Why Does Swimming Make You Hungry? The Science Behind Post-Swim Hunger

Ever wondered why you feel famished after a refreshing swim? It’s not just your imagination; you can get hungry after being in water for several reasons.

Cold water temperatures can boost appetite, low-intensity workouts can trigger a hunger response, and swimming itself raises metabolism, increasing calorie burn and hunger.

To curb excessive post-swim hunger, it is important to maintain proper hydration and fuel your body with nutritious meals before and after swimming. Read on for more details.

Reasons Swimming Increases Appetite and Hunger

Several factors contribute to the increased hunger and appetite that many swimmers experience after a pool session.

Cold Water Exposure Activates Hunger Hormones

Swimming in cool water causes your body to lose heat and work harder to maintain its core temperature. This combination of cold exposure and increased calorie burn activates hormones that stimulate appetite and hunger.

Low water temperatures can induce hunger
Cold increases apetite
  • Studies indicate that swimming in cold water instead of warm water may increase people’s appetitescold. Submerging in cold water signals to your body the need for fat storage and energy. When you swim in water colder than 70°F, your hypothalamus triggers the release of norepinephrine and dopamine. These hormones send signals to your tissues to store more fat for insulation and prepare for greater energy expenditure. Your body thinks it needs more fuel, which makes you hungrier.
  • Cooler water temperatures also cause your body to secrete more ghrelin. This hormone is produced in the stomach and directly stimulates feelings of hunger. The drop in body temperature tricks your body into thinking it needs more fuel.

Increased Energy Expenditure to Regulate Body Temperature

Swimming causes increased calorie and energy expenditure as your body tries to maintain its normal core temperature. This triggers hunger signals.

  • In water cooler than your 98.6°F body temperature, there is a constant transfer of heat from your body to the water through conduction. Your body has to work much harder to regulate its temperature, burning extra calories.
  • This increased calorie burn from regulating your core temperature sends signals to the hunger and appetite control centers in your brain. Your hypothalamus registers the need to consume more food to replace the extra energy expended.

Buoyancy Allows Longer Exercise Time and Calorie Burn

Due to the buoyancy and low-impact nature of water, swimming allows you to exercise for longer compared to land sports. This results in increased calorie expenditure, which drives up hunger levels.

  • The buoyancy of water supports your body weight and allows you to exercise longer without fatigue. This means you can burn more calories in the pool than during a similar duration on land. A 160 lb person can burn over 700 calories per hour swimming moderately.
  • To try and maintain homeostasis after burning more calories, your body responds by ramping up signals of hunger and appetite. It compels you to eat more to replenish the lost energy stores.

Full-Body Workout Utilizes More Muscle Mass

The full-body nature of swimming engages more muscle mass compared to other aerobic exercises. Your increased muscle activity and energy needs after a swim can stimulate hunger.

  • Swimming uses all the major muscle groups, including arms, shoulders, back, core, hips and legs. Engaging more muscle mass means you burn more calories during the workout. It increases your energy and nutrient needs for muscle recovery.
  • Using more muscles amps up your energy expenditure, signaling your body’s hunger and appetite control mechanisms that you need more food. The more calories you burn through muscle activity, the hungrier you feel post-swim.

Cold Water Boosts Metabolism and Energy Use

The chill of the water may also increase your metabolism, causing you to use up energy faster and making you feel hungrier after a swim session.

  • Cooler water temperatures force your body to work harder to stay warm. This activates your metabolism to generate more heat and increase fat oxidation.
  • With an increased metabolic rate, your body goes through calories quicker. To try and compensate, your brain sends signals to seek food and feel hungrier.

In summary, swimming can stimulate appetite and trigger hunger due to:

  • Hormonal changes from cold water exposure
  • Increased calorie burn to regulate body temperature
  • Higher calorie expenditure from buoyancy and longer workout times
  • Full-body muscle usage requiring more energy
  • Faster metabolism and greater fat oxidation

Understanding these mechanisms can help you plan nutrition and fueling to control post-swim hunger.

The Science Behind Increased Hunger After Swimming

Swimming increases hunger due to the link between body heat loss and food intake, as well as the influence of calorie burning on hunger hormones.

The science behind increased post-swim hunger
Swimming increases hunger due to the link between body heat loss and food intake, as well as the influence of calorie burning on hunger hormones.

Link Between Body Heat Loss and Food Intake

Swimming in cold water can lead to body heat loss, which is believed to be linked to an increase in food intake. When the body is exposed to colder temperatures, it works harder to regulate its internal temperature.

This increased effort can result in a higher expenditure of calories and a subsequent increase in hunger. While more research is needed to fully understand this relationship, it suggests that the body may compensate for heat loss by triggering hunger signals.

So, if you find yourself feeling hungrier after swimming in cold water, there could be a physiological reason behind it.

Influence of Calorie Burning on Hunger Hormones

Swimming is a highly effective calorie-burning exercise that can have an impact on hunger hormones in the body. When you swim, your body engages multiple muscle groups and burns a significant amount of calories.

This increased calorie burning can stimulate the production of hunger hormones, such as ghrelin, which signals to your brain that it’s time to eat. As a result, you may experience increased feelings of hunger after swimming sessions.

The more intense your swimming workout is, the more calories you are likely to burn and the stronger the influence on your hunger hormones. It’s important to note that while swimming can increase appetite, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid this form of exercise altogether.

Further Reading

Unmasking the Drawbacks of Swimming

The Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Swimming

Other Factors that Contribute to Post-swim Hunger

Dehydration, inadequate pre and post-swim nutrition, and the psychological effects of swimming all play a role in increasing hunger after a swim.


Dehydration is one of the factors that contribute to hunger after swimming. When you swim, your body loses water through sweating and evaporation, which can lead to dehydration. This loss of fluids can trigger feelings of hunger as your body tries to signal that it needs nourishment.

