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An area that is associated with myth and misinformation is the topic of sex before athletic events. Plato wrote in 444B.C. that Olympic competitors before races should avoid sexual intimacy. In 77 AD, Pliny the Elder wrote to the contrary that: "Athletes when sluggish are revitalized by lovemaking." Thousands of years later the controversy continues. Muhammad Ali was opposed to sexual intimacy and would abstain for weeks before a title bout. However, "Broadway" Joe Namath, the Hall of Fame quarterback from the New York Jets was a proponent of sex, lots of it, before a football game. Both of these athletes were at the top of their games; so what is the truth and what is the advice for our readers who are weekend warriors?

Athletes and their coaches have long perpetuated the theory that sex before competition zaps energy. Scientists who have investigated this topic (what a great area to conduct research!) report that there is no physiological evidence to suggest that sex before competition is bad. In fact, some studies suggest that pre-sports sex may actually aid male athletes by raising their testosterone levels, for example.

It is unclear, however, what psychological effects sex may have on an athlete's performance. Some scientists suggest that abstinence could help some athletes concentrate better.

There are some opponents who opine that sex before a competition could make you tired and weak and tired the next day. When this aspect has been studied by hand grip strength tests reported sex had "no detrimental influence on the maximal workload achieved or on the athletes' mental concentration."

An article from a reputable medical journal disproved the long-standing myth that athletes should practice abstinence before important competitions. They disproved the theory that abstinence may result in sexual frustration, which leads to increased aggression. The abstinence tradition is particularly strong in power sports, such as boxing and football, in which aggression is considered a valuable trait.

After several weeks without sex, testosterone, the male hormone associated with sex and male aggression, dramatically drops to close to prepubesence levels or way below normal. I doubt that this is beneficial for a boxer or a football player.

Scientists dismiss the idea that sex the night before competition has a tiring effect on the athlete or that it could weaken the athlete's muscles.

Lovemaking, after all, is not a very demanding exercise. In general sexual intercourse between married partners expends only 25 to 50 calories, about the energy it takes to walk up two flights of stairs or far less than one-half piece of cake. So there is little evidence that sex before the event will rob the athlete of energy and calories.

Sexual activity could actually help combat muscle pain or other sports injuries in women. Studies have found that sexual stimulation in women produces a powerful pain-blocking effect via the release of endorphins, which are potent, natural pain relievers produced by the body.

Also it is has been discovered that vaginal stimulation has a strong effect on muscle tension in the legs, increasing it in some women and decreasing it in others.

Much less is known about the psychological effects of sex on athletic performance. Some experts say coaches may be favoring the abstinence theory simply because they want to make sure young athletes get enough sleep before a big game. Psychologists have shown there is an optimal level of alertness and anxiety that is necessary to produce the best possible performance. Too much anxiety or too much aggression may result in poor performance.

If athletes are too anxious and restless the night before an event, then sex may be a relaxing distraction.

If an athlete is relaxed and is focused on the game or competition, they may have little interest in sex the night before a big competition and a good night's sleep is all they need. Sports psychologists suggest that consistency is the most important and that an athlete should never try something before an important competition that they have not already tried in lesser competitions or practice.

Other athletes who are very anxious or nervous may benefit by having sexual intercourse the evening before the game.

So what is my advice? Like most anything else, it is going to come down to the individual. Some athletes may have no problem giving up the sex prior to a race or athletic event. The best way to figure this out is to do your own experiment. Only you know how these things are going to affect you. Science can tell you what will chemically happen in your body, but how you respond is up to you.

Bottom Line: The jury remains out. I would recommend going the advice of Casey Stengel, the legendary coach of the New York Yankees who said "It isn't sex that wrecks these guys, it's staying up all night looking for it."

Dr. Neil Baum is a physician in New Orleans at Touro Infirmary and can be reached at (504) 891-8454 or via his website www.neilbaum.com