Do You Really Need to Wait to Swim After Eating?

The myth: Mom said it was dangerous to go swimming right after a meal. True or false? Mike Dawson has the answer.

As the summer winds down and you make your last-ditch dashes to the beach, know this: Scarfing down a meal and getting right back in the water will not be the reason you drown—at least, not officially.

Since the Center for Disease Control began keeping stats on accidental drownings (there are about 10 victims per day, by the way), not one meal-related drowning has been recorded. Fair enough. It’s this whole zero-proof thing that has long led many to call BS on Mom’s warning to not swim right after you eat.

Still, feasting before braving the surf isn’t smart. That’s because many beachgoers forget that swimming (which works every major muscle at once), body surfing, or simply wading out past the shore break requires power along with quick, successive bursts of movement. Put another way: It’s high-intensity interval exercise. Would you dig into a burrito, down a beer, and then immediately do wind sprints? No. If you did, you’d feel horrible, move slow, tire fast, and likely hurl.

There’s a reason you feel spent following a solid meal. After you eat, much of your blood leaves your big muscles and heads to the gut. With less blood bringing them oxygen, your muscles are literally weaker, so you have less power and tire quicker. Yet, according to the CDC, if you were to drown after you ate, technically the cause wouldn’t be the burrito, it’d be your poor swimming skills.

But when autopsies were performed on accidental drowning victims in Japan, about 80 percent of them had recently eaten, according to a study. While this hardly means food directly killed these poor souls, the physiology of eating (and the results of this finding) does lend a little more credence to that supposedly discredited “wait 30 minutes” rule.

While scientists still debate the eat-swim issue, most agree on one thing: Boozing hard and swimming don’t mix. In nearly 70 percent of adult drownings, alcohol is a contributing factor.

So, the takeaway for swimming is simple: Go easy on the sauce. And after you eat, wait until you feel less full before diving in.

Now, go call your mom and apologize for having ever doubted her.


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