The ins and outs of sex and sports performance
Debate around sex and sports performance dates to seventh century Greece when athletes would abstain, believing it would increase aggression and energy. Fast forward to the 2016 Rio Olympics and 450,000 condoms were provided to athletes (42 each) so we have to ask - what is the best practice when it comes to bedroom performance and sports performance?
Because today, debate is still rife.
Some athletes, like MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, “engage in as much sex as possible” the night before a fight, whereas others like Muhammad Ali and Mexico’s 2014 World Cup football team staunchly believed abstinence was the key to success.
What’s really going on?
When it comes to sex and sports performance, is there any hard evidence or is it all a bit floppy?
Nearly half a million condoms were dished out at Rio. No figures are available for how many were used...
Sex drive and testosterone
For men and women, testosterone and sex drive go hand in hand, but testosterone levels also affect sports performance. Low testosterone is linked to low energy, decreased strength and increased body fat.
Short, high intensity training spikes testosterone levels, but high-volume endurance work spikes cortisol – which is a performance wrecking ball – as well as catabolic hormones, which cause muscle breakdown and decrease testosterone thus reducing sex drive. This can then become a downward spiral because, due to endorphin release, sex is a great stress-buster but as stress goes up and drive goes down, you’re less likely to be up for it.
So, it’s important to get the balance right and, if you’re primarily into endurance performance, it might be worth including at least one high intensity session per week.
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Does sex improve sports performance?
Clinical studies historically utilised only small sample sizes and produced inconclusive findings, but most suggest it doesn’t impact sporting performance. As one study from Frontiers in Physiology found, “sex had no statistically significant effect on athletic performance”.
There’s no hard evidence to show sex negatively impacts sports performance
Sex, sport and timing – is there a sweet spot?
The above holds, unless sex is undertaken less than two hours before competition. Unsurprisingly. After all, who’s going to hit a Parkrun PB with beads of sweat (or worse) still trickling down their neck?
Aside from clinical studies, anecdotal experience leans towards sex having a positive impact on performance, so long as the circumstances are right and you’re not going all 1970s with the post-coital cigarettes afterwards.
When sex and sport clash
Before a big training day or race, we’d suggest abstaining under only three conditions:
- If your sport requires a lot of focus. Many sports require concentration, but we’re looking at those particularly cerebral sex-mad chess players amongst you
- If it impacts your sleep. Because sleep is absolutely crucial for athletic performance and any activity that reduces the hours of kip the night before a competition isn’t a good idea. That said, if a little early-evening ‘action’ will help you sleep better, then it could be a goer
- If you swing from the rafters like a Chinese acrobat. Adventurous sex might be the spice your relationship needs, the energy demands for such ambitious love-making could leave you depleted the next morning. Keep it missionary before race day to avoid pulling a muscle before you’ve even made the (race) start
As long as its not too acrobatic, you're fine having sex before competition
So, should I have sex to improve my sports performance?
Well, it’s down to you really and naturally, we’d recommend in-depth personal research to discover what works best for you. And like any good running or triathlon advice, we’d advise against trying anything new on the day (or night) before. No new kit, no untested nutrition and no new sexual positions that could pull a muscle.
As far as we're concerned at 33 life is about ‘engaging’ in what you love and what makes you happy as frequently as possible. A healthy sex life is a great thing so if it puts a smile on your dial, then go for it.
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