Ever wondered why as a child, your elders warned you against going into the water immediately after a meal? The belief that you should wait at least 30-60 minutes after eating a meal before you swim is based on the idea that, after eating a meal, some of your blood-flow from your muscles is diverted to your stomach for digestion – swimming might inhibit that necessary blood flow, causing cramps or a stitch, leaving you unable to swim, which could result in drowning.
So, is this advice medically correct or is it just a made-up myth?
Researchers have disputed the food-drowning link and have questioned whether there was any correlation. It is true that the blood from the muscles around the stomach aids in digestion. When there is reduction in blood flow, there is potentially less oxygen available to the working muscle and stomach, which can cause cramping. However, some researchers do not correlate this specifically with swimming.
What causes a cramp or a stitch?
Cramps are involuntary, spasm-like contractions that can occur during or after exercise and is usually related to fatigue. However, cramping is more likely to be caused by a combination of factors, including dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and neurological fatigue. Moreover, after a big sized meal, we have enough blood to keep all our body parts functioning properly, so a cramp after a meal is unlikely.
Stitches can be explained as exercise-related transient abdominal pain. It manifests as a sharp pain felt on either side of your abdomen. Stitches aren’t well understood but are thought to be caused by cramping of the diaphragm due to restricted blood flow due to pressure from the lungs above and abdomen below.
So, is there a risk or not?
It is true that swimming on a full stomach can be uncomfortable and, if done in excess, can lead to vomiting caused by unexpected reflux. That said, numerous scientific studies could not establish any correlation between cramp, cold shock response, drowning and digestion. In fact, professional swimmers are cautious enough not to overeat, yet they ensure that they have eaten enough to provide them the energy needed to perform at their best. Long-distance swimmers even consume food during the race. And, if they do experience a cramp, it’s more out of overexertion, and not related to food.
Also, remember that a meal itself does not pose any real danger if and only if it is not accompanied with alcohol. Reports on drowning have no mention of lives being lost after eating. These reports, however express concern about the elevated risk of drowning due to alcohol consumption. Alcohol impairs judgement and physical ability thereby reducing our reflexes and the ability to react.
Common sense lies in knowing that swimming is not the best way to settle your full stomach. So, take your time to get in the water, use the stairs if required, also taking a shower will help you get used to the temperature. If you want to swim immediately after a meal, choose meals that are high in simple carbohydrates, like fruits, milk and milk products. These foods are good for your body and are much easier to digest as compared to food rich in fats and proteins.
To conclude, swimming after meals is just like any other type of physical activity. It should be done in moderation.
Disclaimer: The above information has been prepared by a qualified medical professional and may not represent the practices followed universally. The suggestions listed in this article constitute relatively common advice given to patients, and since every patient is different, you are advised to consult your physician, if in doubt, before acting upon this information. Lupin Limited has only facilitated the distribution of this information to you in the interest of patient education and welfare.