Does sex really affect sporting performance?


Does sex really affect sporting performance?

29 October, 2015   Sport Singapore

It is a much touted idea that athletes should abstain from sex before competition as it affects performance but in September, undefeated mixed martial arts fighter Ronda Rousey controversially proclaimed that she has as much sex as possible before her fights.

“I mean for girls it raises your testosterone, so I try to have as much sex as possible before a fight, actually,” she told Jim Rome on his Showtime television show. 

Undefeated MMA fighter Ronda Rousey

Undefeated MMA fighter Ronda Rousey said she has as much sex as possible before her fights. Photo: Reuters

Brazilian football legend Ronaldo has also put forth similar views on this issue and said he plays better football after sex.

“I have had sex several times before some games. It helps you concentrate,” the World Cup winner said on Brazilian television.

This, however, strongly contrasts the unwritten rule of no sex during competitions that many World Cup teams such as Bosnia and Herzegovina have held dear.

Sports Physiologist at the Singapore Sports Institute Dr Mohammed Ihsan Abdullah said the science behind abstinence before competing in sports isn't well grounded.

“The thing about sex and sporting performance, any sort of hypothetical notion that sex might negatively affect performance is due to the fact that when you ejaculate, there is some possibility of loss of testosterone. And testosterone levels are associated with positive exercise performances,” he said.

“But the thing is, testosterone levels have shown to be fairly unchanged following ejaculation. So the notion is fairly invalid.

“People also say that when you have sex, there is physical exertion involved, so that can possibly tire you out and hence negatively affect your exercise performance later on.

“But there was research that looked at energy expenditure during sexual activity, and it is only as good as going for a five minute walk. So this reason is invalid as well.”

What is important, however, is how soon the athlete competes after having sex.

“If you are going to have sex and straight away go and compete in the next hour or two, there might be an issue, not because of physical exertion or testosterone levels,” Dr Ihsan said.

“There is this hormone called prolactin that is released after sex. And this hormone peaks within two hours and it is associated with lethargy, lack of alertness and fatigue.”

While boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who reportedly used to go without sex for six weeks before a fight, seemed to believe abstinence helped performance, science and research have indicated otherwise.

What else accounts for the 150,000 condoms distributed in the athletes village at the London 2012 Olympics? If record breaking Olympians engage in the sexual activity during the most prestigious sporting event in the world, it is perhaps the clearest indication yet that sex does not affect sporting performance in any perceptible way.