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Heartburn/GORD health centre

This article is from the WebMD Feature Archive

Five tips to ease exercise heartburn

Is your heartburn triggered by running, aerobics or other forms of exercise?
By Rebecca Buffum Taylor
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Daniel Rutherford

You exercise to keep fit, but when you go running, do aerobics or head to the gym, there it is: heartburn. It's not just your legs that are churning, it's your last meal as well, churning right up into your throat. Your exercise heartburn has even made you hesitate to work out and made you wonder: What's going on here?

What causes exercise heartburn?

Exercise can trigger heartburn if the LOS muscle (the lower oesophageal sphincter) is weak or too relaxed, and food or stomach acid "burps" back up from your stomach into your oesophagus.

Exercise-induced heartburn can also be triggered by certain foods, especially spicy foods such as tomato-based pasta sauce, acidic foods such as orange juice, fizzy drinks, coffee, chocolate and alcohol.

5 tips when exercise triggers heartburn

You don’t need to give up exercise to avoid heartburn. Instead try these tips:

  1. Look at your eating habits. Do some simple problem-solving, says pharmacist Tara O'Brien. "Specifically do you eat relatively quickly before going for a run? And what types of food?" asks O’Brien. Cut out the offending foods and leave out the large latte before running
  2. Eat something soothing before exercise. "Some people eat a yoghurt before a run and don't experience any problems, while the next person may eat yoghurt and experience the worst heartburn ever", says O'Brien. "Experiment with foods to see if one thing aggravates it more than another." Examples of foods less likely to cause irritation are a banana, yoghurt, small bowl of wholegrain cereal or toast
  3. Eat two to three hours before working out. Experiment with how long before you exercise to eat your light snack, half an hour, one hour, two hours before, and see which works best. Maybe you can eat a small snack an hour before exercise with no problem. Or you may need to eat two to three hours before working out to give your stomach time to empty
  4. Rethink your work-out. Certain kinds of exercise may trigger heartburn for some people more than others. Experiment to see whether certain work-outs trigger heartburn more or less for you. Maybe you can try going for a walk or a bike ride if high-impact aerobics or running hurt. Crunches and core work on a full stomach may have to go. Headstands and Downward Dog in yoga, which reverse the natural gravity of digestion, can also trigger heartburn; ask your teacher how to modify these inverted poses
  5. Try over-the-counter relief. In your local chemist look for one of the many available antacids with calcium, that's the ingredient that neutralises stomach acid. Although these are fast-acting, symptom-relief antacids, it can't hurt to try one as a preventive measure before exercise

Exercise heartburn: to eat or not to eat?

No doubt you've often wondered: should you eat before exercise or work out on an empty stomach?

"That depends on how much exercise you're going to do", says O'Brien. "You always want to have fuel." Experts advise at least having a light snack, a banana would be perfect fuel for exercise, unless you're going for a 20-mile run.

Call your GP if:

  • Your symptoms aren't relieved no matter what you do
  • You have chest pain, either triggered by exercise or not. Chest pain can be a warning sign of a mild heart attack. People having heart attacks have been known to dismiss their chest pain as "just a little heartburn"

So, leave out the coffee and orange juice before you work out, try yoghurt or a banana an hour or two before exercise, and keep your headstands short to avoid heartburn.

Reviewed on July 30, 2009

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