Do you have a 5k race planned and marked down on your calendar? If so, there’s a really important consideration in making your race a success – what you eat before the start! Food is fuel and consuming the wrong foods can quickly make things go south.
You’ve put in several weeks training for your race. Perhaps even followed a couch to 5k plan and now the big day is here!
When deciding what to eat the morning of your race day, choose foods that have carbs and a bit of protein (unless you’re specifically targeting a low-carb, high-fat diet). And always make sure to hydrate beforehand.
Here are the 7 best foods to consider eating before your 5K race:
1. Banana and Peanut Butter Toast with Honey
If you’re someone who tends to have a sensitive stomach, this breakfast packs a punch without wreaking havoc on your digestive system. Bananas tend to go down well for most people and peanut butter gives you some protein and extra carbs.
2. Bacon Avocado Burrito
Mmm, a tortilla wrapped around bacon and avocado is my personal favorite. While a lot of fat might not work for others, my body loves consuming fat before a run and this meal completely delivers. Since the bacon can be pretty salty (a bonus if the temps are high), I make it a point to consume extra water.
3. Eggs, Gluten-Free Toast, Oranges
Looking for a gluten-free option that still gives you the nutrients needed to power you down the trail or road? Try eating some gluten-free bread or english muffins with hard-boiled eggs on top. Add a side of oranges and you’ve got your carbs covered.
The oranges also add a bit of sweetness if you’re someone who likes some sugar in the morning to put an extra pep in your step.
4. Oatmeal with Apples and Dates
Apples, dates, and oatmeal are the perfect trio for a hearty, pre-race bite. The dates can also help prevent cramping after your race. It’s also a great vegan breakfast that can easily include extra fixings such as maple syrup and flax seeds. You can even throw in some favorite nuts for a touch of protein.
5. Goat Cheese, Avocado Spinach Omelet
If you’re someone who prefers the low-carb, high-fat approach, this breakfast has your name on it. The eggs deliver protein, goat cheese and avocado delivers fat, and the spinach is packed with nutrients.
Plus it’s a pretty light meal so it won’t weigh you down during the race. However, if you’re someone who isn’t used to eating a low-carb meal, save this recipe for another day.
6. Kodiak Waffles with Almond Butter and Banana
For a quick meal that has carbs and protein, grab some Kodiak Waffles, toss them in the toaster, and add almond butter and banana for an extra fuel-filled kick.
They’re also really easy to take with you as you head out the door for your race. If you need an extra bit of sweetness, you can drizzle honey or maple syrup over them (just make sure to bring a napkin).
7. Protein Shake
Last but not least, a protein shake is a great go-to for a pre-race meal. It’s filling without leaving me feeling overly full. I like to add oat milk, a banana, two dates, one scoop of peanut butter, one scoop of protein powder, a half-cup of oats, and top it off with some cinnamon.
What NOT to Eat Before a 5K Race
Unless you know the below foods work for you, it’s best to stay away from them before your big race:
- Greasy foods
- Fried foods
- Drinking more coffee than you normally would (if one cup is what you’re used to drinking, stick with that)
- Anything that makes you feel bloated
- Anything that makes you feel weighed-down
- Foods you have never tried before
- Raw veggies or salad
- Spicy foods
A quick note on caffeine consumption pre-race – if you’re consuming some gels, keep an eye out for any caffeine that might be added to them. You don’t want to end up jittery and unable to eat (which excessive caffeine has a tendency to do).
In addition to avoiding the above, I also try to consume real food before a run. For example, I might add electrolyte powder to my drink but that doesn’t count toward any of my carbs or calories.
It’s just bonus. What does count is the oatmeal I’m eating with fresh fruit and nuts. There is no replacement for running fuel that is as good as the real thing.
Eat What Works For You
The most important thing to remember when it comes to what exactly you should eat before you race is this – Eat what already works well for you. This means when you’re training, you should be figuring out which foods fuel you the best.
Use the weeks and months of training leading up to the run to try new things for breakfast or lunch, etc. Pay attention to how you feel after you eat and while you run.
Are you feeling powerful while running after eating that breakfast smoothie? Or do you feel weak and hungry? Did that salad with chicken upset your stomach? Were you craving food the entire time on the trