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The Sex Question

  • By Jimmy Riccitello
  • Published Jan 8, 2013
  • Updated Dec 4, 2014 at 5:45 PM UTC
Photo: Shutterstock.com

Coach Jimmy Riccitello tackles the age-old question: Does night-before “relations” affect race performance?

What’s the deal with athletes and sex? Why do so many of them think sex is detrimental to athletic performance? How did this ugly rumor get started? I haven’t read any scientific articles stating sex hinders athletic performance. There have been no articles in Triathlete magazine, no threads on the Slowtwitch.com forum recommending abstinence before a race. And still, the rumor persists.

Personally, I don’t believe sex is a detriment to athletic performance—quite the contrary. I’ve had some of my best races after a night of lovemaking. Okay, it was more like a few minutes of lovemaking, but you get my point. But over the years I’ve run into quite a few high-profile athletes who won’t touch the issue, no pun intended, anywhere from 24 hours to (for heaven’s sake) 3 months before a big race. What’s up with that?

I have one famous athlete friend who said sex was bad for the legs. I told him I could suggest some alternative positions that would minimize potential leg fatigue, and he told me I was missing the point.  It didn’t have anything to do with position—it was simply the act of sex that was bad for the legs. Come to think of it, he did beat me in most races, but at least I was having more sex than he was.

I have another friend who said that having sex lowered your testosterone level. I did a search on Google and couldn’t find a definitive source to corroborate this theory. He beat me most of the time, too, but absent scientific studies, it’s doubtful that the reason was sex, or his lack thereof.

I have other athlete friends, both men and women, who tell me they simply don’t have time, or just aren’t in the mood for pre-race boinking (not to be confused with bonking). How could someone “not be in the mood” for sex? And I don’t buy the “not enough time” issue, either. I can have decent sex in about three minutes if I have to.

I guess it boils down to priorities. As a coach and veteran athlete, let me just tell you this: if your athletic pursuits have priority over your sex life, you have a problem. I’ve had this discussion with my peers before, but as a coach, I haven’t really gone there yet. But I can tell you that I’ve had two requests from the spouses of athletes I coach (one husband and one wife), to include sex in their significant other’s training program. I kid you not.

One woman emailed me with her troubles. She was happy her husband was racing well and feeling good about himself but also told me, “He just doesn’t want to ‘do it’ any more.” He said he had to focus, and sex was a distraction. “Besides,” he told her, “it wasn’t on the schedule.” She asked me to speak to him about it, and you can imagine my horror. I never imagined my duties as a coach would include delving into peoples’ sex lives.

I received a similar email from the husband of one of my clients. It was a great email. He told me how happy he was about his wife’s successful season, and how happy she was. And then he said, “There’s just one thing, though: If you don’t instruct my wife to have some freaking sex with her husband on your next training schedule, I will fly down to Tucson and kick your ass. And after I kick your ass, I’ll make sure that you don’t see another dime of my money.” Jeez.

The bottom line: make time for sex in your life. This is a selfish enough sport without withholding a little nooky. And be considerate of your significant other’s feelings—get into it. Try not to make it gratuitous. No one wants to hear, “Well—alright, go ahead.” Fake it if you have to, but show some enthusiasm.

I don’t have scientific evidence, but I’m going to state this as fact, anyway: Pre-race sex is good for you.  Furthermore, sex does not negatively affect athletic performance (unless it’s crazy monkey sex that causes some kind of acute injury like a muscle tear, popped tendon, or something—which reminds me, one time I got a bad cramp in the arch of my foot during sex that I felt during a race the next day, but it didn’t negatively affect my race).

So you heard it here first. Spread the news. If it spares me from having to assume the role of Dr. Phil again, I’ll be a happy man.

A version of this article previously appeared on Slowtwitch.com. For more musings from Coach Jimmy—or to seek his expert guidance and insights on triathlon—go to Riccitello.com.

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