Eating a meal or snack is supposed to give you energy. But sometimes, the “food coma” comes on full blast. Instead of feeling energized, you feel tired and sluggish after eating.
Chances are you’ve heard the tryptophan theory—that’s the idea that you’ll need a nap after consuming certain foods (like turkey, typically at your Thanksgiving dinner), due to the amino acid they contain, which is later converted into serotonin and melatonin. However, experts have rebuked this theory in recent years, saying research hasn’t proven the connection.
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You’re Eating a Lot of Fat and Carbs
Giving into a craving for mac and cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich at lunchtime may not be the wisest choice if you want to ward off the need for a snooze. Additionally, if you eat big portions, it can take more energy to digest your meal, which leads to fatigue, Dr. Mandal says.
“Certain hormones like cholecystokinin can spike after these sorts of foods and cause sluggishness,” she explains. “These sorts of foods also promote more inflammation in the body and cause people to experience fatigue.”
Instead, opt for a healthy balance of good fats, complex carbohydrates, and protein at every meal, she says. Think a turkey sandwich with whole grain bread and a side salad with nuts and olive oil-based dressing, or a burrito or brown rice bowl with chicken, beans, and veggies. If you choose wisely, fast food can even deliver some not-bad options. Discover the healthiest fast-food options for men here.
Your Insulin Is High
After you eat, insulin—a hormone involved in regulating blood glucose—increases. When digestion is complete, insulin decreases, explains Dr. Mandal, which can cause fatigue. “This can have a more profound effect in people who have Type 2 diabetes,” she says. The highs can be higher than in people without diabetes, and the lows can be lower.
You can avoid exaggerated spikes and dips in blood sugar by making sure to eat every few hours and avoiding going long periods without eating. If you’re still having issues and you have diabetes, talk to your doctor before making any tweaks to your treatment plan.
You May Have an Underlying Health Condition
Feeling tired after you eat can sometimes signal that something more serious is going on, Dr. Mandal says. For instance, fatigue can be a mild symptom of celiac disease, a condition in which the body cannot process gluten. If this is the case, you may find you feel more energized once you make changes to eliminate gluten from your diet.
If you regularly find that you can’t shake your tiredness after eating despite any nutritional tweaks, talk to your doctor to try to rule out any medical conditions that could be triggering the tiredness.
Your Circadian Rhythm Is Off
Your circadian rhythm is the normal 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, Dr. Mandal says. In a typical circadian cycle, you experience a normal sleep phase at night. However, there is also a smaller sleep phase in the mid-afternoon, usually between 2 and 4 p.m. Eating lunch too late in the day may contribute to increased fatigue in the smaller sleep phase. If you’re tired all the time—not just after meals—check out these possible reasons and remedies.
Overall, there are a number of reasons you may feel sleepy after eating. Some of them can easily be remedied by adjusting your mealtime and nutritional habits. But if you suspect something deeper might be going on with regard to your overall health, talk to a doctor about it.
Emilia Benton is a Houston-based freelance writer and editor. In addition to Runner’s World, she has contributed health, fitness and wellness content to Women’s Health, SELF, Prevention, Healthline, and the Houston Chronicle, among other publications. She is also an 11-time marathoner, a USATF Level 1-certified running coach, and an avid traveler.