Why am I so tired after eating a big meal?
Most of us will have experienced 'food coma' over the Christmas holidays - that sleepy, sluggish feeling that leaves you slumped in front of Netflix or snoozing on the couch after a big meal. But why do we feel so tired after our holiday feast or Sunday roast?
Fat and calories
Postprandial somnolence, the term given to that sleepy feeling that hits us after a blowout meal, can really wipe out your motivation and send your energy levels crashing. It's more common during the holidays, because holiday meals often include dishes high in fat and calories. Whilst you're busy enjoying seconds, your body is directing blood to the digestive system (1) to help it cope, which has a knock-on effect on other parts of your body, slowing down even your brain. This 'rest and digest' (2) feeling affects us all!
Eating a big meal also leads to high levels of glucose in the blood (3) which triggers insulin release, absorbing all the amino acids in your body with the exception of trytophan (4), the amino acid which helps induce sleep. These glucose spikes can also 'switch off' brain neurons which are responsible for keeping us energised, switching on those neurons responsible for promoting snoozing!
Avoiding food coma
Napping after your holiday meal - or that Sunday roast - may feel great, but what if you want to avoid sleeping the whole day away? These tips should help:
Start your day the right way
You don't want to overeat later, so start your morning with plenty of protein for breakfast. We love poached or scrambled eggs, omelette or Greek yoghurt with fruit. You could try breaking down your massive meal later into two smaller meals a few hours apart, to prevent overloading your digestive system.
Cut your carbs
Get some exercise
Moving can kick-start your digestion, and burn calories as an added bonus, so get up off the couch, wrap up warm and go for a walk around your neighbourhood, or kick a ball about in the garden with the kids. If all else fails, get stuck in and offer to do the washing up.
Fight off the afternoon slump
It might be that you're a victim of the 3pm slump - even if you haven't eaten a huge meal at lunchtime. That doesn't seem fair; what can you do to boost your flagging energy levels?
Avoid fast food
Eating fast food or high fat options for lunch means you're consuming loads of fat, salt, sugar, preservatives and flavour enhancers like MSG. These foods fill you up with empty calories and give you a fast energy boost that leads to a crash shortly afterwards. Instead of reaching for fast food, eat a light, healthy lunch that's high in protein and complex carbs.
Make veggies the main attraction
A lunch where veggies are the star of the show is a great choice. A salad or sandwich loaded with fresh vegetables not only helps you to get your five a day, it also provides your body with essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Include some complex carbs such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, brown bread or whole-wheat crackers and lean protein such as tuna, chicken breast, egg, tofu or chickpeas.
Eat smaller portions
A mid-morning snack, smaller lunch and mid-afternoon snack helps you to feel more energetic as your body isn't working so hard to digest a huge meal. Just make sure the snacks you choose are healthy - try an apple with a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter, some crackers with low-fat cheese, a piece of fruit or some nuts.
Don't dunk that doughnut
It might be tempting to dip into the office doughnuts or treat yourself to a traybake, but processed baked goods like cakes, muffins and even croissants can all lead to an energy slump, thanks to their high sugar and flour content which leaves you feeling drowsy. Always opt for unprocessed, wholegrain options rather than refined, processed foods.
A few small changes to the way you eat can keep your energy levels topped up, making it easier to resist the urge to snooze the day away. Give it a go and see how much more energetic you feel this January!
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