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Heartburn/GORD health centre

10 tips for preventing exercise-induced heartburn

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

It's good to feel the burn when you exercise but not in your throat and chest. Getting exercise-induced heartburn can scupper your workout and put you off your stride when out for a run.

That's no excuse to kick your trainers off and put your feet up as there are plenty of ways to prevent it.

What causes exercise heartburn?

Exercise heartburn happens when the lower oesophageal sphincter is too relaxed or not strong enough so that food or stomach acid burps back into your oesophagus.

"Acid reflex may be associated with the length and intensity of the exercise undertaken," says Wendy Martinson, dietitian and spokesperson for the Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register.

"The reasons it may occur include decreased gastrointestinal blood flow, alterations in hormone secretion, changes in motor function of the oesophagus, and increased abdominal pressure if body position is constrained during exercise," adds Wendy.

Tips when exercise triggers heartburn

Tip 1 - Keep a simple log – Try to work out what may be triggering your exercise induced heartburn. Does it happen all of the time? Do you only get it at certain times of the day or after eating or drinking certain foods?

Tip 2 - Don't eat straight before a workout – Experiment with how long you should leave it. Wendy suggests leaving it 2-3 hours after eating a meal before exercising. It may be longer for you.

Tip 3 - Avoid common food triggers - There are certain foods which can trigger heartburn, especially spicy foods like curries and acidic tomato-based sauces. Wendy also advices avoiding very rich and fatty foods close to exercise.

Tip 4 – Re-think breakfast routines – If you go for a run or workout after breakfast it may be the glass of orange juice and cup of coffee that are causing the problems. Acidic drinks like orange juice can make heartburn and acid reflux worse. "Tea, coffee and alcohol may exacerbate the problem, so beware of these beverages too," adds Wendy.

Tip 5 - Eat something simple – Before a workout choose a meal or snack that's less likely to cause irritation to your digestion. Wendy suggests porridge with banana and honey, chicken with rice and vegetables, eggs on wholegrain toast, or Greek yoghurt with oats and mixed fruit.

Tip 6 - Eat smaller meals - It may help to have smaller meals or snacks throughout the day rather than one or two large meals.

Tip 7- Think about the type of exercise you are doing – A spin class where you are crouched over your bike might make your exercise heartburn worse. Similarly a high-intensity class like a circuits class with lots of burpees and bouncing can trigger heartburn. Core work on a full stomach is not such a good idea if you are susceptible. Even though yoga is relaxing some moves like downward dog may trigger heartburn because of your body positioning. If a particular exercise is causing your symptoms try an alternative and see how you get on.

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