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How sex really affects training and competition

Wie Sex Training und Wettkampf wirklich beeinflusst

Here is a brief summary

  1. When it comes to pre-workout sex, there is a lot of variance from sport to sport and person to person. Sex might help certain fitness athletes to relax, while powerlifters and martial artists might be better advised to remain abstinent.
  2. Endurance athletes should probably remain abstinent before a competition. Pre-competition sex could lower testosterone levels and these athletes need all they can get during long competitions.
  3. Technically, anything that increases testosterone levels could improve athletic performance, training and physical strength. Abstaining from sex for several weeks could cause such an increase in testosterone levels.
  4. Often it is not the actual sex that is detrimental to the athlete. It's staying up at night looking for sex.
  5. Sex before a heavy training session will probably not determine the success or failure of the training session. However, abstinence would still be ideal.

Should you avoid sex before sports competitions and intensive training sessions? That depends entirely on the circumstances. In the past, it was assumed that men experience a temporary drop in testosterone levels after sexual activity. However, the issue of "sex before a competition or before training" is not as simple as once thought.

Individual differences

Scientific research and anecdotal experience suggest that there is significant variance from sport to sport and from person to person. When it comes to pre-competition sex, some people seem to be affected by it, while others are not.

Sports physicians suggest that there is an optimal balance between arousal and rest before a competition. In some sports, as well as positions within a sport, it depends more on an athlete's ability to stay calm, focused and relaxed. In these scenarios, having sex the day or night before could help the athlete by calming the nerves and relaxing the nervous system. This could be of particular interest to fitness athletes such as quarterbacks, golfers, tennis players and basketball players who throw from long range.

Power athletes

In contrast, football linemen, powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, wrestlers, field hockey players, boxers and MMA fighters will often benefit from more aggression, more adrenaline, more accumulated energy and an increased neural drive. Abstaining from sexual activity for several days before a competition could be ideal for these athletes, as it could promote increased testosterone levels and aggressive behavior. A classic example of this is Muhammad Ali, who abstained from sexual activity for months before his fights, while legendary quarterback Joel Namath was a strong advocate of having lots of sex before a big game. To reiterate - this is very individual and depends heavily on the sport and the mental and physical state required.

There is also a variance from athlete to athlete that needs to be considered. Some athletes benefit from having specific amounts of tension and arousal regardless of their sport and competition.

Endurance athletes

Ironically, endurance athletes such as marathon runners and triathletes are better off treating pre-competition sex in a similar way to athletes practicing more aggressive sports. The reason for this is that prolonged endurance activities have been shown to lower testosterone levels and increase levels of cortisol and estrogen.

Higher testosterone levels would be one way to prevent or at least reduce these negative effects. Having sex before such sporting events could potentially lower testosterone levels and therefore exacerbate the negative hormonal shift and catabolic effects associated with prolonged endurance exercise.

The athlete's opinion

This is a topic that is frequently discussed among professional level athletes that I work with - especially college and NFL football players. The general consensus in our discussions is that it is optimal to abstain from sex at least 48 hours before a competition. Any sexual activity timed closer to athletic competition may help athletes relax, but also appears to reduce aggression and testosterone levels.

These same athletes often mention the fact that when they were in their late teens and early twenties, they were able to participate in sexual activity more frequently (daily or even several times a day). However, after their early or mid-twenties, they like to emphasize that this frequency of sexual behavior can seriously affect their performance and lead to mild sexual exhaustion and reduced testosterone levels.

Precautions during the competition season

Athletes need to be careful during the competitive season. One of the factors that typically increases testosterone levels is strength training. During the competitive season, athletes are less likely to participate in strenuous or consistent strength training programs, which means that their testosterone levels may not easily return to baseline after sexual activity.

Performing intense and heavy resistance training on a semi-consistent basis is an excellent way to ensure that testosterone levels return to normal quickly after sex. I have seen this time and time again with my athletes. The more strength training they do (without going into overtraining, of course), the less they have to worry about sexual activity affecting their strength, performance or testosterone levels. Strength training keeps your body's testosterone levels more stable and makes them less susceptible to external influences such as sex.


Technically, anything that increases testosterone levels could improve athletic performance, training and body strength. There is research suggesting that abstinence of one to several weeks duration causes an increase in serum testosterone levels, which can definitely be beneficial for certain types of athletic performance and training. As for even longer abstinence, opinions vary as there is less research on extended abstinence (several months or longer). Some athletes would swear that after 1 to 2 months of abstinence they can feel strong increases in testosterone levels, performance, aggression, and self-confidence, as well as better recovery. However, there is also a "use it or lose it" theory put forward by some experts, which suggests that longer periods of abstinence can cause a temporary reduction in testosterone production, as the body has more testosterone than it needs for non-existent sexual purposes and therefore there is no need to produce more testosterone.

Basically, after a prolonged period of abstinence, the body could lower testosterone production to compensate for what is already there. However, neither of these theories has yet been fully scientifically proven.

The real culprit

Often, it's not so much sex the night before a competition itself that could affect performance, but everything that typically comes with it, including less sleep. In addition to this, athletes who regularly have one-night stands are more likely to go clubbing and drink, smoke or use recreational drugs.

This will obviously have more devastating effects than sexual activity on their performance. Legendary New York Yankees coach Casey Stengel once said that it's not so much the sex that destroys the athlete, but more the staying up all night looking for sex.

Studies vs. the real world

When it comes to comparisons between sex the night before competition and abstinence, most research generally shows no difference in performance markers or testosterone levels. However, many coaches and athletes claim the opposite and believe that pre-competition sex (less than 24 hours before competition) impairs their performance.

