Swimming, much like all other water activities, is a fun and refreshing pursuit—an activity enjoyed by millions of people the world over. Swimming is also a competitive sport that boasts some of the leanest and greatest athletes of our time.
A great aerobic activity, swimming is a great way to get some much-needed exercise and lose weight. For those of you have ever enjoyed the sport/activity of swimming, you have probably noticed that after participating in the activity you tend to get very hungry.
And for those of you who are using swimming as a way to exercise and lose weight, these unbelievable food cravings can pose a big problem. There are a lot of theories as to why swimmers tend to feel ravenous upon exiting the pool, beach, lake or other swimming venue.
In this article, we will highlight and explain some of these theories in detail, and ultimately answer the question as to why swimming tends to make you feel so hungry. We have also included a section that will outline some tips on how to better manage those food cravings, tips that will be extra helpful to those who swim regularly.
Hungry After Swimming? You’re Not Alone!
One of the simplest explanations as to why swimming makes people feel so hungry is that swimming is an aerobic activity—and all aerobic exercise makes you burn calories. However, scientific studies have shown that there might be much more to this than just the aerobics.
Here are some of the reasons that can explain why you feel hungry after swimming.
Swimming Boosts Your Appetite
As all of the experts will tell you, if you are looking to lose weight and become fitter, the first thing you need to do is begin a regular exercise regimen, one that combines both strength training and aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise helps to raise your heart rate, and puts your body into fat-burning mode. And like every other form of aerobic exercise, swimming helps you to burn calories.
With that being said, it is important to note that our bodies are programmed to maintain a steady state. Therefore, each time you burn calories it also causes your body to increase the production of ghrelin, a hormone that causes your brain to signal that you are hungry.
Thus, the increase in the production of the ghrelin hormone is what causes these food cravings. However, for those trying to lose some pounds, giving in to these cravings will be very counterproductive.
In 1999, a team of scientists carried out a study that ultimately demonstrated that exercise like swimming not only increases food cravings, but also increases the craving for salty food in particular.
However, there are other studies that say very rigorous exercise can have a dampening effect on appetite, especially during the cool down phase. The problem is not many people swim long and hard enough to reach a level that would be deemed rigorous.
The Swimming Stroke Can Play a Role in Food Cravings
Believe it or not, studies have shown that the type of swimming stroke you employ while in the pool can also affect your craving for food after you exit the pool. Like every other physical exercise, an increase in the exercise intensity also leads to an increase in the caloric expenditure.
All swimming strokes are not equal. Some make you work harder than others, and as such, the energy you expend while performing these more rigorous strokes is much greater.
For example, the back stroke, the front crawl, and the butterfly stroke are very high-intensity strokes, the latter being the most difficult. On the contrary, the breaststroke is a relatively low-intensity stroke.
If you are swimming to lose weight, you should focus more on the high-intensity strokes. However, you will also have to manage your cravings after getting out of the pool.
The Water Temperature and Food Cravings
Human beings are warm-blooded animals. Because of that, the body and the brain go to great lengths to maintain a static body temperature.
Therefore, when you take a dive into a cold swimming pool, your body will burn more calories just to try and keep you warm. This is similar to what happens when you are outside in the winter.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Florida showed that the temperature of the water can affect the cravings of swimmers. The 2005 International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism publication showed that participants that swam in colder water had higher cravings compared to the control group that swam in warmer water.
There are different explanations to this that go beyond just the temperature difference. Rudolph H. Dressendorfer, a co-author of the aforementioned publication, posited that the reason for the increase in craving after a cold dip can be because of the constriction of the blood vessels.
This constriction, according to Dressendorfer, might prevent the release of hormones that would have made you feel less hungry. Dressendorfer compared this to the mechanism that happens in animals before hibernation.
Your Body’s Adaptation to Swimming
The human body is intuitively designed to adapt to certain environmental conditions. Those familiar with biology will understand the concept of adaptation.
Scientists believe that living things undergo constant morphological or physiological changes in order to survive in any environment in which they find themselves. Winter hibernation of animals explains this theory.
The period preceding hibernation is always characterized by voracious feeding, much like the caterpillar eats as much as it can, just so it can survive the cocoon stage.
While this concept is similar to what happens in humans, it is not entirely the same. When swimmers burn a lot of calories, it sends a signal to the body that those calories must be replenished. And because of that, the cravings occur.
How To Manage Food Cravings For Swimmers
Now that you have a better idea why swimming tends to make you hungry, let us now discuss some ways to better manage those cravings, both in and out of the pool.
There are actually a number of ways you can deal with the food cravings both during and after swimming. Some of these tips and strategies are highlighted below.
Swim in Warmer Water
While nothing beats a cool dip in the pool, there are a lot of scientific studies that show the temperature difference between your body and the water can play a major role in how your body responds (food cravings).
Therefore, it only makes sense to say that swimming in warmer water—water that is closer in temperature to that of your body—can help manage those cravings.
Whether you swim recreationally or competitively, raising the water temperature via a water heater could be a first great step to managing that pesky hunger you feel after each swimming session.
Try to Warm Up Quickly After Swimming
The moment you step out of the pool, you should aim to bring your body back to its stable temperature.
Researchers believe this can help to reactivate the appetite-suppressing hormones which are temporarily inactivated due to the constriction of the blood vessels during a cooler temperature swim.
There are lots of ways you can get your body back to a stable temperature after exiting the pool. They include:
- A hot drink. Taking a hot drink after exiting the pool is one of the surest ways to return your body to a stable temperature. Sipping from a hot cup of coffee or tea will be ideal, although you should limit your total intake of these beverages. Both coffee and tea are stimulants, and too much of either can actually increase your food cravings rather than suppress them.
- Take a hot shower. If you would rather not incur the immense electricity or gas bill that comes from heating an entire swimming pool, there is actually another simple way around this. After exiting your cool pool, you can bring your body back to a stable temperature by taking a hot shower (not the kind of hot that would peel your skin). A warm shower of 90—100 degrees F will definitely make a lot of difference in your appetite.
- Speed-walk or workout: High-intensity swimming will likely leave you very tired and in cases such as these, the speed-walk or workout strategy to dampen cravings might not be a good idea. However, if you have just completed a low-intensity swim and still have a lot of energy rippling through your body, a fifteen minute speed-walk will definitely help to bring your body back to a stable temperature. You can also opt for a short strength workout which will definitely have the same effect.
Feed Those Cravings with Healthy Food
Sometimes, no matter what strategy you try, you are going to find that swimming still makes you hungry.
When this happens, it’s important to satisfy those cravings with healthy food. Do not reach for sugary or salty snacks after a swim.
Instead rely on healthy treats like fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean protein sources. These foods will not only satisfy your massive cravings, they will also help replenish your energy and leave you feeling great.