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"Women weaken legs." -- Mickey from Rocky I

I've often heard and have been told from coaches even that one should abstain from any sexual activity, irrespective of whether it is manual or with a partner, before an athletic event.

Is there any physiological reason for this advice or if said advice is being given only so that the male athlete stays mentally focused. Are there effects on testosterone levels that are significant enough to affect athletic performance? Does sex really make your legs weak? Is the effect of sex/orgasms on athletic performance even measurable due to other variables like nutrition, sleep, mood, etc. etc.?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 28 down vote accepted

The answer can be found in the "No Sex Before Sports" episode of Manswers. Here is a summary of that video:

The assistant coach of the LA Avengers tells his players to abstain from sex the night before a game because late night sex can take away hours from sleep. Adequate sleep is necessary for good athletic performance.

David Baron, M.D. Physician, says that higher testosterone levels give better coordination, reflexes, and spatial coordination - traits for good athletic performance. He says testosterone levels are NOT affected by sex. David says sex will generally only burn 50 calories and will not wear out an athlete before a game. David quotes Canadian physician Ian Shryder on his report that there was absolutely no effect of sex before a big game.

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"sex will generally only burn 50 calories ". Not if you're doing it right. –  Clay Nichols Dec 5 '11 at 2:01
    
It will if you've got a big game the next day. –  jontyc Nov 27 '12 at 21:39
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From A research on the relationship between ejaculation and serum testosterone level in men.

The purpose of this study is to gain understanding of the relationship between ejaculation and serum testosterone level in men. The serum testosterone concentrations of 28 volunteers were investigated daily during abstinence periods after ejaculation for two phases. The authors found that the fluctuations of testosterone levels from the 2nd to 5th day of abstinence were minimal. On the 7th day of abstinence, however, a clear peak of serum testosterone appeared, reaching 145.7% of the baseline ( P < 0.01). No regular fluctuation was observed following continuous abstinence after the peak. Ejaculation is the precondition and beginning of the special periodic serum testosterone level variations, which would not occur without ejaculation. The results showed that ejaculation-caused variations were characterized by a peak on the 7th day of abstinence; and that the effective time of an ejaculation is 7 days minimum. These data are the first to document the phenomenon of the periodic change in serum testosterone level; the correlation between ejaculation and periodic change in the serum testosterone level, and the pattern and characteristics of the periodic change.

Although, there is a correlation between ejaculation and testosterone levels, there isn't conclusive correlation to short-term effects of testosterone with athletic performance.

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A theory of abstaining from sexual activity postulates that sexual frustration increases aggression since testosterone would still be in the body instead of expelled due to ejaculation.

A "Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine" article by Samanatha McGlone and Ian McShrier, titled Does Sex the Night Before Competition Decrease Performance? and published in 2000, suggests that sex the night before has no effect on performance.

One example the authors cite from three physiological studies involved 14 married males to test their grip strength after at least six days of abstinence. This study suggests that sex had no effect on the men's strength or endurance in the test. Another similar study tested "grip strength, balance, lateral movement, reaction time, and aerobic power" on 10 fit and married men with the similar results. The last study cited, Effects of sexual intercourse on maximal aerobic power, oxygen pulse, and double product in male sedentary subjects, also produced similar conclusions.

Since this is a physiological study, performance would degrade if the sexual activity lead to complete exhaustion. At most 250 calories are burned an hour during (aggressive) sex according to Dr. Gabe Mirkin. A study of heart rate, rate-pressure product, and oxygen uptake during four sexual activities shows that the maximum peak of exercise occurs during orgasm but quickly subsides to baseline levels thereafter.

However, that is not to say these studies are absolute. The authors suggest that the effects of aggression on non-physiological variables such as attitude and motivation should have been measured. In addition, there are a number of factors like time of day, stress, fatigue, frequency and duration of sex, diet, sexual partner, and individual sexual responses that are difficult to control in a study.

The article isn't conclusive, but it also doesn't dive into mentality at all. In general, sex doesn't seem to have any significant physiological effects.

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There may be no concrete physiological effect but I'd argue that there is a definite psychological factor. Pent up sexual energy can definitely be channeled into rage which is good for maintaining a high intensity during some sports. I doubt it would have any effect on endurance though. –  Evan Plaice Nov 28 '12 at 7:49
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protected by Ivo Flipse Nov 27 '12 at 16:42

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