Till today, we hear parents telling their children they could die if they swim just after eating.
Although I agree that a period of rest – from at least 30 minutes to an hour- should be given for the food to digest, I’m still curious to find out where, why or how this ‘myth’ (what many experts are calling it), came about.
Let’s also examine what science has to say about it, and if it really is risky to jump into the pool straight after a meal.
Origins of “You could die if you swim just after eating!”
Many articles attribute this rule to the Boy Scout handbook since 1908 by Robert Baden-Powell.
I don’t have a copy of the book but from what I gather, it warns boys to wait at least 90 minutes before swimming or they might drown.
While there are plausible explanations for this statement as I will elaborate in this article, many experts claim that you won’t die if you swim just after eating, and at the most you’ll have cramps.
It is quite strange that this ‘myth’ has lasted through the century, even though experts have debunked it.
Some suggest, parents use this ‘myth’ so that they could get some rest after lunch instead of having to watch over their kids, who are eager to jump right back into the pool after eating.
Either that, or parents just want their kids to allow their bodies to digest the food properly.
So now let’s dive deeper to see what prompted that popular rule in the Boy Scout Handbook back then.
It seems that the warning not to swim just after eating came about based on the process of digestion, whereby blood flow is needed to digest food.
During this process, your intestine needs additional blood flow for it to work efficiently.
This has led many to think that there won’t be enough blood for your arms and legs to function as well as it should in the water, which will lead to the risk of drowning.
There is no doubt about the necessity for blood to enable proper digestion, but many experts do not think it can lead to drowning.
Dukehealth.org quotes Dr. Mark Messick who claims the body does supply extra blood to aid in digestion, but not enough blood to keep the arm and leg muscles from functioning properly, which at the most can cause a minor cramp.
In addition to that, Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, a gastroenterologist at New York University School of Medicine says for a standard swimmer, drowning because of a cramp is less likely.
Cramps or muscle spasms usually occur during or after a work-out because of fatigue, dehydration and other factors.
Stiches is a form of muscle cramp that is caused by the blood supply to the diaphragm being cut off due to pressure from the lungs and the abdomen.
There’s no doubt that swimming just after eating can cause discomfort, especially if you’ve had a big meal.
But the statistics have not proven that it is a link to deaths from drowning, unless there is alcohol involved.
Children are usually eager to get back into the pool after a brief break for food, but parents must consider a few factors before letting them go straight away.
Circumstance to consider are whether the pool is deep or shallow?
If the child should suffer a minor cramp, is there anything like a float device nearby that they could grab onto?
And does the child panic easily?
These are some considerations to be made to avoid any risk of drowning.
Generally, most people would say to wait an hour, but there isn’t a definite answer to this question.
This is because we need to consider several factors which are listed below.
Although all of us digest food the same way, there could be small differences in relation to the excretion of digestive enzymes.
Due to certain health conditions, some people may be able to have their intestines digest the food more efficiently than others.
It’s also no secret that children’s digestive system is weaker than adults.
It goes without saying that the more you eat, the more time you need to give your body to digest the food.
Small meals or a snack may not have a big impact on your body if you exercise soon after, but just to be safe you might want to wait for about 20 minutes, at least.
There’s also a misconception that working out on an empty stomach will force your body to burn extra fat, so starving yourself may not be a good idea.
The digestion rate will also depend on what food is being digested. A meal rich in carbohydrates and proteins will need more time to digest.
Having a fatty meal will also slow down the digestion rate, so choose easily digestible food if you want to get into the pool just after eating.
Oats, toast and bananas or smoothies are fast digesting foods that can give you the nutrients and energy you will need when you’re in the pool.
To sum up this article, the consensus are not in favor of the myth “You can die if you swim just after eating”.
Although, any exercise will be diverting blood flow away from the digestion process, the worst that can happen are stomach cramps or stiches.
You may also feel bloated and sick, but the stats does not show that it can contribute to drowning, unless alcohol was consumed.
Knowing this, we should still allow our body to have some time to digest the food, and we need to consider what we eat and how much we eat.
Although ‘science’ does not back up the rule, it’s recommended to give a time period of an hour after meals before getting into the pool.
*This is a general guide about swimming after eating. If you have a medical condition or other factors that could pose a risk, please seek a doctor’s advise*