Does all this running and biking cause infertility?

First, my disclaimer is obviously I am not a doctor. I never thought that I would be dealing with infertility issues. Nicole and I waited about 10 years before we tried to start a family and we thought when we made a decision to start a family, the family would come. But that has not been the case. So after about a year of no success, we made some visits to the doctor. After some initial tests, my motility count was low. During this period, I was running about 80 miles a week, biking to and from work and taking one or two longer rides during the week. Looking back, my body was probably under hydrated. Some runs I could lose 8 to 10 pounds of water. I remember one time I weighed myself and when the scale showed 149 lbs, I knew that I wasn’t drinking enough (my normal weight is around 165 lbs). Blood showed up in my urine a couple times. Lab tests showed nothing to worry about just that I needed to stay hydrated during my runs – maybe run with a little fluids in my bladder to help cushion any jarring. I’ve tried to drink more and blood in the urine hasn’t showed up in almost two years. One less thing to worry about. Another possible cause of low motility count was varicocele veins. During one of my doctor appointments, the urologist noticed my varicocele veins and mentioned a procedure that might help. However, he wanted to wait, run some more tests in a few months and see if my counts improve. What is difficult when testing sperm is that there is not an easy cause/effect scenario because it could take weeks to see the effect of a change. The life cycle of sperm is around 70 days, so I could not necessarily see the effects of a change until about two months later. For example, if I were to decrease my running miles or stop altogether, I may not know for months if this might improve my motility.

So a few months later we ran some more tests, and the results slightly improved. However, interestingly some white blood cells showed up in my semen so I must have been dealing with a virus. This was right before an ultra distance trail run so I decided against taking any antibiotics. During this period I was likely running about 80 to 95 miles a week plus incorporating cycling during the week and one longer ride (60+ miles) on the weekend. At least another 6 months passed and we ran the same tests. Better news. Results were continuing to improve but my motility was still on the lower side. However, no white blood cells. I was still running between 80 to 95 miles a week and cycling. In the meantime, I’ve ridden a few double centuries on the bike. Unlike a couple years earlier, I wasn’t doing much/if any speed work during the week. Most of my runs were done at a natural pace (6:45 to 7:00 min/mile) but I would work in one or two tempo runs (<6:30 min/mile) each week. Better to run longer but steadier runs or short but faster. Not sure which one is harder on the body.

Overall, my body feels well adapted to my running/biking schedule. It wasn’t like I am exhausted most of the time. Looking back, some days I could tell when I was over training, but most of the time I feel fine. There were a couple days that I needed to sleep for an hour or two after work before doing anything in the evening. But this only happened a couple times and I could have very well been dealing with a virus. But driving back and forth to Lake Tahoe on the weekends, building/moving and renovating, dealing with a full-time job and foster kids means there have been a couple days that Nicole and I just needed a hour or two more of rest. My weight isn’t fluctuating as much before/after runs so I know that I’m doing a better job hydrating and maybe my body has done some of its own adjusting. It is basic knowledge but sometimes I forget to fuel the body. Not eating/drinking enough means the body starts running a deficit a lot earlier. When the glycogen stores are empty, the body must need to conserve any remaining energy sources. Maybe somewhere on that list is the sperm production for males. Studies show the female athletes can stop having their menstrual periods and it can often be associated with their body fat going below a particular level. Maybe something similar can happen to the male reproduction system. I don’t think my body fat has dropped below 8% but I may not replenish my body with enough calories on a weekend of 50 miles of running and 80+ miles of cycling.

So what does this mean. Since my results continue to improve, my body is handling the load better and I am doing a better job of hydrating and eating more calories. But I continue to be on the low side for sperm motility. And recently, the doctors believe our lack of conception isn’t related to the sperm quality so all of this may be a non-issue but I have learned a little bit.

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