Feeling Fatigued from Meals? A Nutritionist Explains the Causes Why

Feeling sleepy after chowing down on a juicy burger and fries is expected. Same with a plate packed with Thanksgiving Day foods. But if you’re experiencing a food coma regularly— especially if you’re eating clean—you may be wondering what the cause could be.

Postprandial somnolence, the medical term for what is widely labeled as “a food coma” sets in post-meal and can cause symptoms such as drowsiness or sleepiness, low energy levels, and or lack of focus or concentration. Unfortunately, this can last for hours.

This can be especially frustrating during the work day after you consumed a healthy meal you brought from home. So, what gives?

Cara Clark, certified sports nutritionist, and integrative health practitioner is here to help you uncover the possible reasons you want to head straight to bed after eating.

What Causes Food Coma

Beyond consuming heavy, calorie-laden foods, Clark explains there are several reasons for sluggishness after a meal. “The first and most obvious is that until we process the energy from the food, we are using energy to digest and hopefully absorb nutrients. “However, the post-meal fatigue doesn’t last very long in this case,’ she says.

There are several other reasons for most meal fatigue:

  • Food intolerance or allergy
  • Imbalance of macros: carbs, fat, and protein
  • Insulin resistance
  • Indigestion
  • Circadian rhythm
  • Metabolic pathway issues
  • Low stomach acid

So how can you know which one of these reasons may be the cause? Starting with a food journal and documenting what you eat and how you feel after is the first step. “This is a very helpful tool to see if there are any particular foods or habits that continue to cause post-meal fatigue, I call these “trigger” foods. Once you know your trigger foods, you can eliminate them and see if your energy balances out better.


Can Certain Foods Make You Tired?

This is why keeping a food log is a good idea, Clark says. “If you have a food intolerance or a food that is causing inflammation to your body, this will leave you feeling less than optimal,’ explains Clark. “It’s not a bad idea to test or even try an elimination approach to see if there are improvements.”

Beyond food allergens, Clark explains certain foods can induce or contain more melatonin in our bodies, which is a sleep-time hormone that is released in the evenings.

Some of these foods include pistachios, milk, and tart cherries. “If you feel extra sleepy after these foods, maybe save them for the evening,” advises Clark.

How To Fight Food Coma

Because there are a handful of reasons you experience tiredness after you eat, Clark provides her top tips to not only help you get to the bottom of it but also provide your body with the support it needs for more energy production.

Include All Three Macros: Another important approach is to combine all three macros at a meal. I suggest 50% carbs, 25% protein, and 25% fat to produce a good energy outcome that will last for four hours.

Use Digestive Support:

If your fatigue is due to digestion, supplementing enzymes could be supportive.

Supplement with Vitamin B:

If there is just one meal that this is happening with throughout the day, an active b complex could be a huge help as well.

Feeling Slightly Relaxed Post-Meal is rmal:

Eating should activate the parasympathetic nervous system, so we can digest and rest, so there should be a slight shift in a more relaxed state.

Keep this in Mind During After Lunch:

In general, people have less energy in the afternoon due to the circadian rhythm, so we also can’t typically expect the same energy in the morning as we do after lunchtime.

Go On a Post-Meal Walk

We all know walking is good for the body and the mind, but it can also help with your daily food coma. “One way to protect and improve insulin levels is to take micro walks after every meal.” If possible, Clark suggests 5-10 minutes of walking after eating to promote better digestion and insulin sensitivity.

Clark also encourages a post-lunch nap for those who have that advantage. “There is nothing wrong with feeling relaxed after a meal temporarily and nothing wrong with a 20 min post-lunch nap,” says Clark.

“Our society is so productivity-driven that we don’t always manage our health needs very well.” With that, If you’re experiencing fatigue or sluggishness after every meal, Clark urges it may be time to have a professional intervene.

Final Thoughts

Feeling slightly relaxed post-meal and during the afternoon is normal. However, if you find the tiredness is extreme and happening more than once a day, starting with a food log should be the goal. Hiring a professional such as a registered dietitian or consulting with your doctor to get to the bottom of the issue will only offer you more support. And remember, a nap after lunch never hurt anyone!

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