Regardless of whether these claims are true or not, it is important not to underestimate the psychological component of these theories. If an athlete believes that something will affect their performance in a certain way, then it is likely to affect their performance. Unfortunately, there is a lack of empirical research on pre-competition sex. Therefore, it is important to consider all forms of experimental data, personal accounts, anecdotal reports and, of course, scientific research.

Problems with scientific research

One of the problems with pre-competition and pre-training sex is the difficulty of conducting scientific research - most men will not volunteer for such research if they know they will have to give up sex. And even if they do volunteer, there is a high probability that the data will be inaccurate, as these methods usually rely on what the subjects report. If they have had sex and should not have had sex, there is a high probability that they will lie.

Sex, heart rate and recovery

Although there is no conclusive research to support the claim that having sex a few hours before competition affects testosterone levels, there is evidence that heart rate, recovery and perceived fatigue are negatively affected. This could lead to increased cortisol levels, putting the athlete in a more catabolic state and thus impairing performance, immune function and recovery. In addition, a higher relative heart rate during competition or training can potentially lead to increased and faster onset of fatigue.

An increased heart rate is also associated with an increased sympathetic neuronal drive. The sympathetic nervous system puts the body into a fight or flight mode, which can often make it difficult to concentrate as the athlete will tend to be overly excited and stressed.

What scientists and athletes agree on

One thing that most scientists and athletes agree on is that having sex on the same day as the competition (especially a few hours before the competition) is rarely a good idea due to the potential reduction in testosterone levels. If there is a drop in testosterone levels then the athlete is likely to experience a whole range of undesirable effects that include less energy, impaired recovery, reduced aggression and even reduced ability to produce strength and power. As for the week or even the night before the competition, you're likely to hear differing opinions. Most scientists assume that this has no negative effects. On the other hand, professional athletes practicing aggressive sports (football, wrestling, field hockey, boxing) are more likely to advocate the opposite.

Maintaining vs. maximizing testosterone levels

Although sex before competition and training will not necessarily cause a significant reduction in testosterone levels, it will certainly not maximize testosterone levels. On the other hand, abstinence appears to maximize testosterone levels. In other words, it is more important to compare the effects of abstinence versus no abstinence. If we simply look at how testosterone levels are affected by one-off sex, then sex does not appear to have a significant effect on testosterone levels - at least according to most scientific research. However, in many sports and athletic competitions, the goal is not to simply maintain normal testosterone levels, but to increase and maximize testosterone levels. With this information in mind, abstinence for a week or more is probably best.

Training sessions

In general, the same principles that apply to competitive level athletes also apply to typical training enthusiasts like you. Sex the night before a big training session or sex right before training will probably not determine the success or failure of your training session, even if abstinence would be ideal. If the training session includes large multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, presses and variations of Olympic weightlifting exercises, it's best to abstain from sex until after the workout, as these exercises are positively influenced by aggression, neural ramping and higher testosterone levels.

On the other hand, if the training session includes smaller muscle groups and isolation exercises such as arm exercises, sexual activity is less likely to have an impact on the training session.

Post-Sex Nutrition

Post-sex nutrition is very important, especially if the athlete is sexually active a day or less before competition or an intense training session. Sex can burn up to 300 kcal, which means that these calories need to be replenished as quickly as possible if the competition takes place shortly afterwards. Another factor to consider is the right type of nutrients. Fats and proteins are best after sex. Fats are crucial for hormonal optimization and protein can minimize any catabolic effects on muscles. If you want to play it safe, if you have sex less than 24 hours before a competition, it would be wise to consume a quick recovery meal to ensure adequate physiological and endocrine function.

A protein shake with a handful of almonds, walnuts or seeds would be an excellent way to recharge your body after sex. It's also important to avoid fast-digesting carbohydrates, which can raise blood sugar levels, as this will increase insulin levels and could delay a rebound in testosterone levels.

Stimulation without ejaculation

Several studies suggest that sexual stimulation without having an orgasm may increase performance. For example, any type of activity with a partner that does not involve orgasm but still acts as a sexual stimulus would temporarily increase testosterone levels.

This could result in increased energy, aggression, performance and strength. The key to success here is to wait until after training or competition before having real sex. If you find it difficult to maintain restraint when a sexual stimulus is present, it is probably best to avoid any stimulus altogether. Achieving orgasm before training or competition would do the exact opposite of what this strategy is designed to achieve.

What about women?

There is very little empirical research on sex before training or competition and even less when it comes to women. Based on anecdotal and empirical data, the effects of sex before training and competition do not appear to be the same as for men. Professional female athletes like Ronda Rousey swear that sex before competition can improve performance. However, more research is needed as there is very little research on this topic at the moment.

The best time for sex

Post-competition is typically the ideal time for sex. Sexual activity after intense training sessions or competition could help optimize the hormonal response to training or competition by stimulating immune function and promoting physical and mental recovery


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  2. Exton, M.S., et al, Endocrine response to masturbation-induced orgasm in healthy men following a 3-week sexual abstinence. World J Urol, 2001. 19(5): p. 377-82.
  3. Jiang, M., [Periodic changes in serum testosterone levels after ejaculation in men]. Sheng Li Xue Bao, 2002. 54(6): p. 535-8.
  4. Jiang, M., et al, A research on the relationship between ejaculation and serum testosterone level in men. J Zhejiang Univ Sci, 2003. 4(2): p. 236-40.
  5. Rabb, M.H., et al, Effects of sexual stimulation, with and without ejaculation, on serum concentrations of LH, FSH, testosterone, cortisol and prolactin in stallions. J Anim Sci, 1989. 67(10): p. 2724-9.
  6. Sztajzel, J., et al, Effect of sexual activity on cycle ergometer stress test parameters, on plasmatic testosterone levels and on concentration capacity. A study in high-level male athletes performed in the laboratory. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 2000. 40(3): p. 233-9.

From Joel Seedman

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