It’s a well-worn piece of wisdom: “Wait at least 30 minutes to swim after eating.” But does this advice actually hold any water?
At least for Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, who won two gold medals and two silver medals in Tokyo, the answer is no.
“I might have some parents coming after me for this, but I think we can debunk the myth. You can eat before you swim,” Ledecky told Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” this week. “I wouldn’t recommend you go out and have a huge pizza with your daughters before you go for a swim, but I mean, I eat granola bars before I swim within five or 10 minutes before a race.”
She added that in her experience as an Olympic swimmer, eating at least a little something before a race provides essential fuel.
“I sometimes have two races — in Tokyo I had two races about an hour apart — and I was eating and drinking,” she said. “And my second race was the 1500 free, so I had to have something in my stomach to get me through a 15-and-a-half minute race.”
She went on to win a gold medal in that 1500-meter freestyle race, so whatever she munched on to give her energy beforehand clearly paid off.
The myth about not eating 30 minutes before swimming was also dispelled by the Mayo Clinic in 2018.
"We know now that really there is no scientific basis for that recommendation," Dr. Michael Boniface, an emergency physician, said in an article on Mayo Clinic’s website. "You may end up with some stomach cramping or a muscle cramp, but this is not a dangerous activity to routinely enjoy."
Ledecky, 24, is the most decorated female swimmer in history. She has won 10 Olympic medals, including two gold and two silver medals in Tokyo, a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics and four gold medals and a silver medal in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
When it comes to fueling herself before competitions, she apparently has her race-day meal plan down to a science.
United States Olympic Committee (USOC) senior sport dietitian Alicia Glass shared some details about Ledecky’s diet during a July interview with NBC Sports journalist Michele Tafoya.
"This morning it was oatmeal, made with extra milk, peanut butter and fruit for protein, carbs and antioxidants," Tafoya reported during NBC’s broadcast of Ledecky’s 1500-meter race. "She can snack on things like energy bars before the race, and she generally has a sports drink in her hand until she leaves the ready room."
"She's rehearsed well-choreographed meal routines again and again and again (by) waking up, pretending it was a race day and eating on schedule," Tafoya continued. "All of this has been as much a part of Katie's daily training as swimming laps."