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Does sex have an impact on race performance?
Last month, Neil and I started our training regimen for this year’s race season. In related news: Our sex life is on hiatus until September.
I kid, I kid… mostly. Like most relationships, our marriage has its ebbs and flows when it comes to frequency of the mattress mambo. Unlike most relationships, however, those ebbs are invoked by the words “Not tonight, honey. I have to ride long in the morning.”
Part of the challenge is scheduling difficulties—between his work and mine and our vastly different training schedules, we’re rarely in the same place at the same time, save for a shared lane in the lap pool a few times a week. (I know what you’re thinking, and eew. No.) On the rare occasion we’re in bed at the same time, one of us is sure to fall asleep before any action happens.
A major contributor, though, is physiology: Neil says wrestling in the sheets will spoil the energy necessary for successful athletic efforts. He’s not alone in this idea; a commonly held belief among athletes and coaches (particularly male ones) is that knockin’ boots will negatively affect athletic performance in the days following. Plato said Olympians should abstain before competition. Muhammad Ali was an outspoken proponent of this “fact,” as was Marv Levy, the Buffalo Bills coach who separated his players from their partners leading up to the Super Bowl. I know several triathletes—age-groupers and pros alike—who admit they abstain from sex in the days and weeks leading up to a major race.
On behalf of triathlon widows everywhere: That’s a load of BS.
Despite the anecdotal “evidence,” scientists have found the combo of fitness and fornication are actually not a recipe for disaster. A review of sports and sex studies (conducted by a former Ironman 70.3 world champion turned M.D.) found that strength, VO2 max and aerobic power are no different in athletes who are sexually active when compared to those who are abstinent.
The physicality of the act doesn’t have much impact, either. After all, chances are high your sex life isn’t exactly giving Cirque du Soleil a run for their money (if they are, please accept this virtual high-five through your computer screen). The average sexual encounter lasts 7.3 minutes and burns about 3 calories per minute, so it’s not exactly like you need a protein shake and a stretching session in order to rebound for the next day.
In fact, arousal may actually benefit an athlete by increasing testosterone levels, which in turn could boost strength and leg power in male athletes. For women about to undertake a tough training session or race, the benefit is even greater: having sex can increase a woman’s pain tolerance for up to 24 hours after the act, meaning a wrestle in the sheets at night could mean a PR the next day.
Bottom line? The myth that sex the night before a big race is bad is just that—a myth. Until evidence to the contrary becomes available, feel free to get busy without fearing a consequence on your athletic performance.