Whether it’s having a crush on the football star in high school or following hot athletes on Instagram as an adult, there’s a scientific reason why we’re attracted to men who are athletes or are athletic. A lot of it comes down to evolution and the desire to have a strong romantic and sexual partner.
The Science Behind Crushing on Athletes
In a 2014 University of Zurich study, over 800 people were shown photographs of the faces of 80 men who competed in the 2012 Tour de France. They were asked to rate the men on attractiveness, and the fastest cyclists were rated as the most attractive.
Dr. Eric Postma, evolutionary biologist and lead researcher on the study wrote, “High endurance performance is thought to have been the target of selection in early hominids, as being able to efficiently cover large distances allowed for more efficient hunting, gathering and scavenging, resulting in a number of uniquely human adaptations.”
High endurance performance was the target of selection in early hominids.
Postma also wrote, “What does a woman gain from choosing a man with high endurance? He would bring home the most food in the evening,” Postma said. This behavior can be seen in other animals, as Postma continues, “In a lot of animal species, they prefer the males with the longest tails and the brightest plumage.”
Think about it. In prehistoric times, women relied on men to hunt their food — to be a provider. Women were also likely more attracted to more athletic men because they knew he would be better able to protect her (and their babies) from predators.
The More Successful, the More Attractive?
Though the University of Zurich study focused on cyclers, this phenomenon can be seen in other sports. Tom Brady is the perfect example because he’s one of the most successful quarterbacks of all time (he has six Super Bowl rings, has been the Super Bowl MVP four times, and NFL MVP three times), and he looks like he could be a Ralph Lauren model. It's no surprise that the woman who married him is a literal supermodel.
This goes into other professional sports. Think of basketball players like Stephen Curry, baseball players like Bryce Harper, and hockey players like Jonathan Toews. Not to mention the most followed man on Instagram is Cristiano Ronaldo. These men are some of the most successful in their sport, and they’re all swoon-worthy.
The Link Between Masculinity and Athleticism
Athletes tend to have more masculine features which women find more attractive and that our society considers the "perfect" man. Some of these features include men who are at least six feet tall and physically fit. Another factor is some facial hair which “correlates not only with maturity and masculinity, but also with dominance and aggression. An intermediate level of beardedness is most attractive.”
These traits perfectly describe some athletes who are known heartthrobs like Jimmy Garoppolo of the San Francisco 49ers and Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals.
What about Men Who Aren’t Conventionally Attractive but Are Athletic?
It’s also important to note that there are athletes who don’t fit the ideal male beauty standard but are still viewed as attractive due to their athleticism. This can be explained by women desiring men who are physically fit, and athletes almost always fit that description. Dr. Postma writes, “Females often prefer to mate with high-quality males, and one aspect of quality is physical performance.”
Physical prowess can trump conventional attractiveness.
This goes back to the idea that women generally want partners who are physically fit to protect them. The current social status of athletes also plays a role. Many professional athletes are wealthy, making some women attracted to them, knowing that they can provide for them financially. It sounds shallow and superficial, but it goes back to how women have had the desire for a partner to protect and provide for them for thousands of years.
Whether you had a crush on the star athlete in high school or can’t help but follow Jimmy Garoppolo on Instagram (follow him, you won’t regret it), there’s a scientific explanation behind our attraction to athletic men. Our ancient ancestors relied on strong men to protect them from predators, leaving us with the desire to want to have a romantic and/or sexual relationship with a man who is physically strong and could be protective. We all love a man with a handsome face and fit body, and we owe it to our prehistoric ancestors.