Debunked: Can the contraceptive pill affect your progress in the gym?

A woman on TikTok showed a study which claimed it could

A TikTok recently went viral featuring a woman discussing a scientific study which claimed taking the contraceptive pill can negatively impact the progress you can make in the gym. And naturally, people were not happy with the idea of their gains being compromised.

The video, which has now been viewed over 650,000 times, was created by trainee personal trainer Ellie O’Reilly, who shared the study results and said she was shocked to find out the pill could be affecting her and countless other women.

She said: “I’ve just found out something really bad, and I’m honestly in shock. Like I don’t know if it’s a well known fact, but it’s actually making me mad. So girls that are on the pill you might want to hear this.

“There’s literally a scientific study, with one group of women who are on the pill and the other group of women aren’t any contraception. They’re on the same work out plans, same nutrition plan, and they keep it up for a certain amount of time.

“And the study shows the group of girls on the pill had 40 per cent less gains and less progress.”

@ellieoreillyfitness brb coming off the pill #fyp #fittok #gymhumor #gymgirl #girls #girlswholift #fitness ♬ original sound – ellieoreillyfitness

The comment section of Ellie’s video was quickly filled with other women commenting their surprise and saying they were going to quit the pill.

Though Ellie doesn’t mean the specific study name, many other TikTokers have also shared similar videos which include a link to the study, which was done in 2009.

The study was done on behalf of the American Physiological Society, and 73 women between the ages of 18 and 31 took part in the 10 week study. The first group was made up of 34 women who were taking oral contraceptive pills (OC), and the other group of 39 women, who were not taking any oral contraception.

Over the course of 10 weeks all of the women followed the same exercise regime under the observation of exercise psychologists. They did exercises including lat pull downs, tricep extensions, and chest presses. Their blood samples were taken before and after training to assess the muscle building and breaking hormone levels in their blood.

The researchers found and expressed their surprise that “the non-OC women [were] gaining more than 60 per cent greater muscle mass than their OC counterpart.”

via John Arano/Unsplash

So does oral contraception really stop you getting those gains at the gym? Dr Becky Mawson at contraceptive reviewing platform, The Lowdown, told The Tab, it is well known that oral contraception “can change your sex hormone binding globulin and have affects such as loss of sex drive and weight gain.”

And when it comes to the 2009 study, Dr Mawson said a potential reason why the women taking contraception in the study weren’t gaining muscle is because “the progestogen which is in all OC blocks the androgen receptors in the muscle making it more difficult to gain muscle.”

Personal trainer Ruth Stone at agrees, and added: “the women taking the pill had much greater levels of cortisol in their system, a major contributor to muscle breakdown.”

But the pill isn’t necessarily guaranteed to negatively impact your progress. In fact, Dr Mawson highlighted numerous studies since the 2009 one which show contraceptive pills have no effect on muscle gains.

In 2014, a study by University of Málaga, found there was no negative impact on body composition or strength levels of the women in the study taking contraception pills.

And a study from earlier this year, showed that after 12 weeks of exercise “muscle thickness, muscle fibre size, and composition were similar in young women irrespective of their OC use.”

via Unsplash

Dr Mawson said if you are still concerned your contraceptive pill could be affecting your training, then she suggests looking into hormone free contraceptive options or to choose a pill which contains a progesterone which is “less androgen or anti-androgenic, such as drospironone containing methods.”

And Ruth Stone recommends as well as chatting to your GP, to talk to a local personal trainer or take advantage of a free personal training session to check your current gym programme, as it may not be “as on-point as you perceive it to be.” Ruth also stresses the importance of getting your nutrition right, when when combined with your gym plan, will have a much bigger impact on your gym progress than the pill.

Featured image credit before edits Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

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