No sex and no booze – The modern footballer

Wayne Rooney

It has been an interesting week in the world of high performance sport. At the Association of National Olympic Committees awards in Doha, Team GB’s Hockey success was again recognised via winning the best female team of Rio 2016. The shortlist for the IAAF athlete of the year was cut to three with Britain’s Mo Farah still in the running. Not to be outshone, football weighed in with its own take on how to recover/prepare for the stresses of professional sport by putting sex and booze under the microscope.

Samir Nasri told L’Equipe his Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola had told the squad if they wanted to have ‘relations’ it must be before midnight in order to get a good night’s sleep. Nasri went on to explain that in both previous roles with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola had enforced a similar policy with Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski. 

But is there any evidence to back up Pep’s view? The answer, as with most of these things, is sort of.

Sex and performance studies are limited. Anecdotal evidence has existed since the ancient Greeks and suggested that sex before competition had a negative effect. The theory gained some scientific traction through the middle of the 20th century based on the idea of decreased testosterone levels following sex.

However, a major review conducted earlier this year by Stefani et al in the journal Exercise Physiology found no evidence that sex in and of itself has a negative impact on performance. That said, the researchers did conclude that more trials were needed as it remains an underdeveloped area of understanding and expertise (make your own jokes).

The researchers actually pointed to other concurrent behaviours that could be the real cause of any performance/recovery decrements. The biggest two were the impact on sleep and the association with alcohol. This brings us neatly round to Wayne Rooney and the England team following their win over Scotland.

Rooney was pictured a little worse for wear in the not so early hours, at a wedding that was taking place at the Grove Hotel, where the England team often stay when playing at Wembley.

As you might expect, countless studies highlight the performance benefits of quality sleep and the decrements associated with alcohol. Team Sky and Team GB have famously put sleep high up their performance agendas with lots of coverage regarding sleep conditions and strategies. But why?

During sleep, growth hormone is released, aiding physical recovery and fitness gains, it also supports cognitive rejuvenation which maintains mental, technical and physical ability (Smith et al 2015). A lack of sleep has also been shown to double the risk of injury (Milewski et al 2014) and increase the likelihood of athletes suffering colds by up to four times (Prather et al 2015). 

Alcohol has many similar negative effects regarding performance. In Matthew Barnes’ 2014 review paper he highlighted how protein synthesis, a key mechanism regarding recovery and adaption to training and performance, is impaired.

Barnes discusses how alcohol decreases cognitive function and reaction time and also disrupts the quality of sleep, which then exacerbates the problems highlighted above. When you start to add all this up, you can understand why coaches and managers prefer their players to be tucked up with a warm glass of milk each evening. But is this realistic?

Football fitness is developing at a rapid rate. The cultural aspects of the English game in particular are being pushed back in favour of performance and professionalism. As with everything in life there is a balance to be struck. Alcohol is best avoided during times of high performance and training, which is why the FA are now looking at limiting player activity during national duty. But then you have to give players time to unwind, which means a proper break during the summer.

As for the Man City boys and their girlfriends, it seems as long as they get their beauty sleep they should be OK, just don’t let Pep overhear any boasting about what you got up to last night……