Swimming Can Help You Lose Weight (Calories, Fat, Cravings,…)

Swimming is a beneficial way to stay active, and it is particularly useful as a rehab exercise for injuries. It is very easy on the joints and ligaments, too, compared to the rest of the activities we can do (even walking). Because of all the benefits of swimming, many wonder how good can swimming be at promoting weight loss.

Swimming can help you lose weight because is a cardiovascular exercise that incorporates many muscle groups. However, burning fat is also related to other factors like caloric intake, lifestyle, metabolic rates, and more. Swimming will increase energy expenditure, but may not lead to fat loss if you’re in a caloric surplus.

However, anyone that has tried swimming for some time knows the incredibly high level of food cravings that we can experience after swimming. So, is this a good or a bad thing for us? You may be surprised at what the research says on the topic, so read on!

How Does Swimming Affect Our Body?

Swimming has many different health benefits, like:

  • Swimming will tone and build some muscle mass.
  • It incorporates the use of almost all muscles in our body, so it can be considered a kind of a full-body exercise.
  • Swimming builds physical endurance, flexibility, coordination, and body posture.
  • It improves cardiovascular health and endurance.
  • It can help us maintain healthy body composition.
  • It is also a great low-impact exercise that can be used for therapy and rehab.
  • It is a great way to improve range of movement and stay active after injuries.
  • It reduces stress.
  • It is available in a lot of places, and it doesn’t require any special accessories or equipment to get started.

Swimming might sound like the best way to stay active, but how good is it at burning fat?

How Good is Swimming at Burning Body Fat?

Swimming can be an effective way to reduce your body fat percentage and at the same time, tone your muscles.

One study found out that swimming three times a week for 60 minutes each session had a positive effect on body composition. There was statistically significant data showing that the women that practiced swimming were able to reduce their body fat percentage. They were also able to improve their flexibility and cardiovascular endurance.

Another study focused on high-intensity intermittent swimming. The results were that it improves cardiovascular health and endurance and physical performance.

A different study from 2010, compared the health benefits of swimming to walking. The people that were swimming were able to lose more weight and improve their body fat distribution better than the people that were walking.

Can You Lose Belly Fat with Swimming?

Swimming is an aerobic exercise that utilizes almost all the muscles in our body and in doing so, this means that we are going to be burning a lot of calories. However, swimming on its own might not be enough, as multiple other factors will determine the amount of overall fat we are going to lose.

Can We Spot Reduce Fat with Swimming?

Different people struggle with different parts of their body. Women tend to gain fat on their thighs and hips, and men usually put on fat on their bellies.

Spot reduction has been a very controversial topic ever since it came to light and has been considered a myth for a long time.

The latest studies and data on the topic show that spot reduction can be a real thing after all (despite the effects being potentially very small). There are, however, specific conditions that need to be met for that to work:

  • The muscles where we want to spot reduce fat need to be exercised with high-intensity exercises.
  • We need to combine that with higher levels of overall energy expenditure.
  • Staying in a caloric deficit is a must.

Swimming falls in the second category; it can help us to increase our overall energy expenditure, however, on its own, it will not help us burn fat in specific parts of our body.

Things You Can Do To Lose Weight (Besides Swimming)

In order to lose weight is crucial to stay in a slight caloric deficit or, in other words, we have to burn more calories than we consume on a daily basis – from food and drinks.

There are several other aspects of our daily lifestyle that can either help us achieve our goals or undermine our efforts, like:

  • Eliminating excessive sugar intake from sweets, sugary drinks, desserts, and more.
  • Try to stay more physically active and less inactive. Do more resistance training and cardio.
  • Increase muscle mass. In order to maintain the muscles, the body burns more calories compared to maintaining fat tissue.
  • Get adequate levels of sleep. Lack of quality and enough sleep has been shown to affect body composition negatively.
  • Increase your fiber intake.
  • Avoid food with trans fats.
  • Reduce alcohol intake.
  • Increase your protein intake.
  • Avoid stressing out too much.
  • Reduce refined carbohydrates. Any food made with white flour should be reduced to a minimum opt for complex carbs instead.
  • Track your calorie intake and try to stay in a caloric deficit.

These are some of the best things to do to make sure you’re on the right path to reducing your body fat percentage.

What we can see here is that swimming (or any other type of cardiovascular training) is but one of the numerous things that will improve our body composition and help us lose fat.

Potential Effects of Swimming on Losing Weight

Here’s where things start to get tricky.

One study compared the effects of three cardiovascular exercises on losing weight; the exercises were:

  • Swimming in a pool.
  • Riding a stationary bike.
  • And brisk walking.

There was one caveat though there were no dietary restrictions, so basically the people were allowed to eat whatever they wanted. In both cycling and walking improvements in the body composition (losing fat) were observed. Only swimming did not show any weight loss benefits.

Although a lot of studies agree that swimming can lead to weight loss and improve body composition, here we’re met with data that states the complete opposite.

So, here’s the thing. There were no dietary restrictions, and all of a sudden, all the weight loss benefits of swimming disappeared.

Swimming can lead to higher food cravings.

One point of concern is that after swimming, we are significantly more hungry – or at least this is how we feel.

Whatever amount of calories we might have burned while swimming will definitely be negligible compared to the calories we are prone to eat if we go on a binge eating spree afterward.

Well, all this might be a bit confusing, so what exactly is happening here? What causes increased appetite after swimming? There is still no concrete evidence as to why people feel increased levels of appetite after swimming. There are, however, certain hypotheses as to why this might be happening.

Cold water can lead to higher hunger levels.

In one study published in the “International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism,” an interesting discovery was made. Two groups of swimmers, while submerged in water, were asked to ride a stationary bike. One group exercised in cold water that was 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and the second group exercised in warm water that was 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

The results that followed were very interesting. The people that exercised in cold water consumed on average 44% more calories than the people that exercised in warm water.

Although there was almost no difference in caloric expenditure between the two groups – exercising in cold water led to significantly higher perceived hunger levels.

The dominating hypothesis is that swimming in colder water leads to the body losing heat at a significantly faster rate, which may lead to your body not releasing the hormones that are associated with the appetite suppression effects.

Swimming styles can make a difference on caloric expenditure.

The type of swimming techniques and strokes used can increase caloric expenditure. Harder strokes like the front and backstroke, as well back butterfly, may lead to increased hunger levels. The intensity of your exercise can also lead to a different amount of calories burned – the greater the intensity, the more calories are being used.