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Could the Pill Be Affecting Your Workout Results?

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
5/1/2009 10:16 AM   :  103 comments

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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Comments

  • 53
    I'm on the pill, and I think attributing my muscle loss to it would just be a hindsight bias. I need to own up to the fact that I have a BFB (big fat boyfriend) rather than a medical side effect! - 5/3/2009   12:03:08 PM
  • NGAIBRUCE
    52
    I must be lucky...sometimes sore, hardly any pain....I eat a lot of spicy food and hot peppers on a daily basis...I've heard various capsicum varieties (hot peppers) contain something which helps your body fight pain. I believe it is true at least to some extent. Anyway, I hardly ever take pills for anything, aspirin, tylenol, advil, etc. etc..... - 5/3/2009   10:56:57 AM
  • 51
    Medications effect everyone differently, so some women may have positive/no side effects, and some may have negative side effects from birth conrol.

    I would have thought I had no side effects, but since going off BC last year, I've had an easier time lossing the weight I've been carrying around for years (and I think breastfeeding also helped), and I've also been maintaining easier, it seems. It could be I'm trying harder, too, I don't know. But I feel better letting my body be "natural" than pumping it full of hormones I don't need (I understand some women need to be on it for health resaons, but I don't).

    This study was very small, but the results don't surprise me. Of course drugs that mess with your hormones are going to mess other functions up! - 5/3/2009   10:10:35 AM
  • 50
    I'm glad to see so many women not allowing this to be an "out" for them. The extremely small study size is worrying, and really calls for taking it with a grain of salt. There are so many different birth control types, and everyone effects people differently. I gained on ortho-tricyclin lo. but my weight has been totally stable on Yasmin. I don't notice a difference in my ability to gain muscle. I personally would like to read the actual study and have a look at their statistical analysis and whether other factors (age, other diet factors, general fitness, etc.) were taken into account. I also have PCOS, and am fine with my "withdrawl bleed" lowering my chances of getting endometrial cancer, since my body doesn't do the whole "true period" thing. There's no need to be catty about it ladies. Birth control is a choice, and for some a medically necessary one. - 5/3/2009   9:45:26 AM
  • 49
    73 participants in a study is an awful small sample. I wait to past judgment when the study covers a greater size group. - 5/3/2009   7:11:53 AM
  • FROGGIEBABY
    48
    I'm another one who would like more information about this study. Which pill was used for this study? I presume it was a COC, rather than a POP? - 5/3/2009   6:41:03 AM
  • 47
    Another hormone treatment person here. I was very unhappy when the pill was recommended as a treatment. I had problems with depression the last time I was on it, but I needed to do something as my cycle was unbearably erratic and I was getting pains in my abdomen. It was annoying and depressing enough that I was going through three or four packages of sanitary napkins a month at times, and that sex had become practically impossible, that the pill seemed the lesser of the two evils. I'm still willing to make sacrifices like working extra hard for muscle mass to keep this crap in check. I would still be more miserable going back to bleeding and hurting all the time than I would working harder for a toned body. - 5/3/2009   1:54:57 AM
  • LISADOUBLEVEE
    46
    What I want to know is, which pills were used in the study? There are several varieties with different combinations/levels of hormones. Personally, I'm on a no-estrogen mini-pill. I haven't had too much trouble losing weight. Pills with estrogen gave me headaches and could have maybe helped along the weight-gain I experienced last year. - 5/3/2009   12:46:44 AM
  • 45
    When I went off the pill, everyone said I would for sure lose weight, but the opposite happened. I gained 7 kilos in 3 months, without any apparent reason.
    IMO any sudden change in hormones can affect your weight, and weight fluctuations are not neccesarily related to BC. - 5/3/2009   12:42:03 AM
  • INNEEDOFLESS
    44
    Wow! I have strength trained on and off the pill, and I can't say as I've noticed any difference. I am one of those girls who actually likes to have flashy, somewhat bulky muscles, and I've never had a problem with attaining them on the pill. - 5/2/2009   11:51:01 PM
  • 43
    I recently went off of BC because of this very reason, plus I wanted to lose the water weight attributed to BC. However, my plan is back firing because I've gained weight and my skin is now more acne prone...maybe I'll return to BC if things don't turn around soon. - 5/2/2009   11:30:04 PM
  • 42
    I starting taking the pill last month, but not with the intentions of using it as a form of birth control. I am on the lowest dose that the doctor can give me due to my family's history, and although the first month was a little rough, I haven't been having problems. And I am determined to still lose weight while on the pill.

