Running a 5K takes preparation, strength and energy, and your pre-race eating plan affects all three. In the weeks leading up to the race and immediately before the event, a correctly balanced pre-race diet will lead you to your best performance.
Eating While Training
Throughout training, your diet helps you perform, recover and improve. An hour or two before your workouts, eat foods rich in energy-providing carbohydrates such as oats, pastas, grains or breads. For most adults, 20 to 40 grams of carbs is sufficient; one-half cup of dry oats yields 30 grams of carbs, while two slices of whole-wheat bread provide 28 grams of carbs.
Your body also needs protein to repair and rebuild muscle tissue torn or broken down during training. Aim for at least 20 grams of protein immediately after exercise and 1 gram per pound of body weight throughout the day. The top protein foods to eat during training include cottage cheese, which offers 20 to 25 grams of protein per cup, eggs, which offer 7 grams each, and any kind of meat.
Read more: What to Eat When Training for a 5K
The Week Before the Race
Moderate quantities of carbohydrate-rich foods will fill your glycogen stores throughout the week leading up to the race. Aim for about 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight per day, with foods like oatmeal, potatoes, broccoli and other vegetables. For example, a 160-pound adult would need at least 480 grams of carbs per day. Starchy vegetables like potatoes contain nearly 40 grams of carbs per 200-gram serving.
The Day Before the Race
Many beginning runners hear that "carbo-loading" before a race is a good idea and mistakenly overindulge on enormous portions of carbohydrate-rich foods. Instead, continue eating as you have in the week leading up to the race, with up to 5.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight; a 160-pound adult would need up to 880 grams of carbs.
Foods with a moderate to high glycemic index, which help your body digest and release energy slowly, are your best choices before a race. Eat foods like whole-wheat pastas, which contain 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per dry cup serving, and vegetables.
What to Eat on Race Day
For best performance, eat three to four hours before a race so that your body has time to digest your food. Target foods that are light and easy to digest with a low glycemic index so that your body can release the energy quickly.
Liquid and soft foods are even better. The best options for a pre-race meal are yogurt, honey, energy bars, bananas and other fruits, but don't eat any foods unless you know how they'll affect you; digestive issues are the last thing you want to experience on race day.
For most runners, 1 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight is a perfect amount of pre-race food. For example, a 160-pound adult would need about 160 grams of carbohydrates. An average banana contains 27 grams of carbs, and energy bars typically contain between 15 and 40 grams of carbs.
- U.S. News (Health & Wellness): What to Eat Before Running
- BBC Good Food: Race Day Foods
- United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA): Optimal Dietary Intake Guide
- Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition: Sports Nutrition Fact Sheets
- United States Department of Agriculture: Fitness and Sports Nutrition