If you grew up hearing your mother warn that you had to stay out of the pool for at least 30 minutes or an hour after eating, you likely heeded the warning. Or you didn’t and jumped right in, only to hear your mom yelling as your head dipped under the cool pool water. You also probably wondered why it would matter if you swam with your friends after lunch.
Is there any validity to the claim that it can be dangerous to swim right after eating?
The answer is no. Swimming after eating is no more dangerous than doing any other type of physical activity after you eat.
The reasoning behind the no-swimming-after-eating warning was thought to be that your body needed time to digest the food you ate, and during the digestion process, extra blood was sent to your digestive tract to aid in digestion. Therefore, according to the myth, your arms and legs would not get enough blood pumping through them to keep you safe in the water.
While it is true that the digestive process requires extra blood to do its thing, it’s not enough to stop the rest of your body from functioning properly. That means your arms and legs will work just fine even while your stomach and intestinal tract are doing the job they need to do after you eat. So the likelihood of you drowning just because you jumped in the water on a full stomach is pretty close to zero.
If your meal and activity are light to moderate, your body can provide enough blood to both your digestive system and your muscles with no ill effects. So if you’re swimming at an easy to moderate pace after you eat a light lunch, it’s not much different than going for a walk or a light jog after dinner.
But if you swim vigorously right after eating, you might get a cramp or pain in your stomach. You may even feel a little nauseous. But this is true whether you swim, go for a run, play tennis or engage in any other type of strenuous activity. Swimming after eating should be considered in the same manner as doing any other type of physical activity after eating.
Although you can toss the generic “wait an hour after eating to swim” rule into the pile of untrue old wives’ tales, you should still pay attention to how much you eat and how vigorously you swim after eating. To avoid cramping or feeling nauseous, don’t do too much too soon after filling your belly. And take into consideration what you just ate. If you had a few crackers with hummus, feel free to get in your usual swimming workout shortly after you take your last bite. But if you just scoffed down a cheeseburger and fries, it may be best to wait awhile or start out slowly once you jump in the pool.