We all know the ‘food coma’ feeling that hits after scarfing down a ginormous meal. But even if you’re not diving into a meal of massive proportions, there are some foods that definitely leave you with way less energy than you had before eating. Here, learn about the most common energy-draining foods and drinks—and how to adjust your grub to avoid that post-nosh slump.
1. White Bread + Pasta
While carbs are absolutely delish, they’re one of the biggest culprits of food coma. That’s because refined carbs (found in white bread and pasta) are more easily absorbed by your digestive system than whole grains, explains Meg Hagar, R.D., founder of No Diet Nutrition in New York City. What that means: Your blood sugar spikes, giving you an energy boost after eating—followed by a rapid crash When your blood sugar rises quickly, your body churns out the hormone insulin to bring it down ASAP—so the lower your blood sugar, the more pooped you’ll feel.
What you can do: Swap the white stuff for whole-wheat pasta or bread, which are higher in fiber. Fiber helps slow down digestion, keeping your blood sugar—and your energy—more stable.
You can also try pairing bread or pasta with protein and healthy fats to slow down the energy-zapping effects of a high-carb meal. “When you eat carbs at the same time as protein and healthy fats, that’s the trifecta,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N. Like fiber, protein and healthy fats help keep your blood sugar levels steady. So, next time you make pasta, try mixing in chicken (for protein) and olive oil or avocado (for healthy fats).
2. Candy Bars + Soda
Sometimes that afternoon trip to the vending machine is unavoidable. But you may want to pass on buying anything too sweet. Sugar is a type of refined carb, so candy or soda will have the same effect on your bod as white bread or a bagel, says Stephanie McKercher, R.D.N., of The Grateful Grazer. We meet again, sugar crash!
What you can do: Unlike carbs—which definitely have a place in your diet, as long as they’re of the whole-grain variety—sugar is not as beloved by nutritionists. And considering research published in JAMA Internal Medicine identified a significant relationship between eating added sugar and increased risk for heart disease, it’s no wonder why. If you’re a sucker for soda, try swapping your usual can for sparkling water or fruit-infused H2O, McKercher says. (If you haven’t hopped on the La Croix bandwagon, now is your time!).
3. High-Fat Foods
When it comes to fried food and fatty meats, it’s not just the food itself that makes you sleepy—it’s the amount you’re eating, says McKercher. Think about it: When you have a juicy burger and a pile of French fries in front of you, are you really going to stop yourself after just a few bites? (If so, kudos to you and your willpower of steel.)
In general, big portions make you feel sleepy because your body needs to focus on digesting it all, says Hagar. Plus, since fats are harder for your body to break down, having a large, fat-filled meal means double the exhaustion, adds Taub-Dix.
What you can do: It’s all about portion control for this one. In general, try to stick to three ounces of protein and the carb equivalent of two slices of bread in any one meal, says Taub-Dix. (Your individual portion needs may vary depending on whether you’re trying to lose, maintain, or gain weight and how much you exercise, but this is a good rule of thumb if you have trouble keeping portions in check when eating out.) The USDA recommends keeping vegetable oils (which are often used to fry food) to a tablespoon a day. What does that mean for your fries? Try to keep your portion to about the size of your fist, says Hagar.
4. Tart Cherries
This one may come as a bit of a surprise. But if you’re looking for something to snack or sip on, tart cherries (or tart cherry juice) may not be the most energy-friendly bet. Why? “Tart cherries are one of the few natural sources of melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycles,” says McKercher. Hence why tart cherry juice is actually used as a natural sleep aid. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that older adults with chronic insomnia who sipped eight ounces of tart cherry juice for two weeks slept spent less time lying awake in bed than participants who downed a placebo drink.
What you can do: Have trouble sleeping? Try drinking a glass of tart cherry juice about a half hour to 45 minutes before bed, says McKercher. Just don’t do it in the middle of the afternoon…
5. Decaf Green Tea + Chamomile Tea
You probably associate green tea with that a subtle, steady buzz—but that’s only if you drink the caffeinated stuff. Decaf green tea, though, may actually prep you for nap-time. The culprit: the amino acid L-theanine, which promotes relaxation and calm, McKercher says. Other teas like chamomile and peppermint (both of which are caffeine-free) also have soothing properties, and may be too snooze-friendly for midday sips, says Taub-Dix. Chamomile, in particular, has been used for centuries to calm nerves and support sleep, according to research published in Molecular Medicine Reports.
What you can do: People are affected differently by soothing teas—some can have a mug of chamomile at midday no problem, while others feel sloth-like afterward. That said, Taub-Dix does often suggest drinking a glass of chamomile or peppermint tea during the day to keep gas at bay and promote easy digestion. But if you find yourself getting sleepy after your mug, you may want to keep the herbal tea drinking to pre-bedtime—reaching for a caffeinated bag during working hours.
Keep this infographic handy for the next time you’re feeling inexplicably sluggish: