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Burning Calories Without The Heartburn...

Imran Ali MD, MS

Posted by Imran_Ali - March 15th, 2013

Millions worldwide know the feeling, when you get that burning sensation in your chest that slows you down. Gastric reflux or better known as heart burn is a very common problem and some studies show that working out can make it worse if you don’t follow common sense tips. Well first off, what exactly is heartburn? It is caused by gastric acid refluxing back up into the esophagus or food pipe. The inner lining of the stomach is designed to handle the very low pH of gastric acid, not the esophagus.  That is why you feel that sharp pain that comes from the acid irritating the lining of the esophagus. Now acid reflux may be common but it is more likely in people who have a loose LES (lower esophageal sphincter) that normally only opens to allow food into the stomach like a one way street. This sphincter muscle can become relaxed and not act as a good barrier for the esophagus from powerful gastric acid.


New studies have shown that during intense workouts, the LES may be stretched or manipulated in such a way to make it less effective from keeping acid at bay. Certain types of workouts where you are lying flat on the ground like crunches can cause acid flare-ups, but this is most common with those who have a large meal before working out. One position for sure is shown to cause an increase in gastric reflux no matter how little you had to eat. Lying on your belly on the ground doing back extensions increases the intra-abdominal pressure which pushes acid upward. This was found in a study done at the University of Hawaii on surfers who showed higher risks for acid reflux. This was shown to be more for those who were short board surfers.


But the main culprit behind feeling heartburn during an intense workout is usually what you put into your stomach beforehand. The American Gastroenterological Association notes the main triggers of heartburn in general as being alcohol, carbonated drinks, acidic or spicy food, and even chocolate and coffee. Everybody’s different and what may cause heartburn in one may be alright for another. The best snacks to try before a workout are whole grain cereal, yogurt, or a banana. Eating these light foods at least 1 hour before your workout will pack enough energy for a pre-workout meal without the risk of major heartburn.

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All this talk of exercise-induced heartburn shouldn’t make you think of not working out because studies have actually shown that keeping up fitness actually reduces the amount of heartburn episodes you might have in the future. Obesity and being out of shape just makes gastric reflux disease even worse. Dr. HP Peters of the University Medical Center in the Netherlands with the help of his team found that exercise affects gastrointestinal health by increasing neuroendocrine factors. Exercise can really make a difference if done properly for gastric reflux disease. Sometimes people complain of increases in reflux after a long run. In this case substituting bicycling can give you the same aerobic effect as running without the gastric reflux as researchers from Wake Forrest Medical School found.


The one thing you should never ignore is a pain that you might get in your chest that radiates to your arm or jaw when you are doing some heavy lifting. This can be angina or pain of the heart not receiving enough oxygen not just simple heartburn. Your doctor will do a stress test to see if this really could be the case.


Overall, dealing with heartburn can be easy and it should not ruin your workout routines found here at Scott Herman Fitness.  Just use some common sense about what you eat before training and know which exercise positions work best.

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