How to Avoid Heartburn During a Workout

Here's how to prevent exertion-associated gastroesophageal reflux

Woman running outside
Lior + Lone/Stocksy United

There's a new type of burn that you may experience post-workout: exertion-associated gastroesophageal reflux (EAGER). Turns out exercise-induced heartburn happens more often than previously thought.

Heartburn During Exercise Is Common

Nearly 40 percent of heartburn sufferers reported in an online survey of 1,000 baby boomers that they experienced heartburn during exercise. In addition, more than two out of every five people who suffered from heartburn weekly stopped being physically active because of EAGER.

The survey was sponsored by Pepcid.

Other insights from the survey about how heartburn during exercise affects people include:

  • 75 percent of men and women age 35-60 experience heartburn at least occasionally
  • 31 percent report weekly bouts of heartburn
  • Occasional heartburn sufferers will, on average, experience heartburn 15 percent of the time they exercise
  • Weekly heartburn sufferers will likely experience heartburn 45 percent of the time they exercise
  • 16 million Americans have their exercise interrupted by heartburn
  • Persons who do not suffer from heartburn exercise an average of 106 times per year
  • Heartburn sufferers exercise an average of 85 times per year

The term EAGER was coined by Steven R. Peikin, MD, a professor of medicine and head of the Division of Gastroenterology and Liver Diseases at the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine and Cooper Hospital/University Medical Center in Camden, N.J., as a way to refer to exercise-induced heartburn.

"Unfortunately, as this survey shows, many of these same people will suffer from EAGER, which in turn discourages them from continuing their exercise or activity program," he said in a prepared statement. "In a sense, it's really a double-whammy. People try to be more healthy by exercising more but end up inducing EAGER, which not only causes discomfort but also takes them off the road to better overall health."

How Exercise Can Cause Heartburn

Turns out that exercise and other activities that cause exertion — think shoveling snow or hard manual labor — can cause the contents of the stomach to move around. And that activity that the body is doing outside can cause food and acidic digestive juices to move around the stomach walls and up into the esophagus. "It makes sense that such activity could encourage the onset of heartburn," Dr. Peikin said. 

Easing Exertion-Associated GastroEsophageal Reflux

Before calling it quits on your exercise program, know that there are steps you can take to lessen the occurrence exercise-induced acid reflux. Use the below tips to help you continue to stay active without the heartburn.

  • Wait at least an hour after eating before you begin to exercise
  • Avoid fatty or greasy foods
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Take an over-the-counter antacid before exercising. It may be best to use an antacid that also contains an acid reducer, such as an H2 blocker or proton pump inhibitor
  • Choose your exercise wisely. Higher impact activities, such as running or jogging, can increase your chances of getting heartburn compared to lower impact activities, such as walking, biking, or swimming.

    You don't want to ditch exercising completely, since exercise can also help improve your GERD symptoms. If you continue to experience exertion-associated gastroesophageal reflux, after following the above-mentioned advice, talk to your doctor.

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