You know that sleepy feeling after a big lunch? Christmas day afternoon siestas are a real thing. For some people, food fatigue experienced more frequently depending on the food you eat, how much you eat and the way your body processes it. For quite awhile now, scientists have been interested in the link between what we eat and sleep. Our gut is a huge organ of which more is being discovered about as more research goes into it. So why do we feel sleepy after a big meal, and what foods will make you the most drowsy?
The most research on the link between food and sleep has been done on the portion of food you eat. The more food you consume in one sitting, the more work your gut has to do to digest and process it through your body. Digestion requires more blood to be shunted to the stomach and digestive tract to transport away the newly digested metabolites to be absorbed in your body. As extra blood is shunted to your digestive tract, this means that there is less blood circulating through the rest of your body. This is the main theory behind waiting 30mins after you eat before you exercise, so your stomach has a chance to do some digesting. So, less blood around the rest of your body may leave you feeling a bit light headed, wanting to lie down and feeling a bit sleepy.
An Imbalance of Nutrients
It isn’t just the size of your meal that can cause food fatigue, what you have eaten can also contribute to the after food drop off. Foods that are heavy in either fats or carbohydrates and not balanced with protein and other nutrients are known to cause this drop in energy. The higher the glycemic index, the more your blood sugar levels are going to quickly rise and then quickly fall. Insulin is released to bring your blood sugar levels back down, the greater the spike in blood sugar level, the greater the amount of food fatigue you will feel. As your levels of insulin increase, it sends a signal to your brain to produce more serotonin and melatonin which are neurochemicals that can also make you feel drowsy.
There are foods that are naturally high in the neurochemicals that cause food fatigue. Having an idea of what they are can help you to use food to your advantage. If you have trouble sleeping, you could use these foods to help you wind down at night! Here are a few:
- Cherries. Cherries are naturally high in melatonin… so that’s why you feel sleepy after your Aussie Christmas lunch!
- Turkey. Another culprit for the Christmas afternoon nap, turkey is high in tryptophan which is used to make serotonin and melatonin. Eat turkey with a carbohydrate like potato and tryptophan is more easily transported to the brain. Milk, cottage cheese, bananas, tofu, eggs, soybeans and sesame seeds are all high in tryptophan too.
- Processed and Fatty foods. These foods take a lot to digest, and our bodies struggle in the process. We often don’t eat these foods with other nutritionally dense foods so your gut doesn’t have fibre to help with the digestion process. Our bodies need a lot of energy to digest these foods, which means you don’t have much left over energy for the rest of the day.
- Bread. Simple carbohydrates like bread, white rice, pasta and sweets have a high glycemic index and will raise your blood sugar levels pretty quickly.
- Dark Chocolate. Dark chocolate contains serotonin in it which helps you to relax.
How to Avoid Food Fatigue
Food fatigue is ok on Christmas after lunch, but it’s not very helpful day to day. The few hours after lunch can typically be quite unproductive as everybody’s gut is busy digesting all their lunch. No-one likes a post lunch meeting or teaching the first period after lunch for this very reason! Having a good look at what your lunch includes can really help you to keep your energy lifted and your productivity high.
- Make sure you have a balance of food. Carbohydrates are fine, but make sure you balance it out with fruit, vegetables, fats and protein.
- Swap out your high GI-white breads or rice, with low-GI wholegrains. Wholemeal bread, brown rice, other grains such as quinoa will do the trick.
- Enjoy your sweet desserts after a balanced meal so that your blood sugar level won’t spike as high.
- Watch your portion size. Know what is a good portion for you and avoid over eating.
- Go for a short walk after your lunch has settled to help get your blood pumping and promote better blood sugar control.
Maintaining a moderately active lifestyle will help your body stay digest food better and control your blood sugar levels better. Come and join us at AJ’s Sports Centre and let us help you maintain an active lifestyle today! Check out our 5-day free trial!