An acute bout of swimming increases post-exercise energy intake in young healthy men and women

Single bouts of land-based exercise (for example, walking, running, cycling) do not typically alter post-exercise energy intake on the day of exercise. However, anecdotal and preliminary empirical evidence suggests that swimming may increase appetite and energy intake. This study compared the acute effects of swimming on appetite, energy intake, and food preference and reward, versus exertion-matched cycling and a resting control. Thirty-two men (n = 17; mean ± SD age 24 ± 2 years, body mass index [BMI] 25.0 ± 2.6 kg/m2) and women (n = 15; age 22 ± 3 years, BMI 22.8 ± 2.3 kg/m2) completed three experimental trials (swimming, cycling, control) in a randomised, crossover design. The exercise trials involved 60-min of ‘hard’ exercise (self-selected rating of perceived exertion: 15) performed 90-min after a standardised breakfast. Food preference and reward were assessed via the Leeds Food Preference Questionnaire 15-min after exercise, whilst ad libitum energy intake was determined 30-min after exercise. The control trial involved identical procedures except no exercise was performed. Compared with control (3259 ± 1265 kJ), swimming increased ad libitum energy intake (3857 ± 1611 kJ; ES = 0.47, 95% CI of the mean difference between trials 185, 1010 kJ, P = 0.005); the magnitude of increase was smaller after cycling (3652 ± 1619 kJ; ES = 0.31, 95% CI -21, 805 kJ, P = 0.062). Ad libitum energy intake was similar between swimming and cycling (ES = 0.16, 95% CI -207, 618 kJ, P = 0.324). This effect was consistent across sexes and unrelated to food preference and reward which were similar after swimming and cycling compared with control. This study has identified an orexigenic effect of swimming. Further research is needed to identify the responsible mechanism(s), including the relevance of water immersion and water temperature per se.