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You almost expect heartburn after wolfing down spicy tacos filled with chilies or jalapeño peppers, but during your morning jog??? Don’t be surprised….if you suffer from chronic acid reflux, exercise-induced heartburn is not that uncommon. However, you can prevent it by choosing the right workout and keeping a few key tips in mind.
Heartburn, or acid reflux, is most often caused when lower esophageal sphincter or LES becomes slack, allowing stomach acid and other contents to rise back up the esophagus. The LES is a muscular valve with one job – allowing food to travel in one direction only, from the esophagus into the stomach where digestion takes place. Think of it as a muscle lid that allows entry of food into the stomach and then shuts tightly to prevent stomach contents from coming back up. However, a floppy LES is what causes GERD, and intense exercise that includes jumping, jostling and/or a posture that applies constant pressure on the stomach can further aggravate the problem. Once the LES is dysfunctional, stomach acid can creep into the throat, and your workout is ruined by a heartburn attack.
Strenuous exercise can exacerbate symptoms of heartburn. Research studies have found the prevalence of esophageal reflux in conditioned runners, cyclists, and weightlifters. According to the study, weightlifters experienced the most heartburn and reflux, whereas runners too developed mild symptoms and moderate reflux. Cyclists exhibited mild symptoms of reflux as well, which can also be caused by the posture during cycling.
In fact, body positions that exert pressure on the LES can sharply raise the risk of acid reflux. A study done in Hawaii found that surfing is strongly associated with GERD, wherein short-board surfing appears to have a stronger association with GERD than long-board surfing. Bodyweight exercises like bench presses, leg curls, sit ups or any other exercise that involves lying flat and working on the core muscles can also increase the risk of reflux. Strenuous exercise and dehydrated state causes gastrointestinal symptoms referred by 70% of the athletes, according to another study. Know about exercises that are best avoided if you have chronic acid reflux. If you must run, choose a soft surface or a treadmill to run on.
It is also important to note that your pre-workout meal can play a role here. Drinking coffee or alcohol as well as eating a meal high in refined sugar and salt can also trigger exercise-induced acid reflux. If you go for a morning jog, drinking a cup of coffee or a glass of orange juice before your workout could easily be the cause behind your heartburn.
Even if you eat healthy, a meal high in fiber and fats eaten close to your workout may also trigger heartburn because these digest slowly, which means your stomach hasn’t emptied completely, allowing acid and semi-digested food to travel back up the esophagus mid-workout. Make sure you don’t eat a substantial meal at least 2 hours before your workout, to give your stomach adequate time to digest it. Also avoid high-carbohydrate sports drinks and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water instead.
However, no matter what you do, don’t stop exercising. Working out regularly helps keep bodyweight in check since being overweight is directly linked to GERD. Moderate, low-impact exercises when done with precautions can reduce reflux.