It’s important to stay hydrated before, during, and after swimming to prevent excessive hunger. Remember to drink plenty of water or sports drinks with electrolytes to replenish the fluids lost during your swim session.

Lack of Proper Pre and Post-Swim Nutrition

Proper pre and post-swim nutrition plays a crucial role in managing hunger levels after swimming. To avoid excessive hunger, ensure that you:

  1. Fuel your body with nutritious meals before swimming.
  2. Eat a balanced meal containing proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats after swimming.
  3. Consume snacks that are rich in protein and fiber to keep you satisfied for longer.
  4. Avoid sugary drinks and opt for hydrating options like water or electrolyte-rich beverages.
  5. Include fruits and vegetables in your diet to provide essential vitamins and minerals.
  6. Plan your meals ahead of time to ensure you have the necessary nutrients to refuel your body.

Psychological Effects of Swimming

Swimming not only has physical benefits but also has psychological effects that can impact our hunger levels. Engaging in swimming as a form of exercise releases endorphins, which are known as the “feel-good” hormones.

These endorphins can create a positive mood and reduce stress and anxiety levels. However, these psychological effects may also trigger an increase in appetite.

Feeling good after swimming may make us more likely to crave food or seek comfort through eating. Additionally, swimming in water and being surrounded by the rhythmic motion of the waves can have a calming effect on the mind, similar to how some people find solace in walking next to the ocean or listening to rainfall.

This sense of relaxation might lead us to associate swimming with indulgence and reward, further increasing our desire for food post-swim.

It’s important to be aware of these psychological effects when experiencing increased hunger after swimming so that we can make mindful choices about satisfying our appetite without overeating or choosing unhealthy options.

Tips to Overcome Excessive Hunger After Swimming

Here are some strategies you can try to prevent excessive hunger and overeating after swimming:

Swim at Higher Intensities

The hunger experienced after swimming seems to depend on the workout intensity. Lower intensity swimming sees a bigger increase in appetite.

  • High intensity swimming triggers the release of lactate, which acts as an appetite suppressant. The rigorous exertion also releases dopamine, blunting post-exercise hunger.
  • Light swimming causes your body temperature and metabolism to drop after the workout. This increases appetite signals and ghrelin release.
Suppress hunger with high-intensity swims
Flying high

Take a Warm Shower After

A warm shower post-swim can raise your body temperature back up to normal and control hunger signals.

  • The water from the shower replaces the heat lost while swimming. This stops further activation of fat-storing hormones and hunger stimulation.
  • Warming your body back up curbs hunger signals caused by cold water immersion. It prevents further secretion of dopamine and norepinephrine to store fat.

Eat Protein and Fiber-Rich Foods

Choosing protein and fiber-laden meals and snacks after swimming can help control hunger.

  • Foods high in protein and fiber like eggs, lean meats, beans, lentils and vegetables take longer to digest. This causes feelings of satiety to last longer between meals.
  • Protein and fiber prevent sharp blood sugar rises and drops. This helps regulate the hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin.
Proper pre and post swim nutrition can curb hunger
Protein and fiber rich foods can control your appetite when swimming

Hydrate Properly With Water

Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Sipping on water and staying hydrated can help control appetite.

  • Dehydration alters levels of ghrelin and leptin, making you feel hungry when you are actually thirsty. Drinking water prevents this effect.
  • Water is needed for the digestion and absorption of food. Proper hydration regulates metabolism and appetite control mechanisms.
Stay hydrated when swimming

Time Meals and Snacks Correctly

Eating at the right times before and after swimming can help prevent excessive hunger.

  • Don’t swim hungry – Exercising in a fasted state triggers increased hunger and appetite after working out. Eat a balanced meal 1-2 hours pre-swim.
  • Have a light carb-based snack 30 minutes before hitting the pool to provide glucose to working muscles and reduce post-swim hunger.
  • Eat a post-swim meal within 30-60 minutes to replenish nutrients soon after swimming and prevent intense hunger later. Include lean proteins for muscle recovery.

In summary, strategies like swimming at higher intensities, hydrating properly, and timing nutrition can help regulate appetite and hunger after swimming workouts.

Sample Meal Plan to Control Post-Swim Hunger

Here is a sample one-day meal plan to help control hunger spikes and overeating after swimming:


Breakfast – 2 hours before

  • Oatmeal made with milk and topped with almonds, raisins and cinnamon
  • Hard-boiled egg
  • Coffee or tea

Pre-swim snack – 30 minutes before

  • 1 medium banana
  • 1⁄4 cup trail mix


Post-workout snack – Within 30 minutes

  • Whey protein shake with almond milk and banana
  • Whole grain pita chips

Lunch – Within 1 hour

  • Tuna salad sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Fruit salad with melon, berries and apple
  • Iced herbal tea

Afternoon snack

  • Hummus with carrot and celery sticks
  • Plain Greek yogurt with blueberries


  • Grilled salmon
  • Quinoa pilaf
  • Sauteed spinach
  • Beet and walnut salad

This meal plan provides a balanced mix of protein, carbs and fat. The regular eating times and focus on hydration, fiber and lean proteins helps control excessive hunger and cravings after swimming. Adjust portion sizes based on your training load and weight goals.

The Takeaway

Swimming is an incredibly effective exercise, but the cold water exposure, increased calorie burn and workout dynamics can cause your body to respond with hunger signals and cravings.

Understanding the science behind post-swim hunger allows you to plan appropriate fueling and nutrition. Strategies like higher intensity workouts, temperature regulation, hydration and meal timing then help control appetite and prevent overeating after pool sessions.

With some preparation and self-awareness, you can reap all the benefits of swimming without the excessive hunger.

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