Fish activity costs are often estimated by transforming their swimming speed in energy expenditures with respirometry models developed while forcing fish to swim against a flow of constant velocity. Forced swimming models obtained using a procedure that minimizes flow heterogeneity may not represent the costs of swimming in rivers characterized by turbulence and by a wide range of instantaneous flow velocities. We assessed the swimming cost of juvenile Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) in turbulent flows using two means (18 and 23 cm·s–1) and two standard deviations of flow velocity (5 and 8 cm·s–1). Twenty respirometry experiments were conducted at 15 °C with fish averaging 10 g. Our results confirmed that swimming costs are affected by the level of turbulence. For a given mean flow velocity, swimming costs increased 1.3- to 1.6-fold as turbulence increased. Forced swimming models under estimated actual swimming costs in turbulent flow by 1.9- to 4.2-fold. Spontaneous swimming models overestimated the real cost of swimming in turbulent flow by 2.8- to 6.6-fold. Our analyses suggest that models in which both the mean and the standard deviation of flow velocity are explicitly represented are needed to adequately estimate the costs of swimming against turbulent flows.