Five tips to ease exercise heartburn
Is your heartburn triggered by running, aerobics or other forms of exercise?
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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