Birth Control & Performance
We know that performance is altered by different factors depending on gender (find that post here), but when women take birth control (research shows ~50% of women athletes are) this further complicates the hormone equation. Let’s take a brief look at this issue.
Quick Note - I’m not going to explain the basics or forms of birth control here. Go talk to your gyno for information on choices, side effects, benefits, etc… Here we are just going to look at potential performance - birth control issues that may effect your athletic results.
Birth control has been shown to decrease basal metabolic rate. This is how many calories your body burns to function while at rest. This is going to be a very small part of an athlete’s overall calorie burn as physical activity accounts for such a large output.
Taking birth control can suppress hormones that make you feel satisfied after a meal. This can lead to over eating or feeling hungrier than you really are. So be mindful about portions, hunger cues, and try tracking your diet to see if you’re eating more than you need to.
Birth control does effect body composition. Athletes on BC may have trouble making ideal body fat percentage.
Body fat is likely to increase on BC.
Muscle mass is harder to develop.
It is important to note these gains or losses are relatively small and not effecting health status, but lets face it, even vary small changes in body compositions can improve or limit performances at high levels.
This area is highly dependent on type of BC used (combination, progesterone only, whether or not it is androgenic) as well as if the woman has regular menstruation regardless of type of BC.
Your VO2Max might suffer on BC.
This hasn’t been shown to decrease performance, so either the decrease is very small or the performance studied was less dependent on VO2Max or the women.
This is less likely to effect highly trained, elite women as newer athletes.
While there are body composition differences that might be frustrating in appearance, they do not seem to impact force output or performance.
Taking androgenic BC has not been shown to promote maximal strength outputs.
There might be some benefits to taking birth control (outside of not getting pregnant).
Decreased risk of anemia and low iron.
Increased training due to limited or controlled menstruation and less menstrual complications (cramps, etc) that could limit performance outcomes.
Potential decreased in variation of carb, hydration, fat, sleep needs throughout monthly cycles.