“Women weaken legs”- Mickey Goldmill
“Sex makes you happy, and happy people don’t run a 3:47 mile”- Marty Liquori
As many athletes know, coaches will frequently tell you before a big athletic event you’ve got to taper and start conserving energy to be at your optimal athletic level for the event. Guess what they count as part of your energy? Sex.
This myth got started because of the belief that male ejaculation draws testosterone from the body, and the more testosterone you have, the better your athletic performance will be. Some coaches also use abstinence as a way to increase frustration in their players, hopefully leading them to have increased aggression on the day of the event (as noted in the Marty Liquori quote). While these may sound plausible in theory, when you actually look into the science behind it, it’s not quite accurate.
There have been many qualitative studies about this (and some great quotes from famous athletes), but not many real scientific, physiological studies (just three). In 2000, Dr. Ian Shrier did a literature review of the 31 articles related to this topic, and after reviewing the scientific studies, found each one said “sex the night before competition does not alter physiological testing results”.
Another research study done in 2000 looked at high-level male athletes and showed “sexual activity had no detrimental influence on the maximal workload achieved and on the athletes’ mental concentration”.
According to the science, it looks like this is pretty firmly a myth. “But wait a minute!” you might say, “sex is tiring right?!” It can be, but on average, sex only burns about 21 calories per session, and unless you’re engaging in an Olympic style gymnastics sex routine, you’re probably not going to deplete your energy storage that much.
What most of the coaches don’t account for when they tell their players to abstain is the presence of a confounding variable; sleep. If you’re up all night having sex, you’ll probably be tired the next day and may not perform as well. However, that’s not due to the sex, that’s due to the lack of sleep.
In fact, if you tend to get nervous the night before a big race or game and you are sexually active (It’s okay if you’re not! Abstinence has plenty of benefits, too!), sex can actually help improve your performance! This is because sex relaxes you, making it easier to fall asleep. And if you’re a male and don’t want to ejaculate, there’s no reason you can’t make sure your partner is satisfied! Bets are they’ll cheer you on a whole lot harder if you didn’t leave them high and dry the night before.
Which leads me to my next point, what about all the female athletes? Where’s the advice about their sex habits the night before big events? Unfortunately, there have been no studies that looked at female orgasms/participation in sex on athletic performance. Women’s sexual health is generally more taboo than men’s, which leads to a lack of research in this area. But if I were to guess, I’d say it’s not detrimental to women either.
In defense of the researchers out there, this is a difficult topic to study given the varied nature of sexual activity, different components that go into athletic performance, and what your body has grown accustomed to. However, it’s pretty clear from the studies that have been done, sexual activity the night before a big athletic event doesn’t hinder your performance the next day.
So my advice? If you’re still worried about sexual activity affecting your athletic performance, get in your afternoon delight, eat a good meal, get a good night’s sleep, and still get that PR or TKO in the morning. Your body and mind will be happy in more ways than one.