For novice runners, a 5k race can feel very intimidating. Even for runners who have competed before, a new 5k race can bring on some race-day nerves. Getting confused about what to eat prior to a race will only add to your anxiety, so we are here to provide you with invaluable advice.
The days leading up to your 5k race are almost as important as the day of the race. Try to remain at a good hydration level for the week preceding your run, as this will put your body in the optimal state for exercise.
It is recommended that you drink between 500 and 600 ml of water or other fluids about 3 hours before you start running your race. About 20 minutes before the run begins, drink a further 200 to 300 ml of liquids.
Most people will opt to consume water, although this is not necessary. If you regularly drink teas, coffees, or sports drinks prior to a run and experience no issues, you can do the same before your 5k.
If you are prone to heavy sweating then we recommend drinking a sports drink or an electrolyte gel before the race. This will help to replenish nutrients that get lost in your sweat and will help to keep you in an overall healthier condition.
A quick and easy way to check your hydration levels is to look at your urine color. If it is light and similar to straw, this indicates good hydration. Darker and strongly-scented urine is a suggestion of dehydration. Another method is to pinch the skin on your arm tightly. If the pinched region remains tented for a few seconds instead of falling back into place, you are dehydrated.
Do You Need To Carb-load?
Carb-loading is a common practice among long-distance runners. It involves massively increasing your intake of carbohydrate-heavy foods and restricting your intake of fats and proteins. This is often done for a few days leading up to your run but is only really necessary for runs lasting longer than 90 minutes.
A 5k run is very unlikely to take this long to complete, making the practice of carb-loading wholly unnecessary. Carb-loading before a 5k race is likely to leave you feeling bloated and sluggish, potentially even nauseous. None of this is conducive to a good run.
If your race is in the morning, it is advised to eat a light breakfast about an hour or two before you start running. You should limit this meal to around 200 to 300 calories, mostly in the form of whole and unprocessed carbohydrates.
Try to limit the fiber content to 10 grams or less, and between 5 to 10 grams of fat. It is not recommended to eat anything likely to upset your stomach, such as spicy foods.
Some good breakfast ideas are a whole wheat bagel, a small apple, and around 250 ml of an electrolyte-filled sports drink. Alternatively, try an English muffin with 2 tablespoons of jam and a side of fresh fruit. Another option is a bowl of oatmeal topped with a sprinkling of brown sugar and some raisins.
You should try to eat light and healthy foods throughout the day if your race is later on. It is advised that you eat a carbohydrate-heavy breakfast topped with a lean protein source. Good suggestions include fruit-topped oatmeal, low-fat yogurt topped with granola and fresh fruit, or a scrambled egg bagel with a side of fresh fruit. Many runners like to eat cereal for breakfast, but make sure the fiber content is under 5 grams per serving.
Your lunchtime meal should not be high in fat or protein, as these foods will digest very slowly. Do not eat until you are full to bursting, as this will bloat you and weigh you down for your run.
Good lunch options are a cup of pasta with a tomato-based sauce, some roasted veggies, and a cup of skimmed milk. Alternatively, you could eat a sandwich filled with lean protein – take care not to add in too much fat or fiber though.
If you begin to feel peckish on your journey to the race, you can have a small snack. This should not exceed 250 calories but should be relatively filling. A good choice here is a small banana, some dextrose energy tablets, or an energy bar. Look for snacks high in carbohydrates and under 10 grams of fats and proteins.
Stick To Tried-and-Tested Foods
It is not a good idea to begin mixing up your diet and trying new foods in the lead up to a 5k run. You do not know what impacts they may have on your body and they may cause you to have digestive issues. No one wants to be running with an upset stomach, so we would always suggest eating meals you have had multiple times and you know that your body can digest well.
After the Race
Many people choose to plan their post-run meal before their 5k. This gives them something to look forward to and means that you make healthier choices. Following a run you need a good mixture of carbohydrates and protein. This should be in an approximate ratio of 3:1.
Some good options include a skimmed milk latte, scrambled eggs on toast, or a smoothie.
What Should You Avoid?
It is not advised to eat foods containing a lot of fat. These are known to digest a lot more slowly than other macronutrients. This means that you will not get the calories and energy as quickly as if you ate other foods. Try to avoid high-fat and fried foods for a couple of days leading up to the race.
Many experts also recommend avoiding sorbitol and other chemically produced artificial sweeteners. These can irritate your delicate digestive system and cause issues on race day. The last thing you want in the middle of your 5k is to have to take an emergency toilet break!