Swimming is a fantastic way to keep fit and healthy. If you remember back to when you learned to swim many of the rules may still be in your mind when you step into a pool. Always wear a swimming cap, wear flip flops to the edge of the pool, no horseplay in the water, no heavy petting, and never go swimming after eating. While many of these rules are a little strange the last one is something that everyone has been told. Whether you were told to wait 30 minutes, one hour, or even three hours (in some countries this is the common rule) there was likely a time provided not only by your parents but possibly by your swimming coach. We are here to tell you that it is just nonsense.
The idea that swimming after eating could lead to drowning is a complete myth. The idea is that eating could lead to a cramp and you could drown but that is all simply nonsense. There is no scientific proof that swimming after eating leads to cramps and even if there was there is little evidence of people drowning from cramps.
Swimmers get cramps regularly. Because you are engaging muscles that are often not used outside of the water it is common for some to cramp up after prolonged use. However, if you do get a cramp don’t panic, just relax and allow your body to float, let the cramp subside, and simply continue swimming. If you are somewhere that floating is not an option then continue to swim with the cramp. It is better to swim with a cramp than to drown from panicking.
There is no scientific evidence that eating before swimming causes cramps anyway. The myth comes from the belief that when you eat food blood goes to your stomach to help digest and this limits blood circulation in other parts of the body. However, our bodies are not so simple and they are perfectly able to distribute blood around the body to cater to our stomach’s and other muscle’s needs.
Having to wait an hour before getting in the water can be a real annoyance if you are using swimming for training or for fun. We are happy to tell you that you can simply ignore this idea from now on.
It is worth noting statistics on drowning though. One of the most common things found in victims of drowning in alcohol. If you do want to be safe around water then it is better to avoid any alcohol. 25% of drownings happen in less than 3 feet of water and can be easily avoided. By using common sense and refusing to panic many lives would be saved.
The idea that swimming after eating is bad is a great example of confirmation bias. People who do eat and swim may notice that they get a cramp. They will then link it to the food that they had. If they got a cramp and hadn’t eaten recently they would not think anymore about it. This is something we need to be careful about in human behavior as we are always seeking to find patterns in our lives where sometimes there are none.
The only real pattern that exists in drowning statistics is that having alcohol greatly increases your risk of drowning. Food, on the other hand, is harmless. From now on when anyone tells you that you shouldn’t eat and swim, feel free to ignore them or if you are feeling charitable, educate them. Enjoy your eating and swimming as it is great to both fuel and exercise your body.