How to look after your swimmers

From keeping cool to keeping your testicles cool, we look at some of the ways you can look after your sperm to optimise their chances of reaching the finish line.

Sperm. They have one purpose — to fertilise an egg. Sadly, out of the 200 million or so released each time, almost all of them fail. Some don’t swim as well, some are poor navigators, and some are just beaten to the finish line. In fact, a lot can go wrong with sperm, and it’s one of the most common causes of male infertility.  

We look at some of the ways you can give them the best possible chance of success.  

In this article, we cover:  

Sperm and male fertility

About one in 14 men has fertility problems, contributing to up to half of infertility cases [1]. Usually, it’s down to a problem with the sperm. Given your body makes over 1000 sperm every second, it’s unsurprising that some of them aren’t quite perfect [2].  

Aside from how many you produce per ejaculation, sperm health is mostly based on:  

  • Size and shape (morphology) — sperm should have ovular heads and long tails, but some may have defects which affect their function. 
  • Movement (motility) — sperm motility is the ability of sperm to move efficiently, mostly in a straight line. 
  • Vitality — vitality is the percentage of live sperm in the sample. 

When a high proportion of sperm is abnormal, it can affect your fertility. For couples who are having difficulty conceiving, semen analysis makes up one of the first investigations. This is usually arranged through your GP, but you can also check your sperm health with our Male Fertility Semen Test

Some aspects of sperm health are determined by your genetics, but your lifestyle choices can also play a big role.  

How can I increase my sperm count or quality?

Let’s be frank, you’re probably already aware that some lifestyle habits such as being overweight, smoking, taking recreational drugs, and drinking lots of alcohol won’t do your little guys much good.  

Research has shown that unhealthy lifestyle habits may reduce:  

  • Sperm concentration by 10 million/ml 
  • Sperm morphology by 3% 
  • Sperm motility by 12% [3] 

So, one of the best first steps you can take is to stop smoking, drink less alcohol, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight. This is easier said than done, but it can really make a difference to your sperm health and overall fertility.  

If you feel like you’re already taking these steps, we’ve come up with a few other ways to help look after your swimmers.     

Sperm take over two months to fully mature, so it can take a while before any healthy lifestyle changes are reflected in your sperm health.


1. Keep your crown jewels cool

There’s a reason they hang, boys! Here are some fun facts about the temperature of your scrotum:  

  • Fully clothed, the scrotum is around 34°C, ideal for sperm production. 
  • Sat with legs apart, scrotal temperature rises to about 35°C.  
  • Sat with thighs together, scrotal temperature rises to above 36°C, close to core body temperature [4]. 

Why is this important? Well, if you have a sedentary job, there’s a good chance you spend a lot of time sat with your legs together.  

Several studies have shown that men with sit-down jobs (like truck drivers) have higher average scrotal temperatures, which is likely to impact sperm production [5,6]. Higher ambient temperatures, including regular sauna and hot tub sessions can also have the same effect [7–9]. Thankfully, any changes appear to be temporary. It’s also not clear how temperatures affect overall fertility—more research is needed to be sure [10]. 

Tips to keep your testicles cool if you’re looking to conceive:  

  • If you work in a hot environment, take regular breaks outside. 
  • If you sit still for long periods, get up and move around regularly. 
  • Keep tech, like laptops, away from your testicles. 
  • Try looser-fitting underwear (the evidence is mixed here, but it can’t hurt to try). 
  • Try switching hot tubs and saunas for swimming. 

Regular heat exposure can affect sperm quality. If you’re looking to conceive, it may help to avoid regular sauna sessions, hot tubs, and very hot baths.  


2. Get the right nutrients

With most aspects of health, a nutritious and balanced diet is important. Some foods increase oxidative stress on the body which can damage sperm’s DNA. Reducing your intake of pro-inflammatory foods and including antioxidants in your diet can help.    

Dietary tips for keeping your sperm in good condition: 

  • Avoid pro-inflammatory foods like saturated fats, red meats, and added sugars. 
  • Keep well hydrated. 
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. 
  • Eat two to three portions of fish a week (if your diet includes fish). 
  • Include plenty of wholegrain foods. 
  • Include nuts and seeds [11]. 

The Mediterranean diet has multiple health benefits, and many studies have shown it to be associated with better sperm quality. This is a great diet to follow, not just for your fertility, but your overall health.  

