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Acid Reflux

Why Do Athletes Experience GERD More?

Jul 27, 2017

Up to 81% of distance runners experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and they’re not alone. At its 15th annual Health & Fitness Summit, the American College of Sports Medicine warned that many athletes are at a heightened risk of GERD and similar gastrointestinal problems. In fact, the leading sports body noted that gut problems are one of the most common medical complaints made by today’s athletes.

So why are otherwise healthy fitness-minded individuals struggling with acid reflux?

The Root of the Problem

In a report published in the Sports Medicine journal, researchers explored the “marked increase” of GERD and how exercise is one of the common factors that doctors know exacerbate GERD symptoms.

According to the researchers, GERD is more common among athletes because:

  • Exercise may reduce blood circulation to your digestive system as your body pumps blood to your muscles and limbs instead.
  • Working out may change hormone levels that may influence your digestive system.
  • Some exercise positions place your body in a constrained position, which can squeeze and change how your stomach, esophagus and muscles work together while also changing the pressure in your abdomen.

In the same medical journal’s report, researchers say that the longer and more intense your exercise session, the greater are your chances of experiencing a GERD session. When that happens, you’ll feel the unmistakable symptoms of acid reflux:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A sour taste in your mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing

Not only are GERD symptoms painful and annoying, but they can also hamper your workout and reduce your exercise performance as you struggle through the acid reflux.

The American College of Sports Medicine also warns that “untreated GERD may…also pose other health risks to athletes.” This includes trouble breathing, anemia and gastrointestinal bleeding.

Don’t let GERD ruin your time in the gym. Smart workout strategies and careful planning can help you to ease GERD symptoms and reduce your risks of experiencing GERD when exercising.

Six Best Ways to Avoid Exercise-Induced GERD

Check your timing.

Avoid exercising within three hours of eating a big meal. Your pre-workout food matters too. The National Heartburn Alliance recommends fueling up with a high-carb, low-fat, low-protein, non-spicy meal.

Go to the bathroom and do a bowel movement.

This clears out your digestive system before working out.

Stay hydrated.

Sip 10 ounces of fluids every 20 minutes while in the gym. Hydration keeps your digestive system humming properly. However, avoid sugary sports drinks and caffeinated pre-workout mixes. Sugar and caffeine can make GERD symptoms worse.

Reduce the intensity of your exercise.

For example, if you enjoy intense aerobics, try water aerobics instead. Watch to see if GERD flares up. If not, slowly increase the intensity of your exercise.

Be aware of your workout posture.

Avoid exercises and postures that bend or compress your abdomen, such as some yoga moves or forward-leaning cycling. The National Heartburn Alliance also recommends avoiding exercises that bounce you up and down.

Don’t stop exercising.

Uncomfortable GERD symptoms may discourage you from working out, but exercise brings many general health benefits that can improve your overall condition.

Exercise also helps guard against weight gain, which is known to exacerbate GERD.

Don’t let acid reflux discourage you from using the gym. Instead, follow the above smart strategies to find ways to maintain your level of physical activity as best as you can. Over the long term, this can help you to better manage your symptoms.

Josh Duvauchelle
Josh is a certified fitness expert and life coach with a nutrition certificate from Cornell. He loves to empower people with the tools they need to look and feel their best physically, spiritually and emotionally.