The Influence of Oral Contraceptives on Athletic Performance in Female Athletes
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It is now estimated that the prevalence of oral contraceptive use in athletic women matches that of women in the general population. The oral contraceptive pill (OCP) reduces cycle-length variability and provides a consistent 28-day cycle by controlling concentrations of endogenous sex hormones. The OCP is administered in three different forms that differ widely in chemical constitution and concomitant effects on the human body. As fluctuation in sex steroids are believed to be a possible causal factor in performance and exercise capacity, it is imperative to understand the effect of administering the various types of OCP on women. However, the research into oral contraceptives and exercise performance is not consistent. The type of OCP administered (monophasic, biphasic or triphasic), as well as the type and dose of estrogen and progestogen within, will have varying effects on exercise. To date, research in the area of oral contraceptives and exercise capacity is sparse and much has been plagued by poor research design, methodology and small sample size. It is clear from the research to date that more randomised clinical trials are urgently required to assess the array of OCP formulations currently available to women and their concomitant effect on health and exercise capacity. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to critically appraise the literature to date and to provide a current review of the physiological scientific knowledge base in relation to the OCP and exercise performance. In addition, methodological control, design and conduct will be considered with future areas of research highlighted.