interesting food for thought. Bottom line - my opinion is that the BCP impacts people in different ways just like any other medication. You can't make a generic statement that BC is good or bad. There are so many factors influencing weight loss that it is unreasonable to pin everything on one prescription.

    I have always struggled with my weight. When I was younger I was always near goal weight, but it wasn't necessarily easy. When I turned 30 my thyroid died on me so there's a factor. I also had surgery for fibroid tumors. Shortly after that I did go on BCP to get my hormones under control. It has been great for me in regulating my hormones, controling PMS, and keeping things in order. My periods were unbearable most months and this really helped.

    I have always been active and have not noticed a difference in my ability to build muscle prior to and after using the BCP. I believe it's possible for the pill to impact some women in that way, I'm just not one of them. :) - 5/4/2009   2:57:56 PM
    I went off the pill about 4 months ago and this is when I finally saw some good results from all of my workout. It absolutely had an effect on my weight los. - 5/4/2009   1:43:19 PM
  • 62
    I know for my body, I have a harder time loosing weight when I'm on the pill. It also depends on which pill. I recently switched and I lost 4 to 6 pounds in two weeks. It is frustrating, because the pill is the easiest contraceptive for me. But at least right now I feel ok and even though I'm not loosing like I'd like and my muscles aren't building as quickly as I want, I'm at a decent place. I do work out 2 to 3 hours a day though. - 5/4/2009   11:09:06 AM
  • 61
    I've been on Yasmin, now Ocella (generic for Yasmin) since 2002 and once I got past the first month, experienced no side effects from it at all. I was heavy at the time, but it had much more to do with eating to compete with my boyfriend and not exercising than anything the pill did. Once I decided to get myself into shape, I don't think I've had any problems gaining muscle, but I really don't have anything to compare it to. I just know that in the last two years, I've lost 60 pounds and am now 147 and a size 6/8. I think it's the muscle tone that allows me to be that size since my weight seems like it should be too heavy for that size. At 5 feet tall, I'd like to be 127 instead. I'm working on it, but those last 20 lbs are hard! - 5/4/2009   10:51:44 AM
  • 60
    I find this very interesting because I am on the pill and my trainer has been trying to help me gain muscle. I have done two 60-min weight train sessions a week and my muscle mass has only slightly changed. I have been able to loose weight but my % muscle and % fat have pretty much stayed the same (only lost 1% fat but 10lbs gone). I might get off the pill in a few months and it'll be interesting to see what effect that has on my muscle gain. Thanks for the great article! - 5/4/2009   10:40:19 AM
  • 59
    I was on several different types of contraceptive pills/patches for over 5 years. In total, I gained 25+ pounds (I've always eaten healthy and exercised a healthy amount), was depressed, had skin problems, and recurring yeast infections. I was miserable. I have been off the pill for exactly a year now, and, although it was very difficult to lose weight the first six months, I have now lost 18 pounds, I am far far from depressed, and my skin is great! I have some friends who say they haven't been affected by the pill at all, but I know that it was the reason that I had so many problems for those years.

    This article was eye-opening for me because, while I was on the pill, I used to run a lot and workout at the gym. After a couple months of not seeing results (or gaining fat...grrrr...) I would give up. I had no idea that there was a connection with the pill! And now, following a similar strength training routine and off the pill, I AM SEEING RESULTS!

    Obviously, some people need to be on the pill and some will not be affected by it. However, if you don't need to be on it, I would strongly suggest to avoid it. I would love to read more studies about the pill and weight loss! Thanks :) - 5/4/2009   10:30:27 AM
  • 58
    I've been on various types of bc for about 5 years...yasmin, the patch, the ring and now yaz. i've never had any weight fluctuations that I couldn't attribute to my diet and activity level. All of them have helped my mood, after starting the patch I was able to go off both antidepressants, and haven't needed them since. After a year or so though...the effect starts to lessen and I have to switch methods. REALLY missing the ring, that was the absolute best. I have a friend who gained about 20 pounds and struggles to lose it on depo, but she has no trouble building muscle. - 5/3/2009   6:43:36 PM
  • 57
    when i was on the pill Yaz, i ended up craving sweets like crazy and in result i gained weight, but it was definitely water weight. i got off the pill and was back to my normal self within about 3 weeks - 5/3/2009   3:31:08 PM
    I use the pill to counteract symptoms of PCOS. When I am not on the pill I have bad acne breakouts, unwanted facial hair, as well as months between periods. When I am on the pill, my skin is clear, hair only grows where I want it, and I can plan for a period. That being said, I lost 10 lbs in two months while on the pill, and now that I am off, I have gained all ten back.

    I also question the validity of this study. Has it been replicated? Were there other variables that were not controled? Only using a sample size of 73 also seems small compared to the total population of BC takers. - 5/3/2009   1:48:25 PM
  • 55
    i went on the pill in hs and gained about 5-10 lbs per yr i was on it. last summer was when i first starting trying to lose weight. after 7 weeks of perfect nutrition, cardio and strength training. i lost 1 lb. i went off the pill and continued everything the same, i lost 13 lbs in the following 7 weeks. i completely relate the stubbornness of my weight loss to the pill which is why i refuse to go back on it until i have reached my goal. - 5/3/2009   1:41:50 PM

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