Find the Answer: Does Swimming Burn More Calories than Running?
We all enjoyed playing in the pool and swimming as kids, but why should the fun stop there? Adults can still enjoy their time in the pool, all while getting a great workout that burns calories and helps them get fit. If you’ve ever wondered, “how many calories does swimming burn?” we’re here to put your curiosity to rest, and maybe even give you a reason to jump in the pool more often.
What Are Calories?
Before we jump in and answer, “how many calories does swimming burn?” it helps to understand exactly what a calorie is. A calorie, by definition, is simply a unit of measurement. In a scientific sense, a calorie is “the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.” To think of it in terms of how our bodies use calories, you can think of calories as energy your body needs to burn in order to keep moving and working.
However, not all calories are created equal. Eating 300 calories of salad and 300 calories of cake, for example, would not have the same effect on your body, even though they have the same caloric content. Other unhealthy foods like soda, white bread, pizza, and ice cream also provide energy in the form of calories, but contain little else. Calories from junk food like this are referred to as “empty calories” because they don’t provide the additional nutrients your body needs. Nutrients from healthy foods contribute to muscle and bone strength and sustain physical performance for longer periods of time.
How Many Calories Does My Body Need?
How many calories you need to eat per day depends on what your goals are. If your goal is to lose weight, you will need to consume fewer calories than your body needs to maintain your current weight. If you are trying to gain muscle or are very physically active, you will require more calories than the average person of your size and gender.
The average calories a person should consume depends on their current age, gender, and activity level. A moderately active female between 19-30 years old requires around 2,000-2,200 calories per day to maintain her current level of weight and energy. Whereas a moderately active male between 19-30 years old requires 2,600-2,800 calories per day to maintain his current weight and energy levels.
Eat Like a Swimmer
For swimmers, the calories burned while swimming will vary depending on the training level, duration, and intensity of the individual. For example, someone who swims for daily exercise and health benefits will not have the same calories burned while swimming as someone who is training for the Olympics.
If you plan to get your calories burned through swimming, you will want to plan your meals according to when you plan to exercise. If you plan to work out for an hour or more, make sure you eat some complex carbohydrates and lean protein at least 30 minutes beforehand to fuel your workout. This will give you the energy you need while working out and help so you don’t feel overly exhausted while in the pool. After a workout, be sure to have a handy, healthy snack tucked away in your gym bag to keep you satisfied until you can consume some more lean proteins and carbohydrates.
Some good snacks and foods for swimmers are nuts, brown rice, sprouted seeds (mung beans, lentils), broccoli, beetroot, and apricots. These foods are all high in antioxidants and are nutrient rich, which will help you recover faster from your workout.
The Olympic Diet
In 2008, Michael Phelps shocked the general public by announcing his 12,000-calories-per-day diet. Although he later admitted he exaggerated slightly and that it was probably closer to around 8,000-10,000 calories, that’s still way more than the average person, or swimmer, should eat in a day.
Phelps’ daily diet was still quite impressive and included:
- 3 fried-egg sandwiches
- 1 omelet with 5 eggs
- 1 bowl of grains
- 3 slices of toast
- 3 chocolate chip pancakes
- 2 cups of coffee
- 2 pounds of pasta
- 2 ham and cheese sandwiches
- 1 pizza
- An undisclosed amount of energy drinks
His teammate, Ryan Lochte eats a similar amount of food during training season, and his breakfast often consists of five or six eggs, hash browns, oatmeal, pancakes, fruit, and coffee. When Lochte is prepping for a competition, he will pile on the carbs and make sure he packs in a good meal 2-3 hours before his race. This gives him the energy he needs to compete at a high level of intensity.
With all of the food these Olympic-level swimmers consume, it seems amazing that they’re as fit as they are. The explanation lies in the fact that they need the energy these calories provide. Olympic-level athletes can burn around 3,000-10,000 calories a day during their training sessions.
How Many Calories Can You Burn Swimming?
To answer the questions, “how many calories does swimming burn?” and “does swimming burn more calories than running?” there are several factors to consider. These factors include metabolism, duration, intensity, and water temperature.
Metabolism is simply how quickly your body burns calories. This varies from person to person because it involves aspects like gender, body fat and muscle composition, how much you weigh, and more. If your body has more muscle, your metabolism increases. Metabolism is also affected by exercise and increases when your body is active. While it’s hard to say exactly how many calories each individual is burning at any given time because of their metabolism, there are some general examples to give you an idea of calories burned while swimming.
