Was It the Turkey That Made You Tired After Thanksgiving?

I hear this over and over “I try to stay away from turkey as it makes me really tired”. The I ask, “So why do you think this happens?” My client wior the 2000 calorie meal?!!!  Many people believe that it is the turkey that makes you tired after your hearty Thanksgiving meal. I also have clients who avoid turkey sandwiches at lunch because they think it makes them tired in the afternoon. Hmm … I wonder if you ate your usual large portions of stuffing, mashed potato, sweet potato,  gravy,  cranberry sauce, several desserts, wine, etc.,  BUT avoided the turkey, if you would be less tired? I doubt it … I bet the couch would still be calling your name.

Why does turkey supposedly make you tired?
Turkey is often cited the culprit in the fatigue that can occur after a meal. This is because turkey contains L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid. L-tryptophan is used by the body for the production of serotonin,  a neurotransmitter that exerts a calm feeling and helps to regulate sleep. So in theory it would make sense that turkey might ultimately make you sleepy.

Here is the catch..
L-tryptophan really needs to be taken on an empty stomach to produce feelings of sleepinness. This is because there are other amino acids in turkey. They all compete with L-tryptophan to get into the brain. Because of the competition, L-tryptophan has a more difficult time getting into the brain to “do its thing.”  It is also interesting to note that other foods contain as much or more tryptophan than turkey (0.333 g of tryptophan per 100 gram edible portion), including chicken (0.292 g of tryptophan per 100 gram edible portion), pork, and cheese. These foods also contain other amino acids so they also don’t make you tired.

So what does make you tired after your Thanksgiving meal?
Fatigue likely occurs from overeating, alcohol and relaxing after a good meal.

If turkey doesn’t make you tired, what foods do?
It is actually a carbohydrate rich meal versus a protein rich meal that increases levels of L-tryptophan, which in turn leads to serotonin synthesis and fatigue. This is because carbohydrates (i.e. bread, pasta, potato, rice) stimulate the pancreas to secrete insulin. When this occurs, some amino acids that compete with tryptophan leave the bloodstream and enter muscle cells. This causes an increase in the relative concentration of tryptophan in the bloodstream. Serotonin is synthesized and you feel that familiar sleepy feeling. Check out this link for a more detailed explanation.

So does this mean I should avoid all carbs if I want to stay alert?
Not at all! Your body (including your brain) needs some carbs for energy production. Have you ever tried to do a long run at the end of a day without eating any carbs? You probably don’t feel like the energizer bunny. However I would not recommend consuming jumbo portion of carbs when you want peak energy levels,   especially if the carbs are processed and eaten alone without protein. For example, a large bowl of pasta with a few pieces of bread isn’t the best lunch choice. The chances are pretty good that you will feel an afternoon slump in energy levels. Check out this link for more energizing eating tips.


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