Should Football Players Have Sex Before a Match? Myths Debunked

Abstaining from sex before a major competition is a superstition that dates back to Ancient Greece. Did you know that even Plato had argued that Olympians should restrain from engaging in sexual activity before competing? Close in his footsteps, Aretaeus of Cappadocia, an ancient Greek physician from the 1st century AD, proposed that retaining semen could enhance a man’s strength. This idea has persisted for more than 2,000 years and counting!

We’ve seen coaches disinviting soccer players’ partners from the World Cup tours. The basic premise is that sex before a match could negatively impact footballers’ performance. This belief was aptly portrayed in the film Rocky, where the boxing trainer warns Rocky Balboa that “women weaken legs.”

But what evidence do all these people, since time immemorial, have for assuming that sex could be detrimental to athletic performance?

What Research Shows

A study of numerous published papers that examined the connection between sex and sports performance found that none of the studies could prove any link between the two. If anything, studies have proven that sex actually has a positive impact on both health and performance, both in life and in sports.

A paper, titled Sexual Activity before Sports Competition: A Systematic Review, published in Frontiers in Physiology, went so far as to say, “Especially from the psychological point of view, sex has a relaxing effect, which may help to relieve competition stress in endurance (marathon) or concentration (archery or pistol shooting) sports.”

However, the fact remains that even if we take a conservative view of the research done over the past several decades, we can see that there is no clear evidence that sex detracts from performance in any way. The only caveat is that the athletes get a good night’s sleep before their game.

A study of 15 athletes aged 20 to 40 years, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, asked the athletes to abstain from sex for at least the 24 hours preceding the study. On the first day of the study, the participants were asked to complete a stress test on an exercise cycle in the morning, followed by a concentration test in the afternoon and a final stress test later in the afternoon. Before the second stress test, the researchers took blood samples to measure testosterone levels.

After the second stress test, the athletes engaged in sexual intercourse with their usual partners. The next day, the same tests were repeated, and the testosterone levels measured. It was found that sexual activity did not have any significant impact on performance on the stress and concentration tests.

Even if we worry that an eventful night in bed could lead to exhaustion the next day, studies have disproved this. On average, sexual intercourse burns up only about 25-50 calories. This is the same as walking up two flights of stairs.

Sports doctors measure and monitor athletic performance in terms of aerobic endurance, strength, reaction time, flexibility, power, memory, testosterone levels, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, etc. Studies of these factors on both male and female athletes also show that there is insufficient evidence of any impact of sexual activity on performance. Neither strength and endurance nor any hormonal changes have been associated with sex.

Could Sex be Good for Football?

A 2019 paper by Harvard stated that men’s heart rates rarely rise above 130 beats per minute during sex. Now, compare this to a 2021 study that revealed that men’s heart rates could rise to as much as 136 beats a minute just watching a football game. This explains why Inter Milan manager, Antonio Conte, advises players to have sex during the football season. Of course, he did cause a stir in 2020 when he told his players that when it was time for “bed games,” it was best to stay under their partner. This was part of his suggestions to conserve energy for the “in-season” games. Given how invested Conte has always been in making sure his team is in peak form, we certainly wouldn’t take his advice lightly.

Even former Manchester United player and one of the EPL’s best even goal scorers, George Best, says that he “must” have sex the night before a game. Ronaldo Da Lima, the celebrated Brazilian goal scorer, said he has sex multiple times before games because it helps him concentrate.

So What’s the Lowdown?

Well, it seems a verdict has been reached and the decision is that sex isn’t just a fun way to relieve stress and get the blood flowing, it actually has a positive impact on mental and physical health. However, if sex becomes a distraction or keeps you awake all night before an important game, it is best avoided. Adequate rest through a good night’s sleep is crucial to athletic performance. Unlike sex, this has been scientifically linked to better sports performance.

Today, coaches are beginning to come around too, stating that whether a football player has sex before an important game should totally be an individual decision. If they feel that sexual activity can help them de-stress and concentrate better, without compromising on sleep, they can certainly go ahead with sex amid a major series.

In fact, even ancient Greek and traditional Chinese medicine say that abstaining from sex is likely to increase levels of frustration and aggression. While these are great for a fighting spirit during a game, they might not be conducive to rational decision making.

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