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Why does swimming in cold water make you hungry?

Why does swimming in cold water make you hungry?

Have you ever completed a swimming session and felt an intense sensation of hunger suddenly taking over?

Many swimmers have reported experiencing intense hunger pangs after a dip in the cold water, leaving them to wonder why does swimming in cold water make you hungry.

In this article, CWS explore the science behind why cold water swimming can make you hungry.

Why does cold water swimming make you hungry?

So, if you’re an avid cold water swimmer or simply curious about the connection between swimming in cold water and hunger, read on to discover why cold water swimming makes you hungry.

1. Cold water increases hunger

Swimming in cold water has been found to decrease blood glucose levels, which can stimulate hunger.

The body responds to low blood sugar levels by producing ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite. Hence, the drop in blood glucose levels during cold water swimming can trigger an increase in ghrelin production, leading to an increased feeling of hunger after swimming.

In addition to the physiological responses, cold water swimming can stimulate the release of endorphins, which are feel-good hormones that can positively impact mood and mental health.

However, endorphins can also increase hunger as they can trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with food cravings.

The temperature of the water can affect how your body reacts; cold water swimming is known to activate the body’s “fight or flight” response, which triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

So, you may get more hungry after swimming in cold water rather than warm water!

Keep reading to learn more about burning calories and cold water swimming,

Cold water increases hunger
Man in river

2. Swimming burns calories

Stress hormones increase heart rate and blood pressure, leading to a surge in energy expenditure. As a result, the body burns more calories, and hunger increases as a natural response to replenish the expended energy.

The increase in energy expenditure leads to the burning of more calories than usual, which can create a calorie deficit.

A calorie deficit occurs when you burn more calories than you consume. While this may sound like a good thing for weight loss, it can actually trigger an increase in hunger.

When the body senses a calorie deficit, it responds by producing ghrelin, which sends signals to the brain that the body needs more energy, which can cause hunger pangs and food cravings.

Consuming nutrient-dense foods and drinking plenty of water after swimming can help satisfy that post-swim hunger and maintain optimal health.

3. The Afterburn Effect

Up next, we have the afterburn effect, also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which refers to the increased metabolic rate and calorie burn that occurs after a period of exercise.

Specifically, after a swim or a workout, the body continues to burn calories at an elevated rate, even while at rest, due to several physiological processes that occur in the body.

During exercise, the body uses oxygen to produce energy. This energy production process creates an oxygen debt, where the body’s oxygen consumption remains elevated after the workout to replenish depleted energy stores and remove metabolic waste products.

The oxygen debt results in an increased metabolic rate, where the body continues to burn calories at an elevated rate for several hours after exercise.

The afterburn effect can provide several benefits, including increased calorie burn, improved fat oxidation, and enhanced overall metabolic rate.

However, it’s important to note that the afterburn effect alone may not be sufficient for significant weight loss or body composition changes, and a balanced diet and regular exercise routine are essential for achieving these goals.

4. Swimming makes you dehydrated

Cold water swimming can make you dehydrated due to several reasons, including:

  1. Increased water resistance: Water is denser than air, and therefore, it provides more resistance to movement. Swimming requires more effort and energy compared to other forms of exercise on land, and this increased effort can cause you to sweat more, leading to dehydration.
  2. Reduced sensation of thirst: When you’re in the water, you may not feel thirsty as your body is submerged in water, which can make it harder to recognize signs of thirst. However, even though you don’t feel thirsty, your body is still losing water through sweat and breathing.
  3. Length of time spent swimming: The longer you swim, the more water your body loses through sweating and breathing, leading to dehydration.

To prevent dehydration while swimming, it’s essential to stay hydrated before, during, and after your swim. You can take a tow float with you as you swim to ensure you have access to water.

Drinking water before your swim can help you start your exercise routine with adequate hydration levels while drinking water during your swim can help replenish lost fluids.

After your swim, it’s important to continue hydrating to help your body recover and prevent dehydration. Continue reading to find out how spending longer in the water may make you more hungry.

5. Endurance

Endurance swimmers can get hungry due to long periods of time with increased caloric burn, depletion of glycogen stores, hormonal response, water temperature, and psychological factors.

To maintain energy levels during long swims, endurance swimmers should have an adequate food intake and drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after their swims.

