Swellness Blog


Tips to Avoid Feeling Sluggish

wellness Nov 27, 2023
tips to avoid feeling sluggish

Photo by Marcus Aurelius

Eating fuels your body and provides energy, but sometimes you find yourself yawning and battling the overwhelming urge to nap. Post-meal fatigue is more common than you might think, often leaving you sluggish and drained. However, you have several ways to tackle this slump and maintain your energy levels throughout the day.

What Is Post-Meal Fatigue?

Postprandial somnolence, commonly known as post-meal fatigue or food-induced sleepiness, refers to the tiredness or drowsiness some people experience after eating a meal. It's a common phenomenon that causes individuals to feel a sudden drop in energy levels, often accompanied by a strong desire to rest or take a nap shortly after finishing a meal.

Why Does It Happen?

Several factors contribute to post-meal sluggishness, including the type and size of the meal, the individual’s metabolism and specific food components. A large intake of high-carbohydrate or high-fat meals, for instance, can trigger more intense tiredness. Foods with a high sugar content can also lead to a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels, facilitating lethargy.

The body’s digestive process requires energy, and after a meal, blood flow increases in the digestive system to aid digestion and nutrient absorption. This shift in blood flow away from other areas of the body can add to the feeling of fatigue. Additionally, certain amino acids in food, such as tryptophan, may play a role in producing serotonin — a neurotransmitter that can induce sensations of relaxation and sleepiness.

Post-meal tiredness isn't necessarily a cause for concern unless it's significantly impacting your daily activities or if other symptoms consistently accompany it. Making simple dietary changes can often alleviate this fatigue. It’s always a good idea to consult a health care professional if you experience persistent or severe fatigue after eating.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

What Foods Cause Tiredness?

Certain foods can contribute to tiredness due to their impact on blood sugar levels, digestion and overall energy production. Here are some foods that may result in sluggishness:

  • Highly processed foods: Processed foods high in refined sugars and unhealthy fats can cause a quick spike in blood sugar levels followed by a rapid crash, leading to fatigue.
  • Simple carbohydrates: Foods like white bread, pastries and sugary snacks can cause a rapid increase in blood sugar, followed by a subsequent energy slump.
  • High-sugar foods: Candies, chocolates, sugary sodas and desserts can give a short burst of energy but are often followed by a crash, making you more tired than before. Foods containing high-fructose corn syrup and other added sugars are common culprits of this phenomenon.
  • Heavy, fatty meals: Large, high-fat meals — especially those high in saturated fats — can require more energy for digestion, leading to drowsiness.
  • Large meals: Overeating or consuming excessively large meals can divert more energy to the digestive system, causing tiredness.
  • Certain allergies or food intolerances: For those with specific food allergies or intolerances, consuming these foods may cause fatigue or a feeling of unwellness due to the body’s reaction.

How to Avoid Feeling Sluggish

Keeping your energy levels topped up is essential for productivity and focus. Here are some practical tips to help you steer clear of exhaustion after eating:

  1. Pay Attention to Mindful Portions

Overeating can lead to that dreaded sluggishness. Focus on mindful eating by paying attention to your portion sizes. Consuming smaller, more frequent meals across the hours rather than large, heavy ones can help you avoid the after-meal energy crash.

  1. Focus on Balanced Meals

Ensure your meals have a healthy balance of macronutrients — proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Protein provides long-lasting energy, carbohydrates offer a quick energy boost and healthy fats aid nutrient absorption. Choose whole foods, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains to sustain your energy levels.

  1. Remember to Hydrate

Sometimes, fatigue after eating is a sign of dehydration. Make it a habit to drink water before, during and after meals. Staying hydrated helps digestion and prevents that lethargy. Carry a water bottle with you to remind yourself to take sips throughout the day. While it’s typically recommended to drink at least eight glasses daily, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine suggests 2.7 liters for women and 3.7 liters for men daily.

If you’re not a fan of the taste of water, you can add a few squeezes of lemon, some orange slices or a sprig of fresh mint.

  1. Prioritize Movement

Instead of surrendering to the post-meal lull, consider taking a short walk. More than 60% of US adults are not getting enough physical activity in their day, so make it a habit to take a stroll after a big meal. Movement aids in digestion and helps wake up your body, preventing that overwhelming desire to doze off. Physical activity also provides many benefits like stimulating creativity, relieving stress and fostering social connections.

  1. Chew Your Food Thoroughly

Digestion begins in the mouth, and the more thoroughly you chew your food, the easier it is for your body to process it. Properly chewing your food can promote smoother digestion and prevent the sensation of heaviness and fatigue.

  1. Get Adequate Sleep

Sometimes, being tired after eating is a signal that your body needs more rest overall. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep to support your body’s energy requirements. Most adults require at least 7 hours of good-quality sleep to avoid feeling groggy and unfocused.

  1. Eat Foods That Energize You

Many foods can provide sustained energy due to their nutrient content and ability to regulate blood sugar levels. Here are some foods that can boost your energy:

  • Complex carbs: Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats and whole wheat pasta provide a steady release of energy.
  • Fruits: Fresh fruits like bananas, apples, berries and oranges contain natural sugars and fiber, offering a quick energy boost without causing a rapid blood sugar crash.
  • Lean proteins: Foods like chicken, turkey, fish, tofu and legumes provide essential amino acids and can help maintain your energy levels.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds are rich in healthy fats and fiber, offering a sustained energy source. Nuts and seeds are also a great vegan protein source, covering all the essential macronutrients.
  • Leafy greens: Vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli are packed with nutrients like iron and folate, supporting energy production.
  • Greek yogurt: High in protein and probiotics, Greek yogurt can provide a steady release of energy and support digestion.
  • Eggs: A great source of protein, B vitamins and healthy fats, eggs provide lasting energy.
  • Oily fish: Salmon, mackerel and sardines contain omega-3 fatty acids, which promote brain health and energy production.
  • Green tea: Besides containing caffeine, green tea includes antioxidants and other compounds that can provide a more stable and sustained energy boost compared to coffee.
  1. Rest After Eating

If you’re tired after eating, it might be an indicator that you need to slow down. Take the time to rest and digest, even just for a short while. However, avoid lying down right after a meal, which can make you feel even more tired. Find a comfortable sitting position that promotes relaxation without inducing sleepiness.

  1. Limit Sugar and Refined Carbs

As previously mentioned, foods high in sugar and refined carbs cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels followed by a sharp decline, leaving you tired. Swap out these items for complex carbs, which provide a steadier release of energy.

    10. Consider Food Sensitivities

Certain food intolerances or sensitivities might be the culprit behind these sluggish feelings. Keep a food diary and note how you feel after consuming different foods. Tracking this can help you identify any patterns and pinpoint potential triggers. If this issue persists, it’s best to get tested.

Fight the Slump

Adding these habits into your routine can help combat the post-meal exhaustion and keep you more vibrant and alert. Keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, so it might take trial and error to find the perfect balance that works for you. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.

With a few simple lifestyle tweaks, you can bid farewell to sluggishness after a meal and embrace a more energetic, productive day.