World Cup 2010 is finally here. The teams are in position and ready for competition. At this point, victory will depend on strategy and team morale. For many athletes, on a personal level, a huge part of what goes on during tournament time involves myths and their personal superstitions. Some athletes have to wear their "lucky underwear" or their "lucky socks." Others get dressed for the game in a particular sequence. A special meal on the morning of their competition does it for some athletes, but there is one myth that has been around since the beginning of competition and that is "no sex before sport." I remember, while attending university, hearing the coaches tell their athletes about abstaining the night before competition. Whether they all adhered to this advice, I am not so sure, but I know that some did. I really came to appreciate how intermingled sports and sex really are when I went to the Beijing Olympics as part of the medical team and witnessed the increasing sexual energy amongst the youngsters in the Olympic Village as the tournament drew to a close.
Still, I was amazed to hear about the English Manager, Fabio Capello's stance surrounding his players' sexual activity during this World Cup. Capello will be enforcing a level of abstinence among his athletes during the World Cup 2010 by limiting player access to wives and girlfriends (a.k.a. WAGS) as well as monitoring their behaviour in the rooms. Athletes will be allowed to see their partners for one day after each game they play with further restrictions as the team advances. Apparently this is to "keep the players hungry" for victory. I bet Capello did not win many brownie points with the players when he informed them of these rules, particularly when research thus far has shown that sex before game time has no effect on performance. I wonder if the Terry-Bridge scandal might have influenced Capello's thinking on this particular topic for this World Cup.
The "no sex before sport" myth goes as far back as the Ancient Greeks who figured that sex fatigued the body and reduced aggression by a lowered level of testosterone through ejaculation. Ironically, studies are showing that this is quite contrary to the fact. One article I read stated that in a study done at the College of St Scholastica in Minnesota testosterone levels in men were actually found to be higher as much as 12 hours following sexual intercourse.
On "Sports Science," a TV show aired on ESPN, host John Brenkus visited this topic in great detail. This programme utilises cutting edge technology to test myths that surround sport thereby validating its conclusions based on facts. In two separate episodes, a male and a female were tested to verify the myth of "no sex before sport." Both were champion boxers but psychologically the male believed that sexual activity before sport did nothing to affect his performance, while the female leaned towards the side of caution and abstained, much to her husband's distress.
Areas of power and endurance were tested in both elite athletes. The male was tested on (1) lower body strength and power with weighted squat jumps, (2) upper body power and endurance using impact sensors designed by the US Boxing Association to measure punch impact on the heavy bag, and (3) cardiovascular endurance using a heart rate monitor, pedalling at maximum output over three minutes. The female was tested on (1) upper body strength with the heavy bag, (2) endurance on the bike and (3) her hand speed by punching a crash-test dummy as many times as possible for 30 seconds straight.
About four hours later, after engaging in sexual intercourse with their spouse, the athletes were re-tested. In both athletes, the results remained either consistent or better! Physiologically, testosterone levels were higher in both the male and the female. Particularly note-worthy to me were the improvements of the precautions female. Whereas her punch registered at 632lb of force pre-sex, she registered at 876 lbs of force after sex–almost 30 per cent improvement. Her heart rate remained exactly the same post-sex as pre-sex. Her hand speed increased to 160 punches in 30 seconds from 155 pre-sex. Her testosterone level had increased 30 per cent.
Doctors believe that rather than sex itself, coaches should be more concerned about sleep deprivation that might result in the process of seeking it out. As long as the athlete is not denying himself of needed rest or sleep time, the physical demands of sexual intercourse should be of no consequence to the outstanding condition of an elite athlete.
There is also the psychological impact of sexual activity within 24 hours of competition that can be examined but again, that is a very individual thing. Just as it is possible that it might adversely affect some athletes, it might actually help others–a very highly subjective situation. My opinion with that however is, as a professional, an athlete should be able to cope with these sorts of factors of daily life. Note: The Argentinean team has received no restrictions against sexual intercourse with their usual partner during the World Cup, as long as it does not interfere with their regular sleep schedule; while the Brazilian team will be given free reign during their off days. Just something else to keep in mind when you watch their performances.
Editor's note: Asha De Freitas-Moseley holds a B.S. and certification in athletic therapy and a M.S. in Sport & Fitness Management with a concentration in Athletic Administration. She studied and worked in the USA for eight years in the collegiate and minor professional leagues before returning to T&T in 2006. She currently serves on the NATA in the USA, and volunteers with various national teams.