Everyone tells you that when you’re exercising you should go hard enough that you can feel “the burn,” but when acid reflux starts radiating up your throat after a few burpees or 10-minutes into your spin class, you start to wonder whether this is the right sort of “burn.” The answer is definitely no!

Getting heartburn after eating hot wings or pizza is no surprise, but when it happens during something healthy like exercise, it can be pretty frustrating and confusing! Let’s take a look at what causes exercise-related heartburn and how you can overcome it.

What Causes Heartburn?

Heartburn is often associated with acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid splashes back up into your esophagus. This reflux can be accompanied with the burning sensation that you feel in your chest or upper abdomen, which we know as heartburn. Heartburn can be situational - occurring here and there as the result of certain triggers, like overeating at Thanksgiving or chowing down foods that are overly acidic - or it can be chronic, occurring several times a week. Chronic heartburn is typically the result of a gastroesophageal condition called GERD, in which the patient’s lower esophageal sphincter does not tighten appropriately and allows stomach acid to splash up into the esophagus.

The Heartburn-Exercise Relationship

It’s not as surprising as you would think that exercise can cause heartburn. When you’re jumping up and down, running, or getting into certain body positions (like downward-dog), the LES muscle tends to relax and let the acid in your stomach travel upward into your esophagus. Exercise heartburn can be made worse depending on the kind of workout you’re doing or its duration.

Stopping The Heartburn-Exercise Relationship

The heartburn-exercise relationship can be frustrating, and oftentimes it makes working out an anxiety-inducing activity. You don't need to quit working out to solve your exercise-induced heartburn, though! Here are some things you can do to try to minimize the risk of heartburn when you exercise:

1. Cut out offenders. From your diet, that is. Removing common heartburn trigger foods from your diet altogether is a reliable way to avoid heartburn when you work out.

2. Find a snack that works. Experiment with different soothing foods and see which ones work to alleviate symptoms of your heartburn before you exercise.

3. Eat long before working out. Try and put more time between your meals and the workout. See what timing works best for you and then stick to it.

4. Try a different workout. You may find that some exercises spur heartburn more than others, for example, cardio versus strength. Test to find which types of exercise trigger your heartburn and which don’t, then stick with the ones that don’t.

5. Lose weight. While this is likely something you’re already trying to achieve, it’s important to note that being overweight is a catalyst for heartburn. So if you’re only working out to lose weight, remember that it will also reduce your symptoms of acid reflux.

6. Seek medical advice. If you can’t alleviate your heartburn alone, or if you find that the changes mentioned above don’t seem to improve your heartburn during exercise, it’s likely that your heartburn is caused by a chronic condition like GERD. You’ll want to speak with a reflux specialist, who can diagnose any existing conditions related to your heartburn and set you up with a treatment plan to alleviate your symptoms.

More Information

While GERD is a treatable condition, it requires medical treatment to fully eliminate heartburn. If you’re worried about the source of your heartburn, make an appointment with one of our reflux specialists to make sure there aren’t underlying factors contributing to your heartburn. The specialists at Tampa Bay Reflux Center are uniquely trained in managing acid reflux, heartburn and GERD. Make an appointment today!