Proper nutrition and hydration can help prevent hunger and ensure optimal performance during endurance swimming and endurance sports events in general.

Endurance swimmer in ocean

6. Swimming is a full-body workout

Swimming is a full-body workout that engages all the major muscle groups in the body, including the legs, back, core, and arms.

When you swim, your muscles work harder than they would during many other forms of intense exercise, which can lead to an increase in hunger.

Swimming is a highly aerobic exercise, which means that it requires a lot of energy to perform especially at a high intensity.

The more energy you burn during your swim, the more your body will need to replace the lost energy, leading to an increase in your hunger response.


Why do swimmers eat so much?

Swimmers eat a lot because swimming is a demanding sport that requires a significant amount of energy. 

To fuel their workouts and maintain their energy levels, swimmers need to consume a lot of calories.

Depending on the intensity and duration of their swim workouts, swimmers may need to consume anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 calories per day.

In fact, some elite swimmers may consume up to 12,000 calories per day during heavy training periods.

Consuming a balanced diet that provides them with the necessary nutrients and calories is crucial for their athletic performance and overall health.

Why do swimmers eat so much?
Bowl of nuts

How to stop feeling hungry after swimming

Eating a small meal or snack before swimming, staying hydrated, eating a balanced post-swim meal, snacking smartly, and getting enough sleep can all help reduce feelings of hunger after swimming.

It’s important to listen to your body and fuel it appropriately to maintain your energy levels and support your athletic performance.

Eat a post-swimming snack.

After swimming, it’s important to replenish your energy stores with a balanced snack that includes protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

Remember to choose snacks that are rich in nutrients and avoid foods that are high in added sugars or unhealthy fats.

By fueling your body with healthy snacks after swimming, you’ll help promote muscle recovery, reduce hunger, and maintain your energy levels throughout the day.

Increase your body temperature.

Increasing your body temperature may help you feel less hungry after swimming, as it can increase your metabolism and promote feelings of fullness.

Therefore it’s useful to warm up quickly when exiting the water to prevent losing body heat; dry robes are excellent for this.

However, it’s important to note that increasing your body temperature alone may not be enough to stop hunger after swimming.

Drink water.

Staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do to manage hunger after physical activity like swimming.

Swimming is a great form of exercise, but it can be dehydrating due to the amount of water lost through sweating and evaporation.

Dehydration can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, leading you to eat more than you need to.

Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after swimming can help prevent dehydration and keep your appetite in check.

Eat before you swim.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s recommended to eat a small meal or snack containing carbohydrates and protein 1-2 hours before swimming to help prevent hunger.

The carbohydrates in your pre-swim meal or snack will provide your body with energy, while the protein will help maintain muscle mass and aid in recovery.

Examples of good pre-swim snacks include a banana with peanut butter, a granola bar with yoghurt, or a smoothie with fruits and protein powder.

Lift weights

Combining swimming with other forms of exercise, such as weight lifting or cardio, can help provide a more well-rounded workout and help prevent hunger after swimming. 

However, it’s important to keep in mind that lifting weights after swimming can be physically demanding and may not be suitable for everyone.

It’s important to listen to your body and consult a qualified fitness professional before starting any new high-intensity exercise routine.

Lift weights
Woman lifting weights

What should I eat after cold water swimming?

After cold water swimming, it’s important to refuel your body with a balanced meal or snack that contains carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats to help replenish your energy stores and promote muscle recovery.

Here are some examples of foods that can be good choices for post-swim nutrition after cold water swimming:

  1. Oatmeal with nuts and berries
  2. Greek yoghurt with fruit and granola
  3. Grilled chicken with sweet potato and vegetables
  4. Protein smoothie with fruit and nut butter
  5. Whole grain toast


In conclusion, there are several physiological and psychological factors that contribute to the increase in hunger experienced after cold water swimming.

As a result, it’s essential to refuel the body with adequate nutrition after a swim in cold water to replenish the expended energy and maintain optimal health.

By understanding the science behind hunger and cold water swimming, swimmers can be better prepared for the physical and mental effects of this invigorating activity.

Whether swimming in warmer water or colder water, it is crucial to stay hydrated and fuel your body to ensure you have an energy balance!

So, there you go! Now you know why swimming in cold water makes you hungry and how to properly refuel after you expend energy in icy waters.