The effects of sexual activity on performance

You may have heard it from your high-school coach, or some of your teachers, even the great Mohammed Ali swears by it.

It is commonly accepted that athletes in the United States are told to abstain from sexual intercourse prior to athletic competition. The rationale for such a policy appears to be related to the hypothesis that sexual intercourse decreases athletes' ability to perform efficiently and maximally.

The effects of sexual intercourse on athletic, as well as mental, performance have not been widely studied; however, it is likely that the restrictions placed on athletes have little to do with their physiological ability to sustain exercise intensity and perform maximally.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the energy drain that results from sexual intercourse is negligible to individuals who are physically fit, with the amount of energy expended estimated to be equal to running a 100-yard dash.

Having sex before an event should not physically hinder your athletic output, performance or concentration. In actuality it may even help individuals before an important game or test. The usual scenario the night before a game or competition is one filled with anxiety and insomnia.

"The research literature that exists suggests that, short of an extended period of repeated sexual intercourse shortly before a competitive event, sexual activity should have little effect, either positive or negative, on the athletic performance of a well-conditioned athlete," said Ronald Smith, professor of sports psychology.

Researchers at Ohio State University report that one of the easiest and most beneficial ways to have a good night's rest and relax is sex, even if it is maturbation.

However, this is not an excuse to have limitless sex the night before a major event -- eight to 10 hours of sleep are still advised. As with everything in life, abusing sex can blind both your goals and your output.

"It can have stress-reducing properties, but they're unlikely to carry over into the athletic-performance setting, which provides its own contextual stressful demands," said Smith. "It's worth noting, however, that sex could be a source of additional stress if athletes feel pressured to perform sexually in a way that is consistent with stereotypes of supervirility or enhanced physical capacity."

Recently, there have been two studies published confirming the hypothesis that sex does not affect performance.

Conducted in 1995, an American study allowed men to run to their maximum capacity on a treadmill 12 hours after having sexual intercourse. A second treadmill test was done 12 hours after not having had sex.

The results were the same for both tests -- maximal exercise capacity (aerobic power), the ability to transport oxygen to the tissues and blood- pressure responses were the same regardless of sexual activity or lack thereof.

A Swiss study, conducted in 2000, allowed men to cycle to their maximum capacity on a stationary bike and complete mental arithmetic tests two hours and 10 hours after sexual intercourse. The same tests were also completed without having had sex.

Both studies concluded that there was "no detrimental effect on maximal work achieved or any interference with the individual's mental concentration."

They did stress, however, that due to the time it takes to recover from a sexual encounter, you should not have sex approximately two hours prior to a physically or mentally consuming event.

Physiologically, sex is well within the boundaries of athletes and normal people. However, the Minnesota Vikings' past four trips to the Super Bowl ended in defeat, 0-4. Might that be due to the fact that the coaches enforced abstinence the night before? U.S. track star Lynn Jennings claims that having sex with her husband helped her win a national title. Some food for thought, however: should you choose to engage, remember to keep it safe.

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