10 Reasons Why Your Stomach is Bloated After Swimming

Do you often feel bloated after swimming? Don’t be alarmed; you’re not alone. Many swimmers have experienced this very same discomforting sensation, and there are many reasons why.

Your stomach may be bloated after swimming due to swallowing air, dehydration, chlorine sensitivity, the foods you eat before and immediately after swimming, muscle tension, or various issues with your digestive system that may or may not require seeing a doctor.

In this article, we delve into these questions and go over 10 potential reasons (and solutions) behind this post-swimming bloating. 

stomach bloated after swimming

1. Swallowing Air (Aerophagia)

Aerophagia, or swallowing air, is a common occurrence for swimmers, especially those using strokes that require frequent or rapid breathing, like the freestyle or butterfly. In a similar vein, you may also feel bloated from accidentally swallowing too much water.

Each time you gasp for air, a bit of it can end up in your stomach or intestines. This trapped air can cause your abdomen to feel bloated or distended. To help reduce this, you can practice better breathing techniques to minimize the amount of air you swallow.

2. Gastrointestinal Blood Flow Shift

Your body is designed to prioritize resources based on what’s currently most needed. When you’re swimming, your body is primarily focused on supporting your muscular activity, which means diverting blood away from systems that aren’t immediately essential, like your digestive system. 

This redirection of blood flow can slow down digestion, leading to that bloated feeling. Ensuring that you’re well-hydrated and haven’t eaten a big meal before swimming can help mitigate this issue.

3. Dehydration

Swimming, like any exercise, can make you sweat, leading to dehydration if you’re not careful. Dehydration can cause your body to retain water as a survival response, which can make you feel bloated. It’s important to stay well-hydrated, not just while swimming, but also before and after, to maintain your body’s fluid balance.

Consider bringing a water bottle with you so you can take sips every few laps. You lose plenty of fluids through sweating, and many swimmers don’t realize this while in the water. If your pool has water fountains, make it a habit to drink from it regularly to avoid dehydration. Don’t wait until your mouth is dry; that means you’ve been dehydrated for a while.

4. Eating Before Swimming

Eating a large meal before hitting the pool can lead to bloating. Your body needs time to properly digest the food, and the aforementioned shift of blood flow from your stomach to your muscles during swimming can impede this process. It’s best to eat light before a swim and give your body ample time to digest before diving in.

What to Eat Before Swimming:

  • Carbohydrates: Foods high in carbohydrates provide the quick energy you need for swimming. Opt for complex carbs that are absorbed slowly and provide a steady energy release. Foods like whole grain bread, bananas, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes are great choices.
  • Protein: Consuming a moderate amount of protein can help maintain muscle mass during workouts. You might include some low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, or a small portion of chicken or turkey.
  • Hydration: Don’t forget to drink enough water. It’s easy to forget that swimming, like any other exercise, can cause you to sweat and lose water.

What to Avoid Before Swimming:

  • High Fat Foods: Fatty foods take longer to digest and can lead to discomfort while swimming. Avoid foods like burgers, fries, or creamy sauces close to swim time.
  • High Fiber Foods: While fiber is essential for digestive health, eating too much fiber just before swimming can cause digestive distress and bloating. Foods like beans, lentils, and certain fruits and vegetables might be best saved for after the swim.
  • Large Meals: Eating a large meal before swimming can make you feel full and bloated. Instead, opt for smaller meals or snacks before swimming.
  • Sugary Drinks: Sugary drinks can lead to a quick energy crash and can also cause bloating. Stick to water or other hydrating drinks with low sugar content.

It’s best to eat at least 1-2 hours before swimming, giving your body ample time to begin digestion and to avoid any discomfort. However, everyone is different, so it’s crucial to listen to your body and figure out what works best for you.

5. Muscle Tension

The various strokes in swimming require the use of abdominal muscles, and maintaining certain positions in the water can lead to muscle tension in this area. This tension might give you a sensation that’s similar to bloating. Regular stretching and relaxation exercises can help alleviate this kind of muscle tension.

6. Delayed Gastric Emptying

Strenuous physical activities like swimming can slow down gastric emptying – that’s the process of your stomach passing food along to the small intestine. This slowing down can lead to feelings of bloating or fullness. Eating smaller meals and avoiding hard-to-digest foods before swimming can help prevent this.

7. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

For those living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), stress and physical activity can trigger their symptoms, which often include bloating. If you have IBS and notice an increase in bloating after swimming, it might be a good idea to consult your doctor to manage your symptoms better during and after physical activities.

8. Chlorine Sensitivity

Pools are often treated with chemicals like chlorine to keep them clean. However, some people are sensitive to these chemicals, which can irritate the stomach lining and cause symptoms such as bloating and gas. If you suspect this could be the case, you might want to try swimming in a pool with a different sanitizing system, or in natural bodies of water.

9. Post-Swim Eating Habits

After a good swim, you may find yourself extremely hungry. This can often lead to eating quickly and in larger quantities than usual, both of which can cause bloating. Eating too fast means you’re more likely to swallow air, and overeating can stretch your stomach, causing discomfort. Try to eat slowly and mindfully after swimming to prevent this.

10. Constipation

The combination of physical exertion and not drinking enough water can lead to constipation, which can then cause bloating. Ensuring that you’re well-hydrated and consuming a diet rich in fiber can help prevent this.