With a nutritious and varied diet such as this, you’re likely to get all the vitamins and minerals you need. But there are some particularly important ones for sperm health. 

What vitamins and minerals are important for sperm health?   

Vitamins and minerals important for sperm health include:  

  • Vitamin C and E — these vitamins both have antioxidant properties. There’s some evidence that vitamin C supplementation may improve sperm quality [12,13]. Peppers and oranges are a great source of vitamin C. Vitamin E-rich foods include olive oil as well as nuts and seeds.  
  • Zinc and selenium — the testes have high levels of zinc, and both selenium and zinc play an important role in sperm production. Zinc is found in meat and shellfish. Good sources of selenium include fish and Brazil nuts. Some evidence suggests that zinc and selenium supplements may help to improve sperm concentration, motility, and morphology, especially in people who are deficient [14,15].   
  • Coenzyme Q10 — most trials have shown that coenzyme Q10 supplementation leads to an improvement in semen parameters, including motility, morphology, and sperm counts [16]. Oily fish and wholegrains are often rich in this antioxidant.  

As always, it’s best to get nutrients from original food sources in your diet, but sometimes a supplement can be helpful if you’re struggling to meet your recommended intake or if you follow a restrictive diet. Just don’t overdo it — too much of a good thing can be harmful.   

A healthy balanced diet is important for sperm health. Make sure your diet includes important micronutrients like vitamin C, zinc, and selenium.   


3. Look after your sexual health

If you have fertility problems, often one of the first checks is a test to rule out sexually transmitted infections (STIs). That’s because around 10–15% of male infertility cases are caused by STIs [17,18]. 

STIs that can affect sperm health and function include:  

  • Chlamydia 
  • Gonorrhoea 
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) 
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) 

Many STIs often have few or no symptoms which means they can be easily missed. If you’re sexually active, it’s a good idea to test for STIs every time you change partners, and at least once a year.  

If you have lots of sexual partners, it’s worth getting a check at least every three months. Wearing a condom, including for oral sex, can reduce your risk. But don’t forget that some STIs are transmissible through skin-to-skin contact and sharing sex toys. Needle sharing can also put you at risk of blood borne viruses like HIV.  

STIs can have long-term consequences on your fertility and may affect the quality of your sperm. Look after your sexual health with an STI check if you’re at risk.


4. Manage stress

Long-term stress can cause all sorts of problems in the body. As well as affecting your sex drive, it can impact sperm production too.  

Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that can disrupt the balance of reproductive hormones like follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and testosterone. These hormones play a critical role in sperm production, so it's no surprise that men who report feeling more stressed have lower sperm counts and more abnormalities with motility and morphology [19,20]. 

So, it’s worth working on reducing stress where you can. We’ve put together a list of 10 ways to help you de-stress.  


Chronic stress can impact sperm quality and affect fertility. Stress management techniques can help you reverse this and improve your chances of conception.


5. See your doctor if something doesn’t feel right

If you’ve got any symptoms down below, getting it out to show your doctor is often the last thing you want to do. But it could be a problem that needs treatment, and some conditions can affect your sperm quality or fertility.  

Reasons to see a doctor:  

  • Unusual lumps and bumps — it’s good practice to check your balls regularly for lumps. While these may represent testicular cancer, usually they’re due to a less serious problem like a cyst, fluid around the testicles, or swelling of the veins. 
  • Problems with erections or your sex drive — this is a surprisingly common problem, especially as people get older. Occasionally, problems with sexual function may be due to a low testosterone level, especially if you have other symptoms of low testosterone.  
  • Pain or discomfort — while the occasional niggle is nothing to worry about, if you have severe pain or pain that won’t go away, it’s important to see your GP. Discomfort around the testicles may be due to a varicocele (swelling of the veins), an infection, or inflammation, all of which can affect your sperm quality.  
  • Unusual discharge — discharge from the penis might be due to an STI and you should book into your nearest sexual health clinic.  

See your GP if you’ve developed any worrying symptoms down below — some conditions can impact your sperm or other aspects of your health.

When should I seek help for my sperm health?

Problems with your sperm can only be determined with a semen analysis, so it can be difficult to know when to seek help. If you’ve been trying for a baby for a year of more without success, you should speak to your GP. They may wish to run further tests, such as an STI screen or semen analysis, as well as checking your partner. 

For more information on fertility, visit our Fertility Hub.  


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