Calgary

Why this coach says it's OK to swim after eating

Should you wait a half hour after eating to go swimming? According to Calgary swim coach Tammy Andersen, you're good to go right after a snack.

'I have never seen a swimmer get a muscle cramp from eating,' Tammy Andersen says

Calgary swim coach Tammy Andersen, not pictured, says the common understanding that you should wait 30 minutes after eating before swimming is "totally bogus." (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Should you wait a half hour after eating to go swimming?

According to Calgary swim coach Tammy Andersen, that common understanding is wrong — for the most part.

"The original myth has to do with muscle cramps related to eating, and that's total myth. It's totally bogus," Andersen told the Calgary Eyeopener.

Then Andersen — the head coach of the Glenmore Seals Recreational Club, and the Okotoks Stingrays Summer Swim Club — added an asterisk.

"However, I wouldn't recommend eating a huge meal, like an entire pepperoni pizza, before you go for a swim, just because you might get sick, because you're jumping around."

'Your body is great at absorbing oxygen'

Andersen said the whole myth arose out of a misunderstanding of how the body processes oxygen.

Some worried that the stomach was using too much oxygen from the blood to digest the food, she said. That process, they believe, would pull oxygen from the muscles, resulting a muscle cramp.

"But that's total myth. Your body is great at absorbing oxygen and spreading it around evenly in your body," Andersen said.

"I have never seen a swimmer get a muscle cramp from eating right before, not even once, and this is my 18th year [coaching]."

Swimmers need fuel

Rather than thinking of a meal as an energy sinkhole, Andersen says to think of it as fuel.

Swim meets are often about 10 hours, during which a swimmer might have six events.

"Often times, they can be quite close together, so they're going to have to eat within half an hour of racing," Andersen said.

"What that's going to do is fuel them for their next race."

As for the perfect swimmer snack, Andersen recommends arrowroot cookies, which are often considered baby cookies.

"They're very easy to digest. They do have sugar and carbohydrates in them, and so that's just least likely to upset their stomach," she said.

"They're the easiest snacks, they're not expensive and they work well for everyone."

Listen to the swim coach's argument in favour of swimming and snacks:

We start our Fact Checker series by asking the question: Do you really have to wait an hour after eating before going for a swim? Swim coach Tammy Andersen has the facts. 4:13

With files from Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca