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Is nookie an athletic no-no?

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

THE QUESTION

Should I have sex the night before a competition?

THE ANSWER

The debate over whether precompetition sex helps or hurts athletic performance tends to be argued with clichés rather than scientific studies.

The conventional wisdom was articulated by Mickey Goldmill, the hard-nosed trainer in the original Rocky movie: "Women weaken legs."

Legendary New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel took a more conciliatory stance: "It's not the sex that wrecks these guys, it's staying up all night looking for it."

A comprehensive review of the literature in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine by Ian Shrier and Samantha McGlone of Montreal's McGill University found only three relevant studies of morning-after prowess.

One measured grip strength in married male athletes, either after sex the night before or after at least six days of abstinence, and found no difference. A similar study looked at a wider range of indicators including reaction time, stair climbing and balance - and again found no apparent effect. Finally, a treadmill test of subjects who had been randomly assigned to either have sex or abstain 12 hours before the test found no effect on aerobic power or two other variables.

And those studies were only on men - the question of whether women's legs are weakened doesn't appear even to arise. The review appeared in 2000, but Dr. Shrier says he's unaware of any significant developments since then.

Physiological changes are only part of the equation, though. Sex undoubtedly affects mood, and changes in traits such as aggression may influence performance. But sports psychologists believe that the optimal state of mental arousal is very personal: Some athletes need to be psyched up and others need to be calmed down in order to perform at their best.

That means there probably isn't a definitive answer that applies to everyone - which leaves the final word to Ms. McGlone, who went on to be the top Canadian triathlete at the 2004 Olympic Games and is now one of the top Ironman triathletes in the world.

"All I can advise is, before a big race stick with your usual routine, whatever that may be," she says. With one proviso.

"Just try to get a good night's sleep."

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