February 13, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 75  

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Sex and athletic performance — good or bad?

By David Lee
Gazette Staff

Dave Picard /Gazette
THINK ABOUT THE SCRUM, THINK ABOUT THE SCRUM. Women’s rugby players always come in close contact; they just have to keep their minds on the game.

To shag or not to shag? For many athletes shortly before game time, that is the question.

The link between performing sexual acts and subsequent performance in athletic competitions has been hotly debated for years. For many non-athletes, there exists a widespread belief that nearly all athletes abstain from sex immediately before an event in order to save their energy and increase their chances of success. But are the rumours true? Would athletes really pass up sex in order to best the competition?

On the surface, the reasons behind the rumour seems sensible. As athletics have become more competitive, athletes look for any edge they can get, whether it be in diet, training or elsewhere. Abstaining from sex would apparently conserve an athlete’s energy for a contest. However, if one digs a little deeper, it becomes clear the myth behind pre-game abstinent athletes is just that — a myth.

Earl Noble, a professor in the faculty of health sciences, says he believes there is no link between sex and decreased athletic performance.

“Findings show that sexual activity [has] no detrimental influence on the maximal workload achieved or on the athlete’s mental concentration,” he says. Noble explains that research experiments emulated sexual intercourse by placing subjects on a treadmill or exercise bike and raising their heart rates to a “maximal workload” that would be the equivalent to sex.

Dave Picard/Gazette
“SOMETIMES, I JUST WANT TO BE HELD AND TOLD EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT.” Jamie Gillman and one of his wrestling teammates get up close and personal to discuss life, love and The Wedding Singer.

While Noble notes that research is far from conclusive, he says it points in the right direction. “Personally, I believe that anytime you start disrupting normal behaviour, you’re going to start having negative effects in whatever you do, be it academics or athletics. Whatever you’re accustomed to is what you should do.”

A similarly held belief is that hard-nosed coaches are the ones instituting “no sex” rules. This, however, is also a myth.

Bob Vigars, head coach of Western’s cross-country team, has his own view of how sex can affect an athlete’s performance: “I’ve said for years that for guys, it’s not sex before the competition that’s the problem,” he laughs. “It’s staying up the night before trying to get it.”

Though he takes a humourous stance on the issue, Vigars also has a rational grounding for his belief. “I haven’t seen any scientific evidence that says if affects you one way or the other,” he adds. “I think it’s a very personal thing.”

While the debate goes on, it appears the focus of the discourse has been solely to male athletes. “It’s really a guy thing,” Vigars notes. “We’re testosterone-laden things. That’s not to say that women aren’t interested — after all, it takes two to tango.”

In the end, it seems the decision of whether or not to have sex the night before a competition is as individual as the athletes themselves.

“Before track — no,” says Christian Heffernan, a member of Western’s track and field team.
“But before football — definitely,” comments teammate Randy McAuley. Heffernan and McAuley are two-sport stars at Western; both are on the football and track and field teams.

With available evidence suggests there is no definitive link between pre-game intercourse and athletic performance, athletes are left to feel things out for themselves, as it were. Through trial and error most athletes eventually decide which preparatory routine helps them the most in their pursuit of victory.

—with files from James Hayes



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