Women are such amazing creatures that it’s downright mind boggling at times. I know what you’re thinking – you and I are both women, so such self-praise sounds a bit excessive.
But really, think about it for a minute. Our physical makeup is dramatically different from that of our male counterparts. We have to train nearly twice as hard to make any substantial gains in the gym, and we’re genetically preprogrammed to store more fat than men, all because of the differences in our hormonal makeup.
Let’s face it, ladies, our bodies are built for child rearing, not heavy lifting or figure competitions. Regardless of whether those babies are a goal of yours or not, your system will always do its best to ensure a soft & comfortable atmosphere for that baby’s development during the first nine months of its existence.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that if you’re actively working on preventing pregnancy, you’ll likely have an increased hormonal imbalance and even more pronounced effects of the estrogen hormone doing its job.
Not sure what I’m talking about? There is a phrase that will conjure up memories of bloat, fat gain, nausea, spotting or breakthrough bleeding, mood swings, and even severe headaches. It’s a short phrase with a lot of power. Ready?
Most of those who’ve tried birth control pills are well aware of their possible side effects. These are to be expected; anytime hormone levels are changed in any way, the body is bound to let you know of the changes.
Birth control pills are comprised of synthetic estrogen and progesterone (or in some cases, just one of those two). Since the menstrual cycle and ovulation are regulated by these hormones, this increase results in a variety of changes within the reproductive system, which results in pregnancy prevention.
Now, as any woman in the fitness industry knows, we try our very best to decrease the female hormones in our bodies. We all know that increased levels of testosterone, along with decreased estrogen hormones, are essential to the sense of well-being and overall health.
It’s testosterone that helps us gain lean mass, reduce fat storage, increase sexual desire, ward off that “I’m PMS’ing-leave-me-alone” mood, keep our skin healthy, and our minds sharp. Excessive levels of its opposing hormone, estrogen, produce the exact opposite effect on our bodies.
Clearly, increasing your very own estrogen levels by going on the pill sounds more than just a little crazy. It is, however, seen as an absolute necessity by most women. Many of us just accept the unfortunate side effects and learn to deal with the consequences of a less than perfect hormonal balance.
After all, what else is there?
That’s the question we’ll answer in this article. I’ve done some extensive research on the topic, including interviewing numerous fitness and figure competitors regarding their personal experiences with birth control pills. Each of these girls has discovered what works for her; whether it’s a lower dose estrogen pill or a viable alternative that does the job while keeping those hormone levels at least somewhat conducive to her hardcore fitness lifestyle and ultra-lean body goals.
Types of Birth Control Pills
There are two basic categories: those containing progestin only, and combination pills containing both progestin and estrogen.
Progestin-only pills contain no estrogen. These are sometimes referred to as the “mini-pill,” and are considered ideal for breastfeeding women since the presence of estrogen reduces milk production.
The mini-pill works by thickening the cervical mucus, thereby preventing sperm from entering the uterus. They must be taken at the same time every day.
While these pills don’t contain any estrogen, they’re not considered figure-friendly by any means. You see, the pill’s progesterone component has been shown to increase appetite – which of course makes it very difficult to diet, resulting in weight gain.
Some of the other side effects of the mini-pill include irregular or heavy bleeding, spotting, and severe headaches. Additionally, progestin-only pills have been shown to be slightly less effective than their combination counterparts – so that the chance of becoming a mommy is actually increased when choosing these over estrogen containing birth control pills.
Combination pills are ones containing both estrogen and progestin. This category can be broken down into three different types, which are as follows:
Monophasic pill. This is the original birth control pill. Each pack of these pills consists of 21 active pills containing the same amount of estrogen and progestin in each pill, and 7 placebos, which contain no hormones.
The second type of the combination pill is called multiphasic.Also referred to as biphasic and triphasic, multiphasic oral contraceptives contain varied amounts of hormones and are designed to be taken at specific times over the pill-taking period.
Each of the pills in this pack contains different levels of estrogen and progestin so that the hormones are varied throughout the month. They were developed for the specific purpose of reducing side effects of oral contraceptives. Women taking multiphasic pills report having fewer episodes of breakthrough bleeding and spotting, but as of now, those are the only sides that have been shown reduced.
The last type of the combination pill is the continuous use pill. This is the brand new one of the bunch, being approved in the spring of ’07. The best known brand of the continuous use pill is Lybrel, which also happens to be a multiphasic pill. It comes in a 28-day pack and is meant to be taken without any breaks in between pill packets, which basically means not having a period at all.
Some of the side effects associated with all combination oral contraceptives include most of the ones you’d normally hear about, including nausea, severe headaches, possible vomiting, irregular bleeding, and weight gain resulting from the changes in the body’s hormonal makeup.
Birth Control Options for Fit Girls
Now that we’ve gone over the basic differences among the pills, let’s take some time discussing ones that seem to be popular with women who are in the fitness industry.
Those ladies who are on the pill and training hard almost always opt for low dose pills. Low dose birth control pills are mostly monophasic pills that have an estrogen component of less than 35 micrograms. Some examples of this type of pill include LoOvral, Nordette, and Ortho-Cept.
There are also two newer formulas of low dose pills on the market, both of which have become a quick favorite among many figure competitors. Cyclessa is a brand new low dose oral contraceptive that’s also multiphasic. The low estrogen in its varying-hormone package has actually been shown to result in weight loss for many women who begin taking it… and those who didn’t lose any noticeable weight, didn’t gain any fat, according to the studies.
Yasmin is another newer low dose pill with many fit ladies in its fan club. Because of a more natural progestin in its formula, it’s been associated with improved skin texture for those who are naturally oily or acne-prone, an improved sense of well-being, and even weight control help due to reduced water retention.
Ultra low dose pills exist as well, and these are ones that have the lowest amount of estrogen in a birth control pill, which is 20 micrograms. This dose of estrogen is sufficient for contraception, however these pills oftentimes result in more spotting and breakthrough bleeding than pills containing 30-35 micrograms of estrogen, which is why most women who’ve tried them end up opting for the low dose pills instead.
If you’re interested in trying an ultra-low oral contraceptive, two of the most popular ones are Alesse and Mircette, with the prior being a favorite of three figure competitors I’d interviewed.
One other factor that’s interesting when it comes to all oral contraceptives (even low dose ones) is that they’ve been shown to decrease total and free testosterone by almost half, while increasing total cortisol levels. This, of course, is quite a negative effect for all of us trying to build muscle – it’s just bad news from the anabolic perspective.