Should you have sex the night before a race?

As far back as Ancient Greece athletes were abstaining from nookie the night before an important event. But does shunning sexy-time really affect your running performance ? We explore the extracurricular facts...

Should you have sex the night before a race?

Some runners insist that making love the night before a big race negatively impacts running performance, while others swear that sexy-time actually helps them sleep better and even gives them a confidence boost for the race.

So, is the old theory true or not? Should you abstain from sex before a race?

Harnessing sexual frustration

World champion middle distance runner Marty Liquori once said, 'Sex makes you happy, and happy people don't run a 3:47 mile.' Certain premier league football coaches have also famously banned players from indulging in any sexual activity for several days before a game.

It seems the theory emerged that withholding sexual gratification can lead to a build up of testosterone and make an athlete more aggressive and determined. This idea dates back to ancient Greek times. A strong believer in this theory, heavyweight boxer David Haye famously abstained from all sexual activity for 10 weeks before winning the world championships.

Should runners abstain from sex?

This kind of aggression is useful for boxers and sprinters but it may not be relevant for long distance runners. Recent studies indicate that getting it on the night before an event doesn’t have a negative effect on performance after all, in fact it could even help.

A scientific paper in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine looked at several rigorous scientific studies testing male athletes’ performance on the treadmill and in strength tests 12 hours after having sex. There was no discernible difference in performance, and the conclusion was that getting it on the night before did not impact athletic performance.

Could sex actually make you run faster?

Researchers at Oxford University surveyed 2,000 runners who had completed the London Marathon. They found that the runners who had been sexually active the night before were on average 5 minutes faster than those who had abstained. 

The theory is that the feel-good endorphins released after an orgasm can make you feel confident and positive during the race the next day.

What about running right after sex?

Another study tested male athletes' performance and recovery time when exercising less than two hours after having sex. The results showed a decline in performance. This is very likely because sex reduces testosterone levels in men and therefore lowers aggression, in the short term.

In women, however, sex increases testosterone levels, raising aggressiveness and activity levels. So, for women running short distances sex just beforehand could well improve performance, although there have not been sufficient studies done to back this up.

So it seems that, for long distance runners, a little nookie the night before a race could be a good thing, for both sexes. However, while women could find it helpful to get it on the next morning, for guys, it’s not wise to have a romp just before a race.

Keep it short and sweet

A long, sweaty session the night before would deplete your nicely carb-loaded muscles, not to mention deprive you of your precious sleep. However, the average sex session between long-term partners only burns around 25-50 calories, so as long as you keep it brief you’re not going to put too much of a dent in your glycogen stores. And if ever there was a time for some plain vanilla sex, this is it - you don’t want to be getting into any crazy contortionist positions in case you pull a muscle, get cramp, or do yourself any other damage.

The bottom line: the evidence suggests a roll in the hay the night before could well help your performance on race day, but in the end, it’s all about doing what feels right for you (and your partner!).