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Time Between Eating & Swimming

By Susan Diranian

You've probably heard somewhere that you must wait an hour after eating before going swimming or risk serious injury and even death. Whether the myth involves a swimmer being too weak because his body is busy focusing on digestion or that eating will cause painful cramps, the fact remains the same: Swimming after eating is generally perfectly safe.


Like a family heirloom, the belief that you must wait a certain time after eating before hopping into the pool has been passed down for generations. Dr. Richard Fedorak, head of gastroenterology at University of Alberta Hospital, says this belief is ungrounded. He says it is highly unlikely that swimming after a meal will cause enough pain or discomfort that it would cause someone to drown. Unless you or your child feels a bit too stuffed after eating, there is no time requirement between eating and swimming.

Confusion About Digestion

Some might believe that the body requires a lot of its oxygen, energy and blood to properly digest food, rendering children and adults alike without any energy to swim after a meal. Digestion does requires blood and oxygen and your blood does distribute the nutrients from food to the rest of your body, you have plenty of oxygen and blood to support your body even during strenuous activity such as swimming. Besides, it takes anywhere from one to four hours for complete digestion, depending on what was eaten. Carbohydrates, for example, will digest quickly, whereas something greasy, like pizza, might take longer.

Empty Stomach

Swimming on an empty stomach is not recommended. Your body requires a lot of energy to swim, and since your main source of energy is food, it is important to eat a healthy meal as well as drink a glass of water at least two to three hours prior to swimming. If you are unable to eat a meal prior to swimming, eat a small snack such as an apple or banana or a handful of carrots or celery, in addition to the water.

Safe Swimming

If you had a rather large meal, waiting a few minutes will help overcome that too-full feeling. For competitive swimmers, eating a large meal right before a competition is not recommended as it might cause cramps -- but they are not nearly serious enough to cause harm or death. When swimming, use common sense. If you start to feel too tired, cold or sunburned, get out of the pool and rest.

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