Does sexual intercourse hinder subsequent athletic performance?

A commonly held belief among many athletes and coaches (particularly male ones) is that sexual intercourse the evening before a competition spells disaster on the big day. Thus, many high-level athletes practice abstinence prior to competition. Muhammad Ali was an outspoken proponent of this rule, as was Marv Levy, head coach of the Buffalo Bills, who separated his athletes from their partners leading up to the SuperBowl.

My fiancée, Marina, and I are running 10k and 5k races this weekend in Ottawa, respectively. During our jog today we were discussing what we should do to maximize our efforts during the run, and in jest, I suggested that we sleep in separate beds leading up to the event. After we came home, I decided to look into this issue more seriously and see if there is any scientific evidence to back up the idea that knockin’ boots pre-competition might negatively influence performance.

Despite what I consider to be a very interesting and valid scientific query, PubMed and Google Scholar revealed little research on the matter (hint: if you are a graduate student in health science or kinesiology and you’re looking for a neat thesis topic – you’re welcome!).

A decent editorial by McGlone and Schrier published in 2000 discussed the evidence available at that time and came up with 3 studies.

According to these authors,

“All of these studies suggested that sex the night before competition does not alter physiological testing results.”

For example, in one study, 14 married males performed a maximum grip strength test the morning after an evening of horizontal mambo with their wives, and the same test after at least 6 days of abstinence. No differences were found between the 2 conditions. Other studies have similarly suggested no effect of bumpin’ uglies on outcomes such as balance, reaction time, aerobic power (stair-climbing exercise), and VO2max.

The two commonly suggested reasons why intercourse may reduce subsequent performance are physical exertion and a decreased testosterone level among men. First, despite the extravagant stories exchanged between males in locker rooms, a normal session of business time between married partners results in the expenditure of only 25-50 calories, and it’s thus unlikely to influence next day energy stores. Keep in mind, however, that the physiological response to sex with a new partner is markedly different and may results in a few extra calories being consumed. In terms of testosterone level, the evidence I could find suggested no influence of intercourse.

While the above studies certainly suggest no physiological change in response to recent coitus, athletic performance also depends on psychological status. It has been suggested that levels of aggression might be reduced after intercourse, and aggression is thought to influence athletic performance. Unfortunately, I am unaware of research either supporting or debunking this hypothesis.

Thus, until evidence to the contrary becomes available, a good wrestle in the sheets with your loved one is unlikely to affect your athletic performance the following day.

Peter

McGlone, S., & Shrier, I. (2000). Does Sex the Night Before Competition Decrease Performance? Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 10 (4), 233-234 DOI: 10.1097/00042752-200010000-00001

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18 Responses to Does sexual intercourse hinder subsequent athletic performance?

  1. JerL says:

    I feel like this effect (if it exists) is greatest for sports like hockey or soccer because–and this could be entirely in my head–having sex before games brings down my compete level. I just don’t have the same drive to win. I actually never thought about how it might relate to my running.

    I’ll be running the Ottawa half-marathon this weekend! Happy running!

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  2. Hi JerL,

    To be honest, from personal experience I would also wager that there is some influence. My cross-fit workouts tend to always suffer the day after.

    Looking forward to seeing you in Ottawa!

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  3. Jung Choi says:

    Perhaps, like most aspects of athletic performance, competing at a high level after a night of coitus requires much practice and training?

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  4. Janis says:

    This sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me — either it happens because of some biological reason, or it happens because the men in question psyche themselves out due to some bizarre childish fear that women suck their life force away or something. (It sounds like something out of “Dr. Strangelove,” really.)

    I don’t think there is any way to separate out placebo effect from any “real” effect here. If the guys think sex/women drains their competitive energy, then they will proceed to lose.

    I think the only way to get real data on this and separate it from General Ripper’s bodily fluids theory causing the guys to psyche themselves out would be to see if gay athletes have similar attitudes and behaviors pre-and-post-sex and pre-and-post-competition.

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  6. Attributed to Casey Stengel “Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.”

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  7. Matt says:

    I think it’s the aggression that’s reduced shortly after sex. Measuring grip strength in the morning after is a terrible test. Have someone play a basketball game one hour later and see if it affects them, I’d bet anything the effect is significant.

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  8. John says:

    There was actually an episode of the science show ‘Brainiac’ in Britain that did an experiment regarding this very subject – they had two pretty evenly-matched teams of 20-something males play a soccer match. At halftime, one team went across the street to a hotel w/ their girlfriends for a little ‘fun-time’ while the other team hung out on the field and rested. In the second half of the match, the team that got it on w/ their partners actually started playing a lot better, while the other team looked more fatigued. Hardly a proper, controlled study, but it certainly suggests enough to warrant further looking into, I think.

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  9. An American television program – Sports Science – ran a segment testing the idea as well. From what I recall, their results seemed to confirm the studies referenced in the article.

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  10. Rhodia says:

    Are there any studies on women? In my marriage the effect of sexual intercourse on my husband and I is very different in terms of subsequent energy level and “awakeness”.

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  11. Jim Birch says:

    My take on this is that men would be a little less stressed after sex. This is a common report and could be why men believe their sport performance is reduced: no edge feeling.

    How this would really translate into sport performance could be highly variable. On one hand, lower stress level should produce a more sustained, intelligent and balanced performance in sport (as in sex, I guess.) On the other hand, you’re probably less likely to burst out of the box and have a bit less aggression. But that “even” feeling might aid someone else to a great sustained performance. The net effect could vary across people, activities and individual event in such a way that there’s no significant shift in the mean.

    The content of inner narrative is likely to also big effect. If you had sex last night and you believe it impacts your performance negatively it probably does. In any case, we can expect that “raw” effect is slight anyway. Evolution wouldn’t render us useless after sex.

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  12. judah onzima says:

    Is it true that one round of sexual interrcourse isequivalelnt of 8 km race?

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  13. tom says:

    very nice but still i need to look into this matter because some beliefs are hard to shake.

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  15. I think this is very much true. After having sexual intercourse, the body goes into a relaxed state, which can hinder the ability to perform in sports later on.

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  17. chukwu chinagoro victor says:

    hello
    i am an athletic i playing 100m 200m and 400m, but in me i development sex intercourse it had highly emotional i cannot controlling it whenever i met any ladies meanwhile i had my competition. how will i rejected it? is there any drug that will keeping me with maximum energy after having sex and with effort to make my competition in my athletic?
    thanks
    again am from Nigeria in west africa

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