    To the ladies who are reading this and feeling bummed, keep in mind that this is only one study. It did not say that women who on the pill did not see any results. - 5/2/2009   9:43:53 PM
  • 41
    I meant to say "from my research," not "experience." Sorry - 5/2/2009   6:52:01 PM
  • 40
    From my experience, any type of bc pills are bad for your body, period. - 5/2/2009   6:50:33 PM
  • 39
    I am glad that people can find an articles about this topic. I am taking Diane 35 at this moment. Feel tired almost all the time, but still trying to take a care about eating. Also feel that I need to work out more. - 5/2/2009   3:56:45 PM
  • 38
    I've been on some form of oral contraceptives for 6 years. My weight fluctuated up 5-10 pounds from that point, but I honestly believe that gain had nothing to do with the medication. I think it was my lifestyle that caused the gain, so I probably would have gained the weight, anyway.

    I also don't think it affects my ability to build muscle. I have been on a steady gym routine for over 9 months now and know that I have built muscle. For some muscle groups I am now using 4 times the weight I did when I started. I don't think I'd call that hindered progress!

    Don't place all the blame on the contraceptives -- if you own up to some of it yourself, that gives you the power to do something about it!! And we all can do this! - 5/2/2009   2:32:06 PM
  • 37
    Even before reading this article I knew I hated taking the pill. I never gained weight when I started taking it but that was probably because I was just starting to jog 3 miles a day.

    I would love to stop using hormone replacement as a form of birth control. I don't won't anything perment though. Any suggestions? I am married so STDs are not a concern. - 5/2/2009   2:25:44 PM
  • 36
    Weight gain is a well-known side effect of the pill. I gained 30 pounds in 18 months after starting NuvaRing, which contains the same hormones. I've noticed, though, that eating plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and limiting "bad" fats and dairy (besides yogurt) helps a lot. I no longer have the extreme mood swings that I used to endure once I started birth control hormones, and I've been able to drop those 30 pounds plus a good bit more. - 5/2/2009   1:31:31 PM
  • 35
    I've been saying for years that I felt birth control wasnít good for women. I always felt bad, gained weight had a big problem with PMS when I was on the pill. I tried to several varieties of pills but the results were always the same. So I decided to stop taking it and it was the best decision I could have made. I feel like me again!
    The pill has became very popular around the 70's and I believe that in the next 20-50 years more medical reports will be published about the horrible stuff the pill has done to women's bodies. I kinda wonder if that is why breast cancer is on the rise in younger women? But thatís just my option and I'm not a doctor so you can agree or disagree. Have a good day! - 5/2/2009   11:26:10 AM
  • 34
    Well, this is certainly an eye opener. I was on the pill and came off to have my son. During that period, I had put on a lot of weight...so after having my baby, I went back on the pill and have continued to gain weight...which I felt was as a result of having a baby......all these years. Just recently, I came off it for medical reasons,around the same time I signed up on Spark, and I have been able to lose 8 lbs so far. Thanks for the info. - 5/2/2009   8:48:49 AM
  • 33
    I believe it. Before I was on the pill I lost a huge amount of weight. I've been on it for almost 6 years, and no matter how regularly I exercise it just doesn't make sense.
    There is scientific proof behind the claims, so I will definitely be on the look out for more studies. Now that I do know people on the pill have less testosterone and more cortisol, I will play round with my eating to see if I can increase protein in a way that helps. Thanks SP, I was just telling my husband about my muscle frustrations last week.

    People need to stop bashing everyone at SP, they are bringing this article to people's attention, not telling you how to run your lives. If you don't like it, stop reading and close the page. No one said the information was a definite 'this A causing outcome B without a doubt', they said it MAY be why. - 5/2/2009   8:17:58 AM
  • 32
    I have a hormone deficiency and was taking the pill for years to control it. Sure the pill balanced out my hormone levels, but it caused me to retain water. I was still on the pill when I first started SP, and I had a heck of a time trying to lose the weight & gain muscle mass... Thus, I talked to my doctor and was taken off the pill. Sure enough, I began to lose the excess weight gained from the water retention and started gaining muscle mass (that was noticeable). - 5/2/2009   2:48:23 AM
  • ZANDRAROGERS
    31
  • 30
    I question the validity and relevance of an article that uses a study with only 73 people and doesnt mention what pill they were on. With well over a billion women in the world, this is a poor representation of the general population not to mention the different combos and levels of hormones out there you can take - where they all even taking the same one?

