Why Don’t People Swim After Eating?

(Last Updated On: January 27, 2020)

Why Don’t People Swim After Eating?

Pool party time! At some point in your life, you’ve likely been told to not swim after eating. It was probably by your mom or that aunt you rarely see. And it may have instilled an intense fear of drowning into you. In reality, engaging in any sort of physical activity after eating might be a bad time, but it surely seems like eating and swimming get tied together the most. So what’s the true story here? Should you hedge your bets and dive into the pool or not? Why don’t people swim after eating?

Why Don’t People Swim After Eating?

Most arguments for why you should not swim after eating have to do with your blood. Those who subscribe to this sentiment claim that after eating, your blood is diverted to your digestive tract, as opposed to your arms and legs. So the logic holds that if your arms and legs have less blood, your limbs will fatigue more quickly. If you get tired easier, you’re more likely to suffer from exhaustion out in the water–leading to increased chances of drowning.

We’re not entirely sure if we buy it, but hey, a sizable amount of people believe it; a sizable enough amount that the American Red Cross got involved. No seriously, they made a whole study and report on this myth and everything. 

The ARC’s conclusion: “Food intake restrictions prior to swimming are unnecessary.”

Is it Dangerous to Swim After Eating?

If you’ve swam after eating before, you 100% know it’s not dangerous. Because you did it and you didn’t drown. But let’s break down the science a little bit.

Maybe you once ate, swam, and then got an uncomfortable cramp or something. Yes, the body does send blood around. And yes, it can give you cramps. These are annoying but not really dangerous, per se.

But if the body really was able to divert blood at a level that would cause people to drown, you would literally drop dead or be unable to walk after Thanksgiving dinner. What we’re getting at is that if your body was diverting that much blood around, you’d have a whole slew of problems to deal with. Thankfully, the body doesn’t do that.

Speaking of cramps, exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP) can be a concern. These are basically very sharp pains under the ribs. If you’ve exercised after eating, you have have experienced an ETAP. Stuff like these are super uncomfortable, and can lead to heartburn or vomiting. 

This is all to say that while you may be unsettling your stomach, you’re not going to be dying thanks to your eating habits. 

Swimming and Eating: The Origin

We’ve established why people think this water and eating is dangerous. But where exactly did this sentiment come from?

Well, you can blame the Boy Scouts around 1908–probably. Their nice little handbook warned scouts to wait at least an hour and a half to swim after eating, or else they could drown. The book also made it clear that drowning would be their own fault, because apparently that was important. 

So if you want to be annoyed at the Boy Scouts instead of your mom, by all means, go for it. Just know that she’s probably making you wait an hour because she wants a break from being your personal lifeguard. 

Swimming is fun and we like baby animals. Look at some here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.