Eating Before Swimming Won’t Cause Cramps
Mothers have been repeating the same advice to their kids for decades: “Don’t go swimming after lunch, you’ll get cramps and drown!” Some parents have taken it a step further, declaring that it’s not even safe to bathe after eating a meal. As it turns out, there is zero truth to this “danger” and not a single person has drowned from food-induced stomach cramps.
No one knows for sure how the myth started but the first version actually references baths, not swimming. In the early 1900s, a story popped up that warned parents about the dangers of bathing their children after a meal. The exact details varied with each version but the general idea was that a child should hold off on baths for at least one hour after eating. Over time, this myth got warped into the “no food before swimming” advice.
Swimming cramps can be caused by a variety of factors, including dehydration, low electrolyte concentrations, overexertion, and poor technique. Most cramps are mild and will pass on their own as long as the swimmer doesn’t panic. Professional swimmers generally advise getting out of the water (if possible) to stretch and rest until the cramp passes. Sports drinks can help with dehydration and low electrolytes. Learning proper stretching methods will also help prevent cramping. The only people who might risk cramps by eating are marathon swimmers. Competitive (or at least serious) swimmers can get cramps if they swim right after eating a large meal—but this actually goes for all forms of vigorous exercise. There’s no reason to specifically fear swimming cramps.
Even when taking competitive marathon swimmers into account, no one has ever drowned from meal-induced swimming cramps. Cramps from other causes, such as medical issues, have occasionally killed people but none of these deaths were attributed to food. In general, experts agree that even if a swimmer does experience serious cramping, they won’t drown as long as they remain calm.
Although no one agrees on where the swimming cramp advice started, it’s clearly a myth. There is absolutely no scientific evidence of food ingestion causing cramps, except in rare cases involving marathon swimmers. Even then, these types of cramps are unlikely to be dangerous and will often pass with time. There’s no reason to keep a child out of the pool for an hour after they’ve had a snack, all it does is deny them some fun and exercise.
Photo: kbossey (flickr cc)