Discover what foods to eat and what to avoid before a 5K for optimum performance and improved recovery.
Training for a 5K will develop your body’s engine to help you power through your event. Without the right fuel at the right time, however, that engine won’t be able to perform to its potential. That’s why knowing what to eat before a 5K is so important. Get it right, and your body’s engine will roar; get it wrong, and you’ll be lucky to make it out of first gear.
In this article, we’ll identify what type of fuel your body needs to perform optimally during a 5K race, provide some unbreakable rules for fueling up, and identify five smart pre-race food choices.
Your 5k Energy Needs
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. The primary form of sugar in the blood is glucose, which is produced when carbs are consumed. However, the body can only store a limited amount of glucose as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells.
That’s why runners carb load. This practice involves eating a high amount of carbohydrates leading up to an event to provide enough glucose to get them through. You don’t have to do this for a 5K, however.
Carb loading is only appropriate for events that last more than 90 minutes. As long as you’re eating every few hours before the run, you will have enough glycogen to carry you through a 5K.
You also don’t need to take in any fuel during your 5K. That’s because your body will have enough fuel on board to carry you through the event.
So, what should you be doing if you’re not carb-loading and you don’t have to eat on the run?
The answer is that you should follow the same eating pattern as during your training runs. That pattern should see you eating a range of lean proteins, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends the following macronutrient breakdown for recreational athletes:
• 45-55% carbohydrates
• 15-20% protein
• 25-35% fat
What to Eat Before a 5K: Rules to Follow
1. Stick With What You Know
With your training runs, you should have identified the foods that allowed you to perform at your best without causing any bloating or digestive trouble. Those are the foods you should eat before your event. It's not the time to experiment with what you put into your body.
2. Don’t Eat a Meal an Hour before the Event
Running will divert blood flow away from your digestive system. That interrupts digestion, leaving your food to slosh around in your stomach awkwardly. Giving yourself an hour before running will ensure the food is already digested.
If you feel hungry before the event or need something to give you extra oomph, you can down a banana or other easily digestible, fast-acting carb. But do this only if you've had a snack before your training runs with no adverse effects.
3. Include Fast and Slow Release Carbs
While you don’t need to overload on carbohydrates, you should still get a mix of fast and slow-release carbs in your pre-race meal. Fast-release carbs will give you an initial energy boost, while slower-release ones will sustain you over the three-mile course.
4. Keep it Basic
You don’t have to spend much time prepping your pre-race meal. Combining fast and slow carbs is as easy as having a whole grain piece of toast with smashed banana spread over it. Keep it simple and light.
To perform at your best, you need to be well hydrated. You should drink 250-500 ml of fluid (about 8-16 ounces) 15-30 minutes before your event. Carry a water bottler with you and drink 100-200 ml every 15 minutes (about 4-8 ounces). You should drink another 500 ml after the event.
5 Foods to Eat Before a 5K
Here are five pre-5K food options that are light and reliable, providing an energy boost without making you feel sluggish.
Rice Cakes with Peanut Butter
A couple of rice cakes smothered with peanut butter will deliver an ideal carb/protein balance of 4:1, which is ideal for performance and recovery. It will also supply a healthy dose of fiber and Vitamin E.
Banana on Toast
Bananas are an ideal source of fast-release energy. Smashing your banana onto a piece of toast will add slow-release carbs for more sustained energy and fiber to keep your blood sugar level stable.
Oatmeal with Blackberries and Walnuts
Oatmeal is an excellent source of medium-release carbs. Instant oatmeal is the best option because it digests faster than steel cut or rolled oats. Throwing in some blackberries will supply quick-release glucose to propel you into the race. Milk and walnuts will contribute the fiber and protein you need for a nutritionally complete meal.
Yogurt and Granola
The combination of yogurt and granola delivers a good blend of fast and slow-release carbs, protein, and fiber to regulate blood sugar levels. Just be sure to choose low-sugar versions of both products.
Sweet potatoes are starchy carbohydrates that deliver a medium release of energy, plus they're packed with fiber and micronutrients. Bake your sweet potato until tender, then broil for another five minutes. Eating it with a serving of fruit will fill your muscles with all the glycogen they need to carry you through.
Foods to Avoid Before your 5K
Any foods that slow you down or make you feel sluggish should be avoided before your event. Fats take longer to digest than carbs or protein and stay in your stomach longer. So you should avoid both healthy fats, such as fatty fish (salmon, sardines, etc.) and unhealthy versions, such as French fries.
You should also avoid large carb-based meals, such as pasta dishes. Save them for the night before a long-distance event.
What to Eat Before a 5K: Summary
Eat normally the day before your 5K event, and then have a light meal (200-300 calories) that combines fast and slow digesting carbs about an hour before the race. You don’t want to give your body any nutritional surprises before a 5K.
The best way to learn what to eat before a 5K is to look over your training notes. See what foods have fueled your best training runs and stick with them. By sticking with what you know, your body will be able to perform the way you’ve trained it.