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ande
February 8th, 2006, 06:46 PM
For Some Athletes, The Road to Victory Starts With Restraint

As Olympic Games Gear Up, Sex Takes a Holiday; Following Ikkos' Footsteps

By JANE SPENCER
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
February 8, 2006; Page A1

In the months leading up to the Olympic games around 444 B.C., Ikkos of Tarentum, a legendary Pentathlon champion, began routine preparations for competition. He consumed large quantities of wild boar, cheese and goat meat. He hit the gymnasium to practice javelin throwing and long jumps. He coated himself in olive oil to make his rippled body gleam.

But there was one thing that made Ikkos's training regimen, which Plato described in a dialogue around 347 B.C., particularly noteworthy: He gave up sex. Ikkos, who went on to win the Olympic Pentathlon, believed that abstinence before competition was essential for preserving athletic vigor.

Twenty-five centuries later, Ikkos's theory still is widely held by athletes. In preparation for Turin, Chad Hedrick, an American speedskater competing in five events, said he planned to avoid sex for at least two weeks before the Olympics in an effort to conserve strength and adrenaline.

Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov, a married ice dancing pair on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team will be "saving their energy for the ice" in Turin, according to Ms. Gregory, who says the couple routinely maintains abstinence during periods of competition. Victor Plata, a member of U.S. Olympic triathlon team, who ranked as high as 4th in the world last year, says he went 233 days without sex before the 2004 Athens Olympics. "I was completely monastic," Mr. Plata says.

Some say the theory that sex before competition is risky is simply an urban legend propagated by coaches who are eager to make sure rowdy young athletes get enough sleep. Casey Stengel, famed former manager of the New York Yankees, once observed: "Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It's staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in."

Canadian swim coach Dave Johnson included an abstinence pledge in the official code of conduct for the Canadian women's and men's swim teams during the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Asked about it recently, he said it was largely an attempt to minimize emotional stress for the swimmers. "Sex creates an extra set of distractions for young athletes," he said. In professional football, many teams -- including the Indianapolis Colts, the Carolina Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers -- require players to check into hotels, away from wives or partners, even before home games. The Steelers coaches conduct room checks.

American swimmer Josh Davis says he was abstinent for the four weeks before he won three gold medals at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. He believes his performance has suffered when he has been less restrained: He blames his failure to qualify for the 2004 Olympics in Athens partly on the fact that he had sex with his wife just hours before the trials. "I wish I'd planned a little better," Mr. Davis says.

The abstinence tradition is particularly strong in such sports as boxing and football, where the theory holds that sexual frustration leads to increased aggression.

Jeff "Left Hook" Lacy, the International Boxing Federation super-middleweight champion, says he plans to abstain for several weeks before his scheduled March 4 title unification fight with Welsh boxer Joe Calzaghe. And Diego Corrales, the World Boxing Council's lightweight champion, says he typically goes without sex for 11 weeks before a major fight. "If you have sex, you're in a very good mood," Mr. Corrales says. "That's a problem when you get in the ring."

Some National Football League players also subscribe to the theory that abstinence increases aggression. "I try to avoid all females the night before a game," Shaun Smith, defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals said in a locker-room interview after the team's New Year's Day loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. "You don't want to feel relaxed, weak and laid back before a football game. You want to be jumpy and excited." Mr. Smith says he spends the evening before games drinking virgin strawberry daiquiris in his hotel room and praying with his mom and his wife on the phone.

Several scientists have looked for physiological evidence about the effects of sex, in an eclectic collection of small and sketchy studies. They offer no support for the ritual of abstinence -- and some even suggest sex could help an athlete.

In 2000, the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine published a comprehensive review of the topic titled "Does Sex the Night Before Competition Decrease Performance?" The author, Ian Shrier, a professor of epidemiology and family medicine at McGill University in Montreal and former president of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, reviewed 31 articles and studies that rejected a number of widespread beliefs, including the frequently cited concern that sex the night before competition will tire out an athlete. According to the article, normal sexual intercourse between married partners expends only 25 to 50 calories -- the energy equivalent of walking up two flights of stairs. In addition, the article dismisses the notion that sex leads to muscle weakness, citing several studies involving hand-grip strength tests.

A study published in 2000 in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness by researchers at University Hospital in Geneva tested the athletic performance of 15 professional athletes before and after sex. Researchers concluded that sex had "no detrimental influence on the maximal workload achieved, or on the athletes' mental concentration." (As part of the study, the athletes were given a math quiz shortly after having sex.)

