The idea that sexual activity weakens athletic performance is so pervasive that many athletes continue to abstain from sex before competitions despite evidence to the contrary. A 2016 systematic review examined current evidence on the effects of sexual activity on sport performance1. While one study demonstrated a decrease in aerobic capacity 2 hours following sexual intercourse, having sex the night before a competition showed no direct impact on an athlete’s aerobic and strength performance. In fact, sexual intercourse between married partners has been shown to expend only 25 to 50 calories, about the energy it takes to walk up two flights of stairs or far less than one-half piece of cake2. This is hardly enough activity to create a caloric deficit in athletes and negatively impact performance.
While sex the night before a competition may not decrease performance, behaviors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and sleep deprivation will. For example, a reduction in sleep quality and quantity can simulate symptoms of overtraining, increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines, and slower cognitive performance3.
The take home message? Avoid alcohol and get to bed early the night before a competition. What happens in bed is up to you.
- Stefani L, Galanti G, Padulo J, Bragazzi NL, Maffulli N. Sexual Activity before Sports Competition: A Systematic Review. Front Physiol. 2016 Jun 21;7:246.
- Vouyoukas E. (2011). The Influence of Sexual Activity on Athletic Performance. Doctoral thesis, Degree of Master Applied Science (Exercise Science) Concordia University-Montreal (Quebec) Canada.
- Fullagar HH, Skorski S, Duffield R, Hammes D, Coutts AJ, Meyer T. Sleep and athletic performance: the effects of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitive responses to exercise. Sports Med. 2015 Feb;45(2):161-86.