Week five: Elephant legs and other maladies

Top view runner in yellow sportswear resting lying on a black as

In case you’re wondering about elephant legs, no, I’m not referring to big legs.  What I call elephant legs is when, during a workout, I feel tired, low energy and every limb feels incredibly heavy.  I just don’t have that pep in my step, and even after exercising for a few minutes the adrenaline rush just doesn’t happen.  For example, when I’m jogging and my legs feel as though they’ve been filled with cement, incredibly heavy to lift.  Every step takes intense concentration and willpower to continue.

Elephant legs happened to me recently.  It was a Thursday afternoon and, due to Daddy’s knee surgery on Monday, exercise time had not been easy to come by that week.  I was really looking forward to getting back into my jogging routine and allowing the exercise to clear my head.  Toby Dog and I started out at our normal brisk, walking, warm-up pace for about 1/10 of a mile before breaking out into a jog.  I knew right away I wasn’t up to my normal energy level but didn’t give it another thought at that point.  Usually after the first mile is gone the adrenaline and endorphins kick in and the runner’s high hits.  If you’ve ever experienced euphoria and high energy levels at the most intense part of a workout, that’s a runner’s high.  You feel like you can conquer the world.

The first mile went by.  My steps still thundered heavily to the ground.  I felt like I was in slow motion and trying to lift cement-filled legs.  Where was my energy boost?  Even Toby Dog was beginning to glance up at me quizzically from time to time as if to say, “Come on ma, what’s the problem?”

I wish I could say I finally got over the hump, the energy kicked in and I ran like the wind.  It didn’t happen.  Every step from finish to end was laborious and I had to talk myself through the entire run.  I even had to go to my mantra (and I haven’t had to do that in a long time!) which is to repeat over and over, “Your strength, Your will, Your strength, Your will!”  I had to make God the focus of every single step and breath or I would have quit and lay right there on the ground just like the guy in the picture at the beginning of this article (I wanted to very badly!).

So what happened?  What was so different about this one day?   Why are some days full of energy and then, seemingly out of the blue, one like this hits you?  In my case, it didn’t take a genius mind to figure it out.  I had been staying at my parent’s house helping to care for Daddy and not only had not been able to exercise much, but I wasn’t getting the usual amount of nightly sleep.  To top that off, I had been on a dead run for several days and, while I was still eating healthily, I would grab what I could eat on the go.  Translation, I wasn’t getting enough fuel into my body.  By Thursday afternoon my lack of sleep and nutrition was taking a toll and I had a bad case of elephant legs.  It’s miserable.  I hope you never get it.

It just goes to show you how important the correlation is between sleep, nutrition and exercise.   The condition of one affects another, which in turn will affect the third.  A good amount of sleep triggers a balanced appetite.  A balanced day of nutrition helps you to exercise at higher energy levels.  When you exercise at higher energy levels, you sleep better.  The next day it starts all over again.  When one is out of kilter, it affects the others.

Let’s start with sleep.  The average person needs 7 – 8 hours of sleep per night (I have a friend that only needs about 5 hours per night and she’s up and raring to go – I envy that!).  When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re obviously going to be tired.  But what you may not know is that when you’re tired, your body will crave more food or unhealthy fatty, sugary foods to make up for the loss of energy.  If you’re well-rested, you will on average eat a healthier, balanced diet.

It’s more obvious how nutrition affects our workouts.  I’m sure most of you have heard the saying, “You are what you eat,” and it’s so true.  Put junk food, refined sugars, artificial ingredients and other items that are on the unhealthy list in your body, you’re going to walk around all day with little to no energy and won’t get the most out of your workout.  In other words, you’ll feel like all the junk you’re putting into your system.

However, there are weeks that happen like mine did two weeks ago, life just happens and you don’t get the sleep and nutrition you need.  When you feel like you’re possibly coming down with elephant legs, there are some things you can do to help just before your workout.

  • Make sure you’re well hydrated. Water is the most utilized nutrient in your body, and if you’re low on water it will make you feel weaker.
  • Have a high fiber, complex carb snack about 45 minutes before exercising, such as a smoothie, a piece of whole wheat toast and a serving of fruit or a piece of fruit and a handful of almonds.
  • Take a coffee nap. Yep, that’s right a coffee nap.  Sounds like an oxymoron, but I’ve tried it and it did give me a little boost.   It takes about 20 minutes for caffeine to have an effect, so consuming a cup of coffee before taking a 30-minute nap can boost your energy and performance.
  • Or, you could take a regular 30-minute power nap. But that’s not as fun as a coffee nap, and it gives me an excuse to drink coffee in the afternoon.  Not that I need an excuse!

Elephant legs and other such maladies will happen occasionally, and it is okay to have a low-key day every now and then, but don’t let it keep you on the couch.  Try to exercise even if it’s not at your normal pace.  The way to avoid coming down with it is to take preventative measures – make sure you get enough sleep nightly and eat well-balanced meals daily!

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