Do we wait an hour after eating before swimming?

Author: Sun Paradise Editorial Team

Date: 2017-03-19

Do we wait an hour after eating before swimming?


We often hear the advice to wait at least an hour after eating before you swim. In reality, this is debatable. Some observe it without any compromise while others even view it as old wives’ tales. The traditional belief is that swimming soon after consuming a heavy meal would bring about abdominal cramps and pose dangers.

Truth is such claims possess scientific corroboration but at the same time some are actually myths and assumptions. It’s all a matter of how you approach this situation to derive to what you feel comfortable with. Essentially though, exercising caution is a good thing when it comes to youngsters and water as it’s indisputable that childhood is fraught with dangers. This is why parents, care-givers and guardians go to great lengths to look after kids and ensure safety at all times.

A 1908 publication of Scouting for Boys is among traceable early documented texts ascribing refraining from swimming immediately after eating. About half a century later in 1961, exercise physiologist Arthur Steinhaus in the Journal of Health, Physical Education and Recreation labelled this notion as questionable. But how does the science work?

Abdominal cramps or stitches happen when blood supply to the diaphragm is hampered by the pressures from the lungs above and the abdomen below. However, whether oxygen-deprivation stomach cramps are real or not is still very much debatable. One theory suggests that stitches are caused by the weight of a full stomach tugging on the ligaments that hold it in place. But this is also inconclusive.

Cramps in calves, feet and hands happen while swimming yet these can be handled and managed without danger - so long as the swimmer does not panic. This is especially important in open water where land may be a distance away.

Nevertheless, it remains a fact that larger volumes of blood flows to the stomach and more so after a big meal. This is to aid in digestion and the absorption of nutrients. This also means there could be less concentration of blood that’s being pumped to the other parts of the body. While exercising, blood flow to the muscles increases which can reduce flow to the stomach.

Whether this contributes directly to promote abdominal cramps remain debatable among leading experts. However, a full belly can make one feel uncomfortable. This can lead to vomiting. Hence, those who subscribe to such thinking would opt against open water swimming immediately after a hearty meal. Therefore, it becomes recommendable to wait, at least while, before doing any strenuous swimming.

On the other hand, some competitive swimmers eat something just before a big meet for the boost of energy to enhance performance. Besides, our bodies produce adrenaline which helps deliver oxygen to the muscles and especially where it’s needed most. In any case, types of food have a bearing or influence on the speed of digestion. For instance, simple carbohydrates such as bananas and potato are more quickly broken down than protein such as meats and also fats.

As a note of caution: For alcohol-consuming adults, swimming under the influence of alcohol can be deadly. Primarily, alcohol causes slowed reaction and lack of coordination. In addition, alcohol increases chances of spasm of the vocal chords as water enters the windpipe and this can lock the airway. In substantiation, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cite that approximately 50% of adult fatalities in water recreation involve alcohol. So don’t drink and swim!