Preparing for a 5K: How and What to Eat Before the Race

Last week, we shared some tips on how to begin preparing for a 5K. Today, we offer advice on the best foods to eat as you prepare for a 5K. Remember–the Mother Seton School Fall 5K Run/Walk is just around the corner!

Fall 5K RunBW

Join us for the MSS Fall 5K Run/Walk on Nov 8th. Visit for more information & to register!

Conventional wisdom has it that “carb-loading” is the best method for athletes-in-training to prepare for a race or other competition. While it’s true that runners need a full tank of energy, carb-loading is actually not the way to go about it. Too many carbs can have the unintended effect of slowing you down, especially if you pack them all in the day before a race.

Runners should instead aim to eat whole-grain and complex carbohydrate-rich foods in the weeks leading up to the race. A steady diet of moderate carb intake will provide the energy you need the day of the race, particularly if you are running a 5K, which does not require the energy and endurance that a marathon would. recommends adults eat 3-5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body fat each day, which would equal 480 grams of carbohydrates  for a 160-lb person. And make those carbs count–avoid starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn, which eat into your carb allowance but don’t provide the same nutritional boost that oats or whole-grain pasta do.

As the race nears, you can increase your carb intake to store more energy away, but again, be mindful of the types of carbs you ingest. Food with a moderate to high glycemic index help your body release energy slowly and steadily.

A healthy yogury parfait with organic granola, blueberries and raspberriesOn the day of the race, eat a light, healthy breakfast at least three to four hours prior to start time. Yes, that may mean getting up extra early; but, this will allow your body enough time to break down the nutrients and start releasing those energy stores for endurance. Small amounts of caffeine may help improve your overall performance, but the small benefit should be weighed against the risk of dehydration or stomach issues. Do not consume energy drinks like Monster or Red Bull before a race. These drinks can increase your heart rate dangerously and dehydrate you. Your best bet is to stick with cold cereals, fruits, and whole-grain toast. Add a small amount of protein, like yogurt, cottage cheese, or a scrambled egg. And avoid high-fat foods, which will hamper digestion.

Of course, remember to stay hydrated, but don’t overdo it! For a 5K, it should be enough to stick to the recommended 6-8 glasses of water a day.

Once the race is over, your body will need some recovery time. You can help yourself by eating within the first 30 minutes to help your muscles rebuild their energy stores that were depleted during the race. Protein bars, a whole-grain bagel smeared with peanut butter, or fruits can help give your body that post-race boost it needs. A few hours after the race, you’ll probably want a more substantial meal. But take it easy–don’t fill up on high-fat and simple sugars.

Happy Running!

For a sample menu of what to eat before a 5K, check out this 5K Meal Plan from Women’s Running.

It’s not too late! Register for the MSS Fall 5K Run/Walk by October 31st to receive your tee-shirt!