Studies by researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey, led by psychology professor Barry Komisaruk, suggest sexual activity might help combat muscle pain or other sports injuries. The studies found that sexual stimulation has a powerful analgesic effect in women, and can markedly increase a woman's tolerance for pain, at least for a few minutes. Animal studies have found that sexual activity blocks Substance P, a neuropeptide involved in the transmission of pain impulses.

A series of studies by researchers in Italy -- some of which were funded by Pfizer Inc. -- indicate that regular sexual activity may boost levels of testosterone, a muscle-building hormone that is frequently used illegally as a doping agent. One 2004 study measured the testosterone levels of 97 men with erectile dysfunction who were subsequently treated for the condition. Researchers found that the men's testosterone levels rose markedly when they began having sex regularly. A series of smaller studies involving healthy adults conducted in part by a researcher from the University of Zurich found that sexual activity boosts testosterone levels in both men and women.

"When you play a sport that requires aggression -- like soccer or football -- the extra testosterone may be useful," says Emmanuele A. Jannini, a professor of endocrinology at the University of L'Aquila and co-author of the Italian study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology in 2004.

Sports psychologists say the relaxation associated with sex can help players deal with the stress of competition. Trainers who study peak athletic performance say relaxation is especially crucial in sports that require fine muscle coordination, such as archery, golf, diving, pool and pistol shooting. In archery, for example, a slow, steady pulse is essential, since archers try to release arrows in between heartbeats.

Brett McClure, a gymnast on the U.S. Olympic team who won a silver medal in Athens in 2004, says sex before competitions relieves anxiety. "It helps take the edge off."

Other athletes, including former American track star Marty Liquori, say relaxation is precisely what they try to avoid. "You have to be angry and aggressive to run a 3:47 mile," he explains. "If you've had sex the night before you'll be in a satisfied state and feel like smoking a cigarette."

Seagurl51
February 8th, 2006, 09:05 PM
Anyone know why archers release their arrows in between heartbeats?

Interesting article Ande........

I wonder if that's why Payton Manning is so jumpy and chokes on big games? Maybe Indy needs to re-think their policy.....

ande
February 8th, 2006, 11:18 PM
when your heart beats it slightly shakes your body which can shift your aim and make you miss

same principle applies to shooting

ande


Originally posted by Seagurl51
Anyone know why archers release their arrows in between heartbeats?

Interesting article Ande........

gull
February 9th, 2006, 09:39 AM
Perhaps I was a bit too relaxed before my matchup with the Geek in the 500.

ande
February 9th, 2006, 11:43 AM
Personally I don't buy into it, but I do believe if an athlete thinks "it" does effect him or her, then it could.

I also think athletes who are "active" might sleep better through the night and feel more rested in the morning if they approach encounters in moderation.

If athletes stay up too late or pull a muscle or party while engaging in extracuricular activities
it could effect their performance the next day.

a

MichiganHusker
February 9th, 2006, 12:35 PM
It worked for George Costanza - he became incredibily intelligent during his abstinence.

Are you the master of your domain? :)

knelson
February 9th, 2006, 02:26 PM
Originally posted by ande
If athletes stay up too late or pull a muscle

We'll have no more talk about pulling a muscle here! :D

I agree with Ande that if an athlete thinks having sex or abstaining from sex is a benefit, then it could be. It's just another ritual.

scyfreestyler
February 9th, 2006, 05:23 PM
Placebo effect.

aquageek
February 9th, 2006, 05:37 PM
Originally posted by gull80
Perhaps I was a bit too relaxed before my matchup with the Geek in the 500.

You'll know better than to stay at the Westin with that Heavenly Bed next year.

scyfreestyler
February 9th, 2006, 05:45 PM
Originally posted by gull80
Perhaps I was a bit too relaxed before my matchup with the Geek in the 500.

Holiday Inn Express is where it's at. Based upon the commercials I have seen on TV, one nights stay should shave 10-15 seconds off of a 500 Free.

69gscal
February 9th, 2006, 11:31 PM
According to the article, normal sexual intercourse between married partners expends only 25 to 50 calories -- the energy equivalent of walking up two flights of stairs.

Wow, it sure seems like I'm putting more into than that.

In addition, the article dismisses the notion that sex leads to muscle weakness, citing several studies involving hand-grip strength tests.

Unless of course you're a male and having sex alone.

scyfreestyler
February 10th, 2006, 02:30 PM
Originally posted by 69gscal
According to the article, normal sexual intercourse between married partners expends only 25 to 50 calories -- the energy equivalent of walking up two flights of stairs.

Wow, it sure seems like I'm putting more into than that.

In addition, the article dismisses the notion that sex leads to muscle weakness, citing several studies involving hand-grip strength tests.

Unless of course you're a male and having sex alone.

25-60 calories? Those must be the one minute wonder types!