6 Tips to Ease Exercise Heartburn

Is your heartburn triggered by running, aerobics, or other forms of exercise?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 13, 2009
4 min read

You exercise to feel the burn -- but not that kind of burn. Muscles, yes. Stomach, no. But when you go running, do aerobics, or go to an indoor cycling class, 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?

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

Exercise-induced heartburn can also be triggered by certain foods -- especially spicy foods like tomato sauce, acidic foods like orange juice, carbonated sodas, coffee, chocolate, and alcohol. These are the most common triggers for heartburn, according to the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA).

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

1. Problem-solve your diet. Do some simple problem-solving, says Tara O'Brien, PharmD, a pharmacy manager at Pharmaca in Seattle, a national, integrative pharmacy combining Western medicine with self-care. "Specifically, do you eat relatively quickly before going for a run? And what types of food?" Cut out the offending foods -- and hold the triple mochas before running.

2. Eat something soothing before exercise. "Some people eat a yogurt before a run and don't experience any problems, while the next person may eat yogurt and experience the worst heartburn ever," says O'Brien. "Experiment with foods to see if one thing aggravates it more than another." Good places to start? A banana, yogurt, small bowl of whole-grain cereal or toast.

3. Eat two to three hours before working out. Play with how long before you exercise to eat your light snack -- a half-hour, hour, 2 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 workout. Certain kinds of exercise may trigger heartburn for some people more than others. Experiment to see whether certain workouts trigger heartburn more or less for you. Maybe you can take an indoor cycling class or go hiking 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 baking soda. Taking something for symptoms wouldn't hurt, says O'Brien. Several natural remedies exist, although they only provide temporary relief. Baking soda added to water can help neutralize and wash away stomach acids. Because baking soda may add more salt to your diet, it's best to speak to your doctor first before trying this remedy.

6. Try over-the-counter relief. In your local pharmacy, look for an antacid with calcium -- that's the ingredient that neutralizes stomach acid. "Chewing a Tums or taking a calcium-based antacid is very safe, so it would be worth a try," says O'Brien. Although these are fast-acting, symptom-relief antacids, it can't hurt to try one as a preventive measure before exercise.

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." She advises at least having a light snack -- a banana would be perfect fuel for exercise -- unless you're going for a 20-mile run.

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