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SEX AND THE SERIOUS ATHLETE: CAN ULTRA-RUNNERS FOOL AROUND BEFORE AN EVENT?

by Larry Carroll

When it comes to sex, every athlete (or movie fan) remembers the cautionary words of crusty cornerman Mickey in the 1976 classic “Rocky”: “Women weaken legs!”

Sure enough, sports pop culture is riddled with tales that reinforce the message that athletes need to refrain from doing the nasty while training for a big competition. In “Bull Durham,” Tim Robbins’ golden-armed hurler Nuke LaLoosh puts Susan Sarandon’s bedroom eyes on hold during a winning streak; in “The Fighter,” Mark Wahlberg’s character rebuffs his girlfriend while insisting that he needs to “stay angry” for a big fight. And the advice lingers on — in the recent blockbuster “Creed,” Rocky Balboa busts out Mickey’s old words of wisdom when his protege (Michael B. Jordan) falls for Bianca (Tessa Thompson), advising him to hold back before presumably changing his mind when he arranges their rendezvous.

Is there any truth to the notion that harnessing your sexual desires can result in a better athletic performance? Or is it all a big Hollywood myth?


Photo credit: Sex and the Serious Athlete

According to CNN (sex olympics athletic performance), the notion actually predates Hollywood by a few hundred years, dating back to ancient Greece and Chinese medicine. While speaking with Australian researcher David Bishop, the outlet reports that only four major scientific studies have ever been done on the topic — and all targeted only men.

Perhaps the most noteworthy of those is a 2000 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, which examined 15 athletes between the ages of 20 and 40, urging them to complete a bicycle stress test while abstaining and then again after having sexual relations with their partners. The conclusion? Although the study found no significant overall effect, it did warn: “The recovery capacity of an athlete could be affected if he had sexual intercourse approximately 2 hours before a competition event.”


Photo credit: Sex and the Serious Athlete

This would seem to strengthen the case of Ronda Rousey. In 2012, wielding a 12-1 UFC record and on top of her sport, the fighter gave an interview saying she has “as much sex as possible” before an event.

“For girls, it raises your testosterone,” Rousey said at the time. “So, I try to have as much sex as possible before a fight.” Laughing, she added: “Not with like everybody. I don’t put out Craigslist ads or anything, but you know, if I got a steady, I’m going to be like, ‘Yo. Fight time’s coming up’.”

Which begs the inevitable question: Would Mickey have warned Ronda that “Men weaken legs”?

In the world of ultra-running, participants are always looking for anything that could give them an edge. So, is the answer between the sheets?


Photo credit: Sex and the Serious Athlete

A 2015 Runner’s World article (Is it okay to have sex the night before a big race) addressed the notion of sex the night before an event, examining three studies. Experts advised that runners keep it to “a quickie,” try to avoid any late-evening marathons, and do their best to avoid anything new.

“Don’t experiment with new positions or acrobatics in the bedroom; it would be a shame to strain or pull a muscle or get that all-so-common calf cramp the night before the big race,” ob-gyn/runner Alyssa Dweck, M.D. told the magazine, adding: “It’s prudent to avoid a new brand of condom, spermicide, or other novel product during sex the night before a race, just in case you are sensitive and have an unexpected reaction.”

A 2013 Trail Runner article (Trail-tips/sex-and-the-trail-runner) quotes professor/author Dr. Tommy Boone, who agrees with the “no harm in a quickie” rule. “Active intercourse for five minutes only burns 20 to 30 calories, and even 40 minutes of vigorous intercourse burns just 250 calories, the equivalent to walking a couple of miles,” he observes.

Then again, some ultra-marathoners may be less eager to mess around then others. An Ultra-Running Magazine article entitled “Living With an Ultrarunner: It’s Not Always Easy” featured a spouse lamenting her husband’s lack of drive.

“Don’t assume the ultra-runner will be the All-American lover,” she explains (Living with an ultra runner its not always so easy ). “Although known for vigorous appetites for food and fresh air, this does not automatically carry over to a runner’s sex life. Adding seven to ten hours a week training time to the 40 hours most people work, plus time for stretching, showering, icing sore muscles, and so on doesn’t leave many magic moments for snuggling by the fire.”

Ultimately, it seems, the key to athletic training is not pushing your body beyond its normal rhythms and practices. “Current thinking in elite sports is that athletes should act in ways they consider ‘normal’ and not do something that goes against their beliefs — which will induce guilt, such as believing pre-competition sex is not good for you and yet engage in sex anyway,” Tennessee State University Health and Human Performance professor Mark Anshel told CNN.

“A lot of athletes feel guilt-free and okay about pre-competition sex because it helps them sleep better,” he explained. “Most contemporary coaches seem to agree.”

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