Elite athletes have to sacrifice many of life’s indulgences, although sex needn’t be one of them, according to a study that appeared recently in the journal Frontiers in Physiology. Not only did the researchers find a lack of evidence that getting jiggy the night before competing reduces the chances of winning, they actually suggest that in some cases it could even boost performance.
The idea that sex and sport don’t mix is thought to have originated with Ancient Greek sophists like Philostratus, who wrote that men were often notably less potent in the gymnasium when arriving directly from the bedroom. Though there has been very little scientific research into the subject, it has become very common for athletes to abstain from sex in the days before major contests. In particular, boxers and other fighters regularly avoid intimacy while training for a bout, as it is said that sex drains energy and reduces aggression.
Not everyone buys into this idea, however. Condoms are freely handed out in the Athletes’ Village at Olympic Games, suggesting that sex is clearly not uncommon among competitors. Likewise, some people involved in combat sports claim that sex actually helps them rev up before a fight.
To try and put the debate to bed, researchers searched the archives for existing studies relating to the effect of sex on sporting performance. Though they lament that research into this topic is significantly lacking, they did find nine studies that examine how being intimate with a partner impacts on athletic prowess.
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One of these studies used a technique called dynamometry to measure the muscle strength of female athletes the day after having sex and then again six days later, finding no difference between the two. Aerobic capacity was also unaffected the day after sex.
Another study found that some male marathon runners actually perform better immediately after a night of intimacy, while another concluded that aerobic performance is negatively affected for a period of about two hours after intercourse, but that this hindrance completely disappears after 10 hours.
As such, the researchers conclude that as long as you give yourself at least two hours to recover after sex, you’re chances of success on the field are unlikely to diminish. However, they clearly haven’t heard of snooker player Paul Hunter, who came from behind to defeat an opponent after having sex with his girlfriend during the match.