The uninformed turkey-and-snooze consumer might tell you that the bird contains exorbitant amounts of the amino acid tryptophan which — like the garden-variety stories from outlets other than The Post — can make one feel sleepy.
Does turkey make you tired?
But you don’t actually gobble up that much tryptophan — which helps create the sleep hormone melatonin — solely in turkey, explains biochemist Doug Young of William & Mary, who debunked “the big myth” about bird-eating.
“Turkey, when it comes to tryptophan content, is pretty much in the middle scale of things. There are vegetables that have more tryptophan than turkey does,” he said.
What’s in turkey that makes you sleepy?
Instead, Young says what causes people to conk out like a Plymouth Rock is a matter of volume and the carbs consumed.
“So once you eat a big starchy meal, with potatoes and lots of the other good foods that come with Thanksgiving, then oftentimes you spike that blood glucose level,” he said.
The internal imbalance prompts the body to course-correct. “Your body responds … but then, it over-responds. Consequently, you dip down from that glucose spike, and that’s when you feel the fatigue and enter into the ‘food coma.’”
Carbs and sugary delights — traditional holiday favorites — are also a streamline for tryptophan to reach the brain.
|Food with tons of Tryptophan, according to Texas Medical Center||Milligrams|
|Whole Milk (per quart)||732|
|2% Milk (per quart)||551|
|Canned Tuna (per ounce)||472|
|Turkey, Skinless, Boneless, Light Meat (per pound, raw)||410|
|Chicken, Skinless, Boneless, Light Meat (per pound, raw)||238|
|Oats for Oatmeal (per cup)||147|
Usually, the brain will intake other amino acids instead of the sleeper agent, but it’s often overpowered in this case, according to Mady Hornig, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia School of Public Health.
“When you raid the refrigerator for the extra piece of pie, you get an insulin spike,” she said. “That suppresses the blood levels of all the other large neutral amino acids except for tryptophan.”
Perhaps the misnomer about turkey has more to do with the copious amounts of it consumed more so than the common feral Staten Island residents’ chemical composition.
“During Thanksgiving, people eat 300 to 400 grams of protein without hesitation,” Nicolaas Deutz, a nutrition expert and director of Texas A&M’s Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity, said.
“That’s a huge amount of tryptophan and way higher than what people normally consume, so the body has to deal with that,” Deutz added, doubling down on the role carbs play here.
How do you combat fatigue after Thanksgiving dinner?
Since eating less is likely out of the question, here are some alternative measures that might keep you conscious for a long day ahead.
Leaning into fresh and healthy foods on your plate like eggs, oats, watermelon, almonds, kale, spinach and bananas can help keep energy high, per Medical News Today. A 2017 research paper showed that “are a cost-effective energy source” when examined studied on endurance athletes — and the same could hold true for endurance eaters.
At the same time, dinner guests should go light on carby dishes, sugary desserts and alcoholic beverages, all of which contain energy-sapping ingredients that will decidedly hamper efforts to make it to the holiday’s finish line.
Tessa Wellmon, a registered dietician with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, also passed along a few pro tips to help Thanksgiving revelers stay awake long into the evening — first stressing the importance of eating slowly so your body has time to realize it’s too full for more food.
Wellmon also advises going on a walk after the meal which “can help with your digestion” and boost energy levels.