1. The idea that celibacy breeds maximum athletic performance dates back to 444 B.C., when Plato, of all people, opined, “Olympic competitors before races should avoid sexual intimacy.” A few centuries later, Aretaeus of Cappadocia, a celebrated Greek physician, gave Plato’s thinking a little more color: “If any man is in possession of semen, he is fierce, courageous and physically mighty, like beasts.”
2. The most detailed explanation, though, can be found in Philostratus’ Gymnasticus, the oldest text on sports known to man: “Those who come to the gymnasium straight after sex are exposed by a greater number of indicators when they train, for their strength is diminished and they are short of breath and lack daring in their attacks, and they fade in colour in response to exertion. … And when they strip, their hollow collar-bones give them away, their poorly structured hips, the conspicuous outline of their ribs, and the coldness of their blood. These athletes, even if we dedicated ourselves to them, would have no chance of being crowned in any contest. The part beneath the eyes is weak, the beating of their hearts is weak, their perspiration is weak, their sleep, which controls digestion, is weak, and their eyes glance around in a wandering fashion and indicate an appearance of lustfulness.”
3. Perhaps that’s why Cleitomachus, a star pankratiast (sort of an ancient form of MMA that was a big event during the earliest Greek Olympics), is said to have never slept with his wife, and would avert his gaze when he saw two dogs mating.
4. To ensure that a male athlete’s seed was never spilled — intentionally or otherwise — Galen, another prominent Greek doctor, recommended the following around the 2nd century, “A flattened lead plate is an object to be placed under the muscles of the loins of an athlete in training, chilling them whenever they might have nocturnal emissions of semen.”
5. That said, not everyone thought a little pre-game bacchanal was the mark of a loser. In fact, in 77 A.D., Pliny the Elder, author, philosopher and inspiration for a delicious beer, as well as a naval and army commander of the Roman Empire, argued directly against Plato and everyone else above when he wrote, “Athletes when sluggish are revitalized by lovemaking.”
6. Despite the passage of about 2,000 years, our thinking on the topic has not gotten any clearer. And the methods some athletes have gone to suppress their libidos are no less barbaric than sticking lead plates down their pants. For instance, Antonio Miguel, head of medical services at the Club Universidad Nacional Pumas, one of the top soccer teams in Mexico, has said, “At the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s, people thought that sex diminished the players’ performance. Coaches gave us nitrate salts (potassium nitrate, a substance used to prevent erections) because, according to them, this would inhibit the sexual desire.”
7. With or without nitrate salts, Muhammad Ali, according to several reports, abstained from having sex for six weeks before a fight.
8. After all, WOMEN WEAKEN LEGS:
9. All of which seems backward, since a 1968 study, “Muscular Performance Following Coitus,” found that men who hadn’t had sex for six days did no better on a strength test than men who’d had sex the previous night.
10. Same for a 2000 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness involving 15 high-level athletes between the ages of 20 and 40 who participated in a two-day experiment. Its conclusion? Sexual activity had no significant overall effect on how the athletes performed during exercise and mental tests.
11. In fact, Emmanuele A. Jannini of the University of L’Aquila in Italy has found that sex stimulates the production of testosterone. “After three months without sex, which is not so uncommon for some athletes, testosterone dramatically drops to levels close to children’s levels,” he told National Geographic.
12. Of course, Joe Namath didn’t need Jannini to tell him that. “I try to [have sex the night before a game],” he explained in his 1969 Playboy Interview. “Before one game last year, I just sat home by myself and watched television, drank a little tequila to relax and went to sleep fairly early. But most of the nights before games, I’ll be with a girl. One of the Jets’ team doctors, in fact, told me that it’s a good idea to have sexual relations before a game, because it gets rid of the kind of nervous tension an athlete doesn’t need.”
13. “I’ve had sex several times before some games,” Brazilian soccer superstar Ronaldo similarly claimed to Sky Sports. “It helps you concentrate. Not all the coaches let you have sex before a match though.”
14. Case in point: Glenn Hoddle, Britain’s coach during the 1998 World Cup. He forbade his players from engaging in sex of any kind during the monthlong event, providing a feeding-frenzy for the British tabloids who greeted him and his team with daily headlines such as “No Sex Please, We’re English.” It didn’t work, and all that unrelieved nervous tension (at least if Namath’s right) resulted in a quarterfinal loss to Argentina in a penalty shootout.
15. Maybe they should’ve tried tennis instead: “Tennis is not like boxing” — or apparently, soccer, their fellow countryman Andy Murray told Spain’s El Mundo newspaper in 2011. “I remember a former world heavyweight whose trainer banned him from having sex six weeks before a fight. We play every week, so with a boxer’s mentality, we’d always be saying no.”
16. It’s seemingly no different on the women’s side of the tour either. “For a woman, sex before a match is not only allowed, it’s fantastic,” reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone told the British newspaper the Metro in 2011. “It raises your hormone levels and brings advantages to all of your points.”
17. Ronda Rousey claims the same thing — believing that sex boosts her testosterone, which in turn boosts her aggression. The science on that count, however, is dubious — or at the very least uncertain.
18. Still, old habits — and beliefs — die hard. When a Detroit Tigers fan recently called into Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen and asked that night’s guest Kate Upton about her sex life with star Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, she was adamant in her response. “There’s no sex before a game,” the Sports Illustrated covergirl insisted. “Absolutely none.”
19. Sadly for her, though, another famous sports superstition prevents her from seemingly ever getting laid — whatever begets on-field success must be strictly enforced until that success is no more. “What I’ve just found out is, if he plays too well, there’s no sex after, either,” she told Cohen. “What a buzzkill for me!”