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Running and Acid Reflux: Does Running Trigger Heartburn ?

a man is running in the nature. Running trigger acid reflux

The short answer to the question – ( does running trigger acid reflux?) asked in the title – is,  “Yes, unfortunately, running can increase the risk of having acid reflux, aka heartburn.

Even people who normally don’t suffer from acid reflux may experience heartburn during running (1). However, those who frequently or occasionally experience acid reflux are more likely to get heartburn during or after running.

So, if you often experience heartburn while running, then you should know it is not a coincidence. Running is a potential heartburn trigger.

We are told thousands of times that doing exercise is essential for having a healthy and happy life. You therefore may want to ask  “Hey, is running supposed to improve my health instead of harming my body by triggering heartburn?”

Well, before we dive into the further details of how and why running can trigger heartburn in people with acid reflux; we should briefly talk about what acid reflux (GERD) is.

Because unless we understand acid reflux disease properly, we won’t comprehend the relationship between running and increased risk of acid reflux.

Acid Reflux & GERD

Acid reflux is a burning feeling that occurs when stomach acid or contents travel up towards the throat (2). Due to this burning feeling in the lower chest area, it is also called heartburn. In fact, heartburn is one of the many symptoms of acid reflux. There are also other symptoms like nausea or coughing.

Normally, the lower esophagal sphincter (LES), the valve-like muscle at the lower end of the food pipe, prevents stomach contents to flow back into the food pipe (3).

However, in people with acid reflux, this valve-like muscle (LES) sometimes doesn’t close tightly. As a result of this, stomach acid flows back up into the food pipe, leading to a burning feeling (4).

If acid reflux occurs more than twice a week, it is called GERD in medicine, which stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease (5).

 

Running and Acid Reflux?

Now that, we have understood what acid reflux/heartburn/GERD is, we can focus on the relationship between running and acid reflux.

Before beginning to investigate why and how running trigger acid reflux, it is important to underline the fact that not only running but also other high-intensity exercises can bring on heartburn. In general, it is called exercise-induced heartburn.

In one study; researchers discovered that strenuous exercises including running, cycling and weightlifting induced acid reflux and related symptoms in conditioned athletes. Amongst them, weightlifters experienced the most severe heartburn (6).

 

What Causes Heartburn While or After Running?

We have said that running can trigger heartburn. But, we haven’t explained how? Here is the explanation.

While doing exercise – depending on what type of, but including running – abdominal pressure increases significantly. And, the increased abdominal pressure in turn can prevent the LES muscle from closing tightly (7), (8).

( As mentioned above; LES is the valve-like muscle that prevents stomach contents to flow back into the food pipe).

When the LES gets relaxed due to the abdominal pressure caused by running, stomach acid can travel back to the food pipe, leading to heartburn during or after running (8).

It bears repeating, not only running but also all other exercises, which increase abdominal pressure such as jumping rope or weightlifting, can trigger acid reflux (7), (9).

In fact, we can compare this situation to pregnancy and obesity. Here is how…

Pregnant women tend to experience acid reflux as the growing baby generates abdominal pressure, forcing the stomach contents towards the throat (10).

Obese or overweight people, too, have a high risk of experiencing heartburn due to excess belly fat that generates pressure on the abdomen (11),(12).

Summary; during running the pressure on the abdomen increases. And that excess pressure can cause the LES muscle to loosen. Needless to say, when the muscle becomes loosened, it allows stomach content to up, causing heartburn.

 

Other Factors Contributing to Acid Reflux While Running

As the nature of the sport, running increases the pressure on the abdomen, thus increasing the risk of having heartburn. However, there are also other factors that lead to heartburn while running. Their role shouldn’t be underestimated. Let’s touch on these contributing factors.

 

1- Intensity

Studies show that performing intense exercise can cause heartburn even in healthy adults, meaning those who don’t have acid reflux otherwise (13). And, running is, in general, considered a high-intensity exercise (9).

If you sprint or run at a slightly fast pace then you can experience heartburn. That simply indicates that your chance of having acid reflux during or after running also depends on the intensity of your run.