For example, a person who weighs 150 lbs will burn around 400-700 calories an hour during their swim session. 400 calories would be from swimming at a moderate pace, whereas they’d burn 700 calories if they’re really kicking butt during their hour-long swim session. This same person would burn somewhere between 650-900 calories an hour if they weighed in at 205 pounds instead of 150. A swimming calculator can help you determine the approximate amount of calories you’re burning during your swim sessions.
Duration & Intensity
While freestyle or butterfly strokes may have a higher intensity than the breaststroke, if you can maintain the breaststroke for a longer period of time, you will burn the same amount of calories as if you did a quick workout with a freestyle stroke. It all depends on what kind of intensity you are looking to achieve, or how many calories you want to burn.
If you’re looking for an intense hour-long swim, the butterfly stroke can burn an impressive 650-1025 calories. Quick warning—this workout burns.
Because swimming pools tend to be a cooler temperature than the surrounding environment, your body has to work harder and use more energy to regulate your body temperature. One theory argues that by placing your body in a cooler environment (below 68ºF) you are actually encouraging your body to store fat, and triggering a hunger response to eat more food because of it. While you don’t have to give in to temptation and eat like an Olympian, it helps explain why many of them eat the way they do during training seasons.
How Many Calories Does Swimming Burn Compared to Other Sports?
The short answer to the question, “does swimming burn more calories than running?” is that swimming actually burns around the same number of calories as running or cycling when done at the same intensity. The real difference is in the overall physical resistance of swimming. Because water provides around 12 times the resistance of air, swimmers are getting more of a full-body workout with overall resistance than cyclists or runners, who are mostly experiencing resistance in their legs.
The amount of calories you can burn with any activity can increase or decrease depending on the intensity of the exercise. Runners who run at a high-intensity pace of 9 miles an hour can expect to burn between 650-1025 calories. Running is great exercise, but is not ideal for those who have joint pain or are overweight, because it puts additional stress on your joints.
Depending on how much you weigh and how high your intensity is for your workout, you will burn around 590-930 calories during a cycling workout.
If you’re wondering, ”how many calories does swimming burn?” it’s important to note that different strokes burn different amounts of calories because they vary in intensity. Here are two of the most popular strokes you might consider and how many calories you can burn with each:
- Breaststroke—This stroke burns around 700 calories an hour at high intensity.
- Backstroke—While breaststroke is more efficient at burning calories, you may prefer the backstroke. This stroke burns around 550 calories an hour at high intensity.
Swimmers can calculate their estimated caloric expenditure using a swimming calculator to get a better idea of how many calories they are burning during their workouts. Although calories burned while swimming is about the equivalent to any other form of exercise, it does have the added benefit of being extremely low-impact. This makes it a great option for people with back, knee, or joint pain who cannot safely or comfortably perform other types of exercise.
Swimming is an excellent form of exercise. If you’re looking to jump into swimming, there are a few tips to follow as you get started:
- Start Slow—Beginners should start slowly and build up. 10-30 minutes 1-3 times per week is recommended for beginners. Slowly build up your time by adding 5 minutes to your workout every week.
- Maintain Pace—When you start swimming, it can be tempting to try and go all out. Make sure that whatever pace you set is something you can maintain over the course of your workout period.
- Stay Safe—It’s easy to push yourself too hard when you first start. Follow pool safety precautions, and pay attention to your body. You don’t want to injure yourself when you’re just starting out.
- Rest—You probably won’t be used to swimming when you first start and may feel tired quickly. That’s okay. Make sure you take regular, frequent breaks when starting out. This can be as often as stopping at the end of every lap to make sure you’re good to go.
- Don’t Rest—Yes, we just said to rest, but as you build up your endurance you should focus on taking fewer rests. Start by cutting your current rest time in half. Aim for a goal of no more than a 10-second rest in between intervals and laps.
- Have Fun—Using kickboards and other pool toys to help you swim can actually help you work other muscles in your body. Plus, it makes your workout fun!
- Swim in Sprints—Change up your workout by swimming one lap at a sprint and the next lap at a relaxed pace. It will make your workout more challenging and more interesting.
- Take Swimming Lessons—Getting advice from a professional can really help when it comes to improving your technique. Consider swimming lessons for children to help them start becoming swimmers.
Now that you know the answer to “how many calories does swimming burn?” and “does swimming burn more calories than running?” you’re prepared to start burning calories and getting a great low-impact workout through swimming. You’ll find that as you swim more, your calories burned while swimming will increase, as will your cardiovascular strength and lung capacity. Get started with some swimming workouts or learn how to up your swimming game with advanced and private swimming lessons so you can improve your overall health and enjoy your workouts more.