Ask The Expert

What (And When) To Eat Before Running A 5k

We asked a group of fitness and nutrition experts for their top tips when it comes to fuelling up before a 5k run

What To Eat Before 5k
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

What should you eat before running a 5k and when is best to consume your pre-race meal?

If you’re preparing to run a 5k, you’ll want to ensure that your body has all of the energy it needs to be able to fuel you through the race.

So, we asked a selected group of fitness and nutrition experts for their top tips when it comes to getting fuelling up for a 5k.

Here’s what they said.

It Depends On How Much Time You Have Before Your Run

Emily Danckers, Registered Sports Dietitian and Nutrition Coach

The type and amount of food you should eat before running a 5k is dependent on how much time you have before the start of the race.

If you have four hours before the race, eat a balanced meal of protein, veggies, and carbs to fuel up the body and ensure your meal will be digested by the start of the race.

Then, about one hour before race time, top off your carbs by eating a snack of quick digesting carbs such as gels, chews, fruit snacks, pretzels, sports drink, etc.

It’s important that within one hour of the race, you avoid all foods containing fiber, protein, or fat because these take longer to digest and may slow you down during the race.

If you only have a couple hours before race time, eat a smaller meal containing carbs and a little protein.

Then, one hour before the race, top up carbs again by choosing the quick digesting carbs mentioned above.

The bottom line is that it is important to eat plenty of carbs the day of a 5k because carbs provide the body with the energy needed to run.

Whether you have one hour or four hours before the race, make sure to eat carbs that you know your body will tolerate well.

Man Running

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Provide Your Body With The Nutrients It Needs Without Filling Yourself Up

Jordan Duncan, Owner of Silverdale Sport and Spine

When you eat before a race, the goal is to get the nutrients you need without filling up too much.

This is primarily accomplished through the consumption of carbohydrates, which will replenish the liver’s glycogen supply and provide energy required for the race.

Food sources for these carbohydrates include bananas, oatmeal, berries, organic juices, and bagels.

These foods can be eaten two hours prior to running. In addition, carbohydrate drinks and energy gels can be consumed within an hour of running.

Fluid intake is also very important. Drinking a half liter of water or an electrolyte rich drink in the two hours prior to running can help combat fluid loss through sweat.

Woman Running in Park

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Carbohydrates Should Be Your Main Focus

Dr. Todd Buckingham, Exercise Physiologist at Mary Free Bed Sports Rehabilitation Performance Lab

Carbohydrates should be the main fuel focus for someone looking to run around the 5k distance.

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source during moderate-to-high intensity exercise. Therefore, topping off your carbohydrate levels prior to a run will be important to achieve maximal performance.

There will be some differences as to when and how much to eat beforehand, though, based on the goals of the session. Training and racing will follow two distinct paths that may or may not align.

What you eat before a training session depends on the goals of the session. If it’s an easy 5k shakeout run, you may not need to eat anything beforehand.

For most people, 5k won’t take long enough to need to eat something before heading out the door. Fasted training may actually be beneficial for your endurance performance.

For harder 5k training sessions, grabbing a quick snack before you head out the door will allow you to train hard.

Because your body is going through an overnight fast (that’s why it’s called break-fast!), your glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates) levels are low.

Having less glycogen to call upon can hinder your training run, you’ll feel tired, and won’t be able to run as hard.

More than anything, eating a small, carbohydrate-rich snack 30 to 60 minutes prior to your run will give your brain a boost before heading out the door. Glucose (a form of carbohydrate) is virtually the only energy source the brain uses (except during prolonged starvation).

Having those carbs prior to the run can make the effort feel a lot easier because the brain has energy after the overnight fast.

Group running

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

As far as what to eat before your run, that will depend on what works for you. Bagels, oatmeal, and bananas are staples of many runner’s diets. However, for some runners, those foods may not sit well.

And even though they’re healthy for you, avoid eating high-fiber fruits and vegetables prior to a run. This includes foods like broccoli, avocado, pears, and raspberries. Too much fiber and fat prior to a run can cause gastrointestinal distress and stomach cramps because they are harder to digest. That’s why it’s important to find what works for you and stick to foods that you’re familiar with (don’t try anything new on race day!)

Speaking of race day… eating a carbohydrate-rich meal before a race can give you a physical and psychological edge. Not only will your carbohydrate levels be topped off, but eating carbs can actually make your effort feel easier.

Prior to a 5k race, you want to give your body ample time to digest and absorb the food. Aim to eat around 30-60g of carbohydrates around two hours before the race.

The total amount you eat depends on your body size, but you don’t want to eat to the point of being stuffed, especially because it’s a short race and you want to avoid GI distress.

Pairing a bagel with peanut butter and honey is a good way to eat ample carbs while also consuming some fat and protein.

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