What To Eat Before Running A 5k (And What to Avoid)

So, you’ve signed up for your first 5k, race day is right around the corner, and you’re hoping to run your fastest that morning with a smile still on your face at the finish line. Did you know, however, that the perfect 5k starts not at the starting line but the night before at dinner? Specifically, do you know what to eat before running a 5k?

To truly feel your best on race day, it’s important to eat the right dinner and breakfast before your 5k. Read on to find out exactly what you should eat before running a 5k so that you can run like the wind!

Eat a Healthy Amount of Carbs But Don’t Overdo It

If you’ve been a part of the running world for any amount of time, you’ve heard the term “carb loading”; this means eating more carbohydrates than usual in the days or hours leading up to a race. However, if you’re only running a 5k race, there’s no need to overindulge on carbs. Save the carb loading for when you’re running for 90 minutes or longer!

You do, however, need to ingest carbs before your race. Carbohydrates provide your body with easy-to-burn sources of fuel; without enough carbs, you’ll feel tired and heavy throughout your run.

Pre-race dinner:

It’s a good idea to eat a small portion of carbs with your dinner the night before your 5k– but don’t overdo it! Eating a massive plate of spaghetti the night before the race is ideal for half marathons but may leave you feeling bloated and heavy during a shorter 5k. Try including either pasta, rice, bread, or simple starches in your dinner the night before your race, but again, try not to over-indulge.

Pre-race breakfast:

Don’t eat a massive breakfast complete with eggs, hashbrowns, and bacon right before you cross the starting line. That’s a surefire recipe for stomach cramps! Runner’s World suggests keeping your pre-race breakfast limited to 200-300 calories of easy-to-digest carbs. This means eating something simple and light, such as a bagel or a few pieces of toast.

Limit Fat and Fiber Intake Before Running a 5k

Although oatmeal may contain carbs, it’s not a great choice for your pre-5k breakfast! Anything that’s loaded with fiber (such as oatmeal) may serve as a healthy breakfast any other day, but be sure to skip the fiber on race day.

This goes for fatty foods as well; think whole milk, bacon, or butter, to name a few examples. According to Runner’s World, both fiber and fat take longer for your stomach to digest. This results in undigested food sitting in your stomach while you’re out on the race course, which will make you feel sluggish and bloated.

Coffee is Okay– If You’re Used to It

Many runners claim that coffee provides a performance boost on race day, and that’s valid. Have you indulged in a cup or two of caffeine before most of your 5k training runs? According to Wellandgood.com, as long as coffee hasn’t made you feel sick during a training run, then it’s perfectly fine to have your normal amount of coffee on your race day.

At the same time, though, if you’ve never had coffee before a run, race day isn’t the time to try it out. This leads to our next point, which is…

Don’t Try Anything New on Race Day

While you’re training for a 5k (or any other race), you need to test out different eating habits, as well. Using the example above: if you think you’d like to try it, drink a cup of coffee before a training run. How did it feel?

The idea here is to feel mostly sure of what foods agree and disagree with your stomach while you’re training, and more importantly: never try anything new on race day. If you’ve never eaten a banana before a training run, don’t eat a banana in the morning before running your 5k! You never know what new pre-run meal might upset your stomach or leave you feeling weak and heavy.

Finally: Hydrate!

This may be the most important point in this whole article; not only can dehydration lead to pounding headaches and weak muscles, but you may also face life-threatening consequences if you fail to drink enough water.

Many newbie runners believe that if a 5k provides hydration stations (i.e., people handing out cups of water on the side of the race course), they don’t need to worry about bringing water to the race (or even hydrating that morning). Do not make this mistake! Plan to bring a bottle of water with you, especially if you’ve signed up for a 5k on a hot or humid day.

This isn’t all, though; you must also hydrate the morning of your 5k, as well as the night before. Keep this in mind: if you are thirsty, you’re already dehydrated! Thus, don’t wait until you get thirsty to rehydrate. Try to drink a glass or two of water before your race– and make sure that you save time to use the bathroom before the race starts.

Pre-5k Dinner and Breakfast Options

With all this said, here are some perfect examples of what to eat before running a 5k for you to choose from:

Dinner (night before the race):

Meatless spaghetti with a light salad
Baked chicken breast with rice and/or mashed potatoes
Chicken and rice noodle stir-fry

Breakfast (race day):

Plain bagel
Toast with nut butter
English muffin with fruit


So, if you’re ready to run your best 5k, the bottom line is: eat lightly, skip fat and fiber, and most importantly, hydrate! Remember that the food we eat fuels our muscles, so knowing what to eat before running a 5k will have you crossing the finish line sooner (and happier) than if you were to eat the wrong foods. Follow these tips, and you’re sure to have a great race!

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