 

2- Diet 

Many runners get heartburn during or after running not because of the impact of the exercise but because of the food choices they make before the run. So, it is safe to say what you eat before running can sometimes be the main culprit.

It is also important to note that sometimes the main reason for having heartburn during running is not what you have eaten before running but rather when you have eaten before running.

So, what are these foods that you may want to avoid eating before running to prevent yourself from getting heartburn? According to the American Gastroenterological Association; the following foods can cause acid reflux (14):

  • Fried or fatty foods
  • Chocolate.
  • Coffee (including decaf).
  • Carbonated drinks.
  • Tomato and Tomato Products
  • Citrus fruits or juices.
  • Peppermint.

Consumption of these particular foods 2 to 3 hours before running may give you heartburn while or after running. Moreover, running on a full stomach ( regardless of what you have eaten) can also bring on acid reflux while running.

 

3- Wearing Tight Clothes

Another potential culprit many runners fail to notice is tight clothes. Wearing tight clothes that put pressure on your abdomen, can increase the abdominal pressure, leading stomach content to escape upward while running (15).

As mentioned above, running itself already puts pressure on the abdomen. Wearing tight-fitting running clothes can add to the pressure on the abdomen, increasing the risk of getting heartburn while running (16).

 

4- Energy/Sports Drinks 

If you have a habit of having an energy drink during or right after running, then you should know it can lead to acid reflux.

Studies and medical experts suggest that; energy drinks, owing to their high amount of caffeine and sugar, may lead to acid reflux during and after running (17), (18), (19).

 

Should You Stop Running As it Causes Heartburn? 

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, doing exercise is necessary to attain a healthy and happy life. In our case, running provides a variety of health benefits. Therefore, giving up running or other healthy exercises due to the risk of acid reflux, thereby converting to a sedentary life can be a huge mistake.

If you always experience heartburn while running, then it is best for you to talk to your health care provider. In the meantime, we have compiled a couple of effective heartburn prevention methods while running. Let’s look at them…

 

How do you Prevent Heartburn While Running?

If you often suffer from acid reflux while running you should know there are things to do to avoid heartburn. We have compiled 8 prevention methods that can minimise the risk of having heartburn while running.

1-) If you running vigorously, consider decreasing your pace. Because, as mentioned above, the faster you run the more chance you have of getting acid reflux. So, if you tend to get acid reflux while running then consider jogging instead. That can reduce the pressure on the abdomen, thus lowering heartburn risk.

2-) According to Livestrong.com; being able to relax abdominal muscles while running can decrease abdominal pressure and therefore help prevent heartburn. So, try to keep your abdominal muscles as relaxed as you can while running.

3-) You should know eating big meals before exercise sets the stage for acid reflux. So, the solution is simple to avoid big meals before running. 

4-) According to WebMD; doing exercise within two hours of eating can lead to heartburn (20). So, make sure you have eaten 2-3 hours prior to running.

5-) As mentioned; tight running clothes increases the pressure on the abdomen. So, opt for running clothes that are easy on your abdomen. 

6-) According to Jeffrey Fine, MD; exercising on an empty stomach as well can cause heartburn (21). So, make sure you have something in your stomach while running.  

7-) It bears repeating some particular foods can increase the risk of acid reflux, even when you don’t exercise. So avoiding them before running should be a good idea. Let’s indicate these potential heartburn-trigger foods once again;

  • Fried or fatty foods
  • Chocolate.
  • Coffee (including decaf).
  • Carbonated drinks.
  • Tomatoes and Tomato Products
  • Citrus fruits or juices.
  • Peppermint.

8- ) According to Ivana Chapman (Nutrition coach ); eating too fast may trigger acid reflux symptoms (7). So, chew thoroughly and eat slowly to prevent heartburn while running. 

 

If Running Triggers Reflux, What Exercise Can You Do Alternatively?

You have done everything to avoid running-induced heartburn, but nothing has worked out and you kept having acid reflux while running.

In this case, you may want to choose more moderate and lower impact exercise, at least for a while.

So, what are these exercises that are least likely to trigger heartburn?

Here are some of them. According to Healthline, the following exercises might be more suitable for you if you have acid reflux (9) :