    I'm on my second month of Diane35 for treatment of PCOS and will switch to yaz soon; I have not noticed any difference in weight or a slow down in muscle building. Even if I have, I don't really have a choice to stop taking BCif I want children one day. I find the article to be pointless and fear mongering ; many people dont have choice of taking it or not and the benefits outweigh any supposed costs. Show me a study with a decent number of participants and I will take it seriously. - 5/2/2009   1:04:19 AM
  • BIENEGOLD
    29
    I find the undertones of this article/study pretty disturbing, I really have to say. I'm disappointed in SP for publishing it. - 5/2/2009   12:15:08 AM
  • TASER87
    28
    I actually started the pill right when I decided to be more active and get fit. I've had no problems so far!

    I also agree with V-RON_CAN. I think that links to the actual scientific publication should be posted with articles like these. Statistics can be interpreted in all sorts of ways and people should have as much information as possible before making decisions. - 5/1/2009   11:06:30 PM
  • 27
    I am on the pill for hormone regulation, I do tend to lose more weight on the week of my menstral but I have always attribute that to fluid loss. I have lost 33lbs total and been on the pill the entire time so I don't see that we can use this as an excuse. - 5/1/2009   10:59:11 PM
  • 26
    Never taken the Pill, never will, so not an issue for me.

    Just a note - some people are commenting that they take the Pill to 'regulate their cycles'. This is impossible as women on the Pill no longer have true menstrual cycles - their cycles are suspended with a hormonally-induced false pregnancy. The 'bleed' you may or may not get (depending on the type of Pill) is not actually a true period, but withdrawal bleeding from temporarily removing the false pregnancy hormones.

    Good luck to all trying to lose weight and build muscle while dealing with false hormones! I'm sure it is not easy.

    cj - 5/1/2009   10:54:50 PM
  • GREEKSPARK
    25
    I'm on Yaz for PCOS, and I heard about this research a few weeks ago. I REFUSE to use being on the pill as an excuse for not reaching my goals. Ladies, you can do it! - 5/1/2009   9:22:57 PM
  • 24
    I gained weight and was holding water, and broke out in zits when i was on the pill. - 5/1/2009   8:41:03 PM
  • 23
    That is good to know, because I had just set me an appointment to talk to my doctor about birth control. Now I have some good questions for her! - 5/1/2009   7:34:31 PM
  • 22
    Thanks for the information. - 5/1/2009   6:57:17 PM
  • 21
    I find this article interesting, since estrogen and pregnancy are a NATURAL part of the female body. Through out history women were pregnant or nursing for most of their adult life-span, so I'm sure our Grandmothers stayed slim and strong because they WORKED. - 5/1/2009   6:01:20 PM
  • 20
    Fortunately my partner got a vasectomy so I don't have to take BCPs. They mess with my blood pressure anyway. When I was taking BCPs years ago I think they did slow down weight loss but I was still successful. - 5/1/2009   5:21:07 PM
  • 19
    Could the pill effect weight loss too? I noticed that since I went back on the pill my weight loss progress has really slowed. I've only been losing half the weight I had been losing before. Bummer! - 5/1/2009   3:48:31 PM
  • 18
    I finally got off them nine months ago and am just starting to feel like I have my body back. While things aren't totally back to where I remember being, I've gotten a lot less squishy with the same eating and exercise habits. - 5/1/2009   2:56:57 PM
  • 17
    What about those over 31? When I was in my 20's I lifted weights while on bc and had no problems. I agree with SAMMGO that there are many different types of bc available today. If you are having problems developing muscles with the bc you're on then talk to your doctor about switching to something with higher levels of testosterone. - 5/1/2009   1:53:03 PM
  • SUZYRAUCH
    16
    That is me! I have been on and off BCPs for the past 20 yrs, and had two beautiful girls in the last 5. I have always had extreme cramps and mood swings that start at ovulation time, and would continue for a full two weeks each month. BCPs make things much better for me, and everyone around me! Unfortunately, I have noticed over the yrs, that losing weight and slimming down is MUCH harder while on the pills. No question, that when I was off of them, I was able to drop weight and inches steadily. When I am on them (like now!), it is painfully slow and difficult. Although I am desperate to lose the weight I put on during my second pregnancy, I know that the benefits I get from the pill (Seasonique) out way everything. I am determined to slowly but surely get to my goal. - 5/1/2009   1:27:12 PM
  • 15
    I haven't had any problem with building muscle and being on the pill. I gained 8 pounds of muscle in 2 months... I think the issue here is an insufficient amount of protein. I eat at least 1g of protein per pound...and anyone who is truly serious about putting on muscle does the same if not consume more. - 5/1/2009   1:06:45 PM
  • 14
    Well isn't that interesting. I had been going back nad forth about taking myself off of BC. I've been on BC pills since I was a teen and had 'graduated' to the nuva-ring. I decided last month after the Rx ran out to not take/insert the next cycle. We shall see if this helps with my weight loss, I pray so. - 5/1/2009   12:31:10 PM
  • 13
    Well duh!
    The pill is female hormones that trick the body into thinking you are already pregnant so you won't get pregnant.
    And pregnant women's bodies function to support the growth of the baby not the mother.
    Despite the fact that there and many variations of the combination of hormones, the pills function remains the same. - 5/1/2009   12:22:23 PM
  • 12
    I began taking the pill shortly after starting SP. I have been able to lose weight and build muscle. However, I have hit a plateau that seems to have started about the same time my body would've fully adjusted to the hormones, but this could just be coincidence. I'm going to keep taking it, as I can't be sure that the bc is the reason for anything relating to my wieght loss. - 5/1/2009   12:20:14 PM
  • 11

