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What To Eat Before A 5K

We focus so much on what eat before and on race day for longer events, but what should you eat before a 5K?

The great thing about running a 5K is that it’s over pretty quickly and takes less time to recover as well. The tough thing about running a 5K is that it’s pretty intense. If you’ve ever raced a 5K, you can barely talk, except a few short words, due to the fact your heart rate is much higher than running a longer race and breathing is more shallow and rapid. Since a 5K is more intense, fueling strategies need to be different than when running a half or full marathon to avoid any stomach issues, like gas, side stitches, or cramping.

What To Eat The Night Before A 5K

To avoid any stomach issues on race day, you don’t need to carb load for a 5K. A 5K is too short and doesn’t require you overloading your muscles with carbs to maximize your glycogen levels. Instead, just eat a well-balanced meal containing healthy carbs, protein and fat, but make sure you eat foods that typically agree with you, by avoiding gas producing vegetables or high fiber grains which may cause bloating on race day.

For example, choose a meal such as baked or grilled fish or chicken with a sweet potato or rice and small serving of vegetables like green beans, carrots or a side salad. Eating fried foods or foods with rich-creamy sauces like fettuccine Alfredo, or a big greasy burger would not be the best choices before any race, so stick to easily digesting foods and keep your portions to what you would normally eat. Remember you don’t need to carb load, so enjoy some healthy carbs at dinner, just don’t eat more than you usually do.

What To Eat Before A 5K in The Morning

Most often you are not waking up 3-4 hours before a 5K, but you do need to eat a small pre-race meal 1-2 hours beforehand to give you a little carb boost for energy.

Remember a 5K is an intense, fast race, so muscle glycogen levels are dropping more quickly than in a marathon, but not enough to cause you to “hit the wall” like you see in longer races. It’s important to also not fast before a 5K since liver glycogen levels which are often low in the morning, possibly causing a lower blood sugar, leaving you feeling flat and unable to push the pace.

The best advice is to eat foods that you are used to eating before a race, but scale back the amount since a 5K is shorter. For example, if you are eating just an hour before race time, stick to eating just easily digesting carbs like a banana, ½ bagel, or chewy granola bar. Eating lower fat and protein containing foods right before a 5K can help prevent any stomach issues you may have when racing and eating too close together since protein and fat take longer to digest.

If you eat longer than 1-2 hours before race time, you can add a little more protein or fat, but the meal should still be carb based. For example, try a small bowl of cereal (low fiber), bowl of oatmeal, yogurt with fruit, or ½ bagel with peanut butter and fruit.

If you struggle with eating solids before a race, try a fruit smoothie instead to get the carbs you need to fuel your race, without having to deal with digesting food too close to race time.

What To Eat Before An Evening 5K

Not all 5K races are in the morning, so if your race is scheduled late afternoon or after dinner you need to be mindful on when you eat your meal before your race to avoid any stomach issues. Typically it would be best to eat your main meal at least 3 hours before the race consisting of common foods you normally eat, but lower in dietary fiber, fat,and protein to reduce gas, bloating, and other stomach issues.

For example, if you have a race scheduled at 4 pm, suggest eating lunch at 12-1 pm such as a chicken or turkey sandwich with fruit, or a yogurt with fruit, and granola. Avoid eating a large salad or just a lean protein with vegetables at this meal. You need carbs to give you that energy boost for your race, just don’t eat a larger portion than you normally would eat.

If you have an evening race at 6 or 7 pm, suggest eating a larger snack 2-3 hours before race time to prevent hunger before the race, and eat dinner as your recovery meal after the race instead. A larger snack mid-afternoon could consist of ½ sandwich and fruit, bowl of oats with fruit, or frozen waffle with peanut butter and banana.

Timing eating before a 5K race is important to avoid any stomach issues since it’s a more intense race. Remember you don’t need to carb load, just eat foods you normally eat, but make sure you cut back on high fiber foods the night before and to incorporate healthy carbs at each of your meals to fuel your race!

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