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Is swimming after eating dangerous? You've likely heard this myth come up every time summer rolls around, but is there any truth to it? Do you really need to wait 30 minutes to an hour after eating before you can take a dip in a pool or the ocean?
Debunking the Myth
No, you don't have to wait 30 minutes or more to swim after you've eaten. Swimming right after you've had something to eat isn't dangerous at all. The concern was that because digestion diverts some of your blood flow from your muscles to your stomach, swimming might somehow inhibit that necessary blood flow to the stomach, causing cramps so severe that you could drown. Alternately, another version of the myth claims the opposite: your limbs won't get enough blood flow because your stomach is diverting it, causing you to drown. These concerns are unwarranted because your blood just isn't diverted enough to cause any real problems. There are no documented deaths attributed to anyone swimming on a full stomach.
Believe it or not, so many people were concerned about eating before swimming that the American Red Cross issued a scientific advisory review in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education about it. The review concluded, "Currently available information suggests that eating before swimming is not a contributing risk for drowning and can be dismissed as a myth."
Where Did the Myth Come From?
So just how did this myth that we hear every year get started? It turns out that this "rule" has been around since at least 1908, when it was included in a Boy Scout handbook. The handbook warned that if boys didn't wait at least 90 minutes before swimming, they might drown — "it will be your own fault," the manual admonished. Where the Boy Scout handbook got the idea isn't known, but it certainly wasn't accurate. Still, the fallacy has doggedly persisted for over 100 years.
So there you have it: there's no real reason to avoid swimming after eating. In fact, eating a couple hours before you swim can actually give you more energy for staying afloat. More important than what you eat is what you drink. As with any other exercise, you'll want to regularly drink water when you swim so you don't get dehydrated.