Sex before competition?


As a professional athlete, I get asked this a lot. How does sex affect my performance?

My own short answer is: I do not believe it does, and this is the position held by most the scientific and sporting community. That being said, Muhammad Ali famously abstained for six weeks before and fight and World Cup football (soccer) teams place, team wide, bans for the duration of the tournament. What evidence is there for this?

Athletes love ritual. We are a superstitious lot, believing that our Wednesday lunch will give us superpowers, or our lucky cap will make us faster. Abstinence is just another form of ritual for some. Maybe they rationalise it differently. But when there is no scientific evidence to substantiate their arguments, I would say it is all in the mind. “Nothing is either good or bad thinking make it so.” That was Shakespeare. The 1,500m and one mile runner Marty Liquori, said “Sex makes you happy. Happy people do not run a 3:47 mile.” This is a mind-set a superstition, he gives this power by believing it.

Sex is not just in the mind. It cause chemical, observable and measurable changes in the body. Intercourse, as my sex ed teacher used to call it, raises testosterone. Testosterone as we all know, is a chemical known to cause aggression. This could be advantageous in physical codes of sport and possibly a hindrance in others. The female orgasm may stop the release of a specific pain transmitter and help combat muscle pain. Dan Trink, a personal trainer and strength coach located in New York, said “While science does not back up the ‘no sex before the big game’ myth, there is one factor that will trump all others when it comes to an athlete’s performance — his or her mindset. The studies are conclusive that sex does not affect an athlete’s performance. One study did find that having sex within two hours of the test made the subjects less attentive. But I would say most professional athletes are a bit preoccupied for cuddling, two hours before show time.

There are a number of other factors which decrease performance, which athletes could be wrongfully attributing to sex. Former New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel said: “It’s not the sex that wrecks these guys, it’s staying up all night looking for it.” A study done by the Department of Exercise Physiology, College of St. Scholastica found that, the effects of sex, on measures like aerobic power and oxygen pulse among 11 men running on treadmills where non-existent. The men were tested twice, once having sex 12 hours before and once without sex. The data showed no difference in both experiments.

I have never noticed a difference. When I have a big competition, I will abstain for no other reason than to get good sleep. Nerves also distance any thoughts of sex from my mind, and I don’t think it is right to use as a distraction. I know a lot of guys who claim they lose their edge, feeling slow and sluggish after they satisfy their primal urges. These are the same guy who wear dirty sock on game day and carry black ribbons in their bags.  Not enough research has been done as to the psychological side of things. But my money is on them thinking themselves out of the game. I think that a health sex life builds self-esteem and confidence. If research has shown that superstition can improve an athlete’s performance then I can surely negatively impact it. This is a psychological as opposed to a physiological response. I am not much of a superstitious person, and that follows me into my sporting career.