We all joke about suffering from a “food coma” after a big meal, but did you ever stop to think about why that happens? To a degree, it is a natural consequence, but it can easily spiral out of control. For example, you don’t want to go out for a business lunch then find yourself drowsy for the rest of the workday. In addition, if this is happening often, it may be an indicator of other health issues or an imbalanced diet. Here’s the process behind this phenomenon and what you can do to cut down on unnecessary fatigue after eating.
How We Eat
To understand why eating makes us feel tired, we need to understand what happens when food enters the body in the first place. There are tons of different “micronutrients” we need for the body to function, but when it comes to “macronutrients” for energy, there are three to consider: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Each of these is broken down into other components to power various bodily processes. However, it’s carbohydrates that we specifically want to focus on here, because these end up as sugar, specifically glucose, fructose and galactose.
When the body is turning carbs into sugar, there are several other biological processes that take place. For example, while it waits to be burned off from physical activity, glucose sits in the bloodstream. This leads to heightened levels of blood sugar,1 and when blood sugar levels are heightened, insulin is secreted by the pancreas. Along with the release of insulin, the body produces hormones like serotonin and melatonin. Together, these increase drowsiness. In addition, the act of digestion requires energy. Some estimate that the digestive process can take up to 80% of our spare energy!
As a rule of thumb, lean proteins and fiber-rich foods are your friends if you are looking to power through your day at 100%. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water as well. Even if you are eating right, fatigue is one of the first signs of dehydration.
As hard as we try to eat balanced meals, you can always use a little help. A good way to fill in essential nutritional gaps and support a good diet is with a multi-vitamin, like Enzymedica’s Enzyme Nutrition™ Multi-Vitamin Two Daily. This combines enzymes and nutrients for energy and immune support.
We are still unraveling the relationship between sleep and diet. In fact, one recent study showed that on top of certain meals making us tired, the reverse may apply. One study showed that sleep loss can lead to certain areas in the brain firing up at the sight of food – even if the body doesn’t necessarily need it.5 As a result, while you don’t want to doze off from your meals, be sure you are making time for regular sleep. Your body will thank you.
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- Thayer RE. Energy, tiredness, and tension effects of a sugar snack versus moderate exercise. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1987;52(1):119-25.
- Tiinamaija Tuomi et al., Increased melatonin signaling is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, Cell Metabolism, doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2016.04.009
- Hu FB. Are refined carbohydrates worse than saturated fat?. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(6):1541-2.
- Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, Mchugh MP, Ellis J. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2012;51(8):909-16.
- Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nat Commun. 2013;4:2259.