    This is the worst article I have ever read....there are so many different types of oral contraceptives with different concoctions of different drugs - they are not all created equal. It would unfair to lump them all together and say that they all cause weight gain. I take BCP to keep my hormones regulated due to disease and I've been on all sorts of them to see which one works best for me.

    There is probably so much more to this study which is not outlined in this story. I hate when the media reports crap like this and I'm disappointed SP picked it up like this.
    - 5/1/2009   11:55:37 AM
  • 10
    And this would be why I'm not on bc anymore....the hormones can mess with you! - 5/1/2009   11:52:44 AM
  • 9
    I just finished my last pack of pills last night. We shall see... - 5/1/2009   11:50:04 AM
  • 8
    I'm not surprised. Years ago i got Cancer of the Cervix and after that I couldn't take birth control. I have no problem building muscle. - 5/1/2009   11:42:01 AM
  • 7
    I went on one in December, and put on 5 pounds a month, even though my doctor told me that it's one that doesn't not cause weight gain. A week after starting a new brand, I'm back to putting on weight. After some additional online research, other women are experiencing this kind of weight gain on these pills that aren't supposed to cause weight gain. I'll be using alternative methods soon. I don't want to have the synthetic hormones anymore. There are too many other BC options out there. - 5/1/2009   11:34:43 AM
  • 6
    I am considering taking the pill, not to keep from getting pregnant, but because of health problems related to heavy menstrual cycles. I wish there was more info on this, because I still have a lot of weight to lose and don't want it to slow me down!! - 5/1/2009   11:28:04 AM
  • RACHELRB
    5
    As a study of one, I would tend to agree. I went on the pill for a short stint (6 weeks) to regulate my period. I felt my weight loss and muscle strength hit a standstill during tha time. In the 2 weeks since I've been off the pill I've lost 4 lbs! - 5/1/2009   11:19:20 AM
  • CRICKETRO
    4
    I've been on the pill for 7 yrs. It's the best contraceptive for me & my husband since we are not ready for babies. I never got any "pregnancy scares" and that's GREAT! I lost 35 lbs on it as well. I was on the pill when i started SP so i cannot see if it affected anything. But I'm not going to stop taking it unless we plan to have a baby. I know it *might* be responsible for making hard to lose the last 10 lbs but I am at a healthy weight so it's not much of an issue anyway.
    I can jog, I can play tennis, I can hike, I use my stair stepper, I do strength training. I don't see my life or exercise being affected by the pill. Of course, every woman reacts differently - 5/1/2009   10:57:45 AM

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