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Board certified sports dietitian, pro athlete, freelance nutrition writer, published author, social content developer & personal chef.

Birth Control & Performance

Birth Control & Performance

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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.

Image taken from ‘study 1’ linked below.

Image taken from ‘study 1’ linked below.

  • 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.

Table taken from ‘Study 3’ linked below

Table taken from ‘Study 3’ linked below

Here are studies that have been referenced & you can read in full.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of usable / applicable information on this topic. Much more research is needed that looks at larger numbers of women athletes and looks at types of birth control, duration of use, type of sport, level of training, other health/diet variables, etc…as all of these factors play a role in how birth control can potentially effect performance. Due to this lack of studied analyses on the subject, there isn’t many guidelines/ advice to be made regarding how to change your nutrition or fitness to account for using birth control.

The best you can do is know that taking birth control might influence your outcomes in very minor ways and do your best to follow a fit, healthful lifestyle to increase performance gains regardless. If you’re concerned that your birth control is holding you back, weigh the risk vs benefit and assess all your options (and talk to your gyno & sports dietitian!!) before taking any action! You can also track your cycles and diet and compare with weight, body fat, and performance metrics over time to determine if your BC has any significant impact.

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