It’s the night before the 10K you’ve been training for, and as you’re getting ready to turn in for the night your partner starts tempting you to heat things up between the sheets. You want to, but you have a big day tomorrow, and you’re worried that sex could throw you off your game.
This no-sex guideline is something lots of athletes and fitness enthusiasts have long believed. But is there any truth to it?
Former NFL player Garry Cobb seems to think so. Cobb is an Eagles analyst for Philadelphia TV station Fox 29, and in a recent morning newscast, he said the players need to have a “fast” from sex to reverse their 2-3 start to the season. “It fogs up your mind,” he added.
Cobb isn’t the only one who believes sex can screw with athletic performance. Last year, Kate Upton told E! News that her husband, Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, won’t have sex before or after a big game.
But here’s the thing: Science says that people who skip sex to do better during a race, game, or other fitness competition are likely been depriving themselves of pleasure for no reason.
“Sex itself isn’t linked with negative performance,” Ian Kerner, PhD, a New York City–based psychotherapist specializing in sex therapy, tells Health. “It’s less about sex and more about the environment sex happens in.”
What Kerner means is, if an athlete is going out and drinking or doing drugs the night before a game and ends up going home with someone to hook up, they’ll likely perform worse the next day. However, their poorer performance wouldn’t be because of the sex, but because of the substances they used and lack of sleep.
A 2016 study published in Frontiers in Physiology also found no link between sex and fitness performance. The study concluded that “doubts remain regarding the possible negative impact of sexual activity the night before competition. (The study also said there’s no sound data on how masturbation effects things, FYI for solo sex fans.)
On the other hand, if you’re at home with your partner and are able to enjoy some action while still getting to sleep at a reasonable hour, Kerner says go for it—sex could actually help calm your nerves and relieve stress.
“If anything, sex can be a boost to your self-esteem,” Kerner says, adding that research has shown having sex with a partner is linked to feeling both loved and desirable. People with higher self-esteem also perform better at work and socially, and Kerner said that could translate to the playing field as well.
There you have it: If you’ve been purposely keeping things chaste in the bedroom before a game or important gym session, you’re clear to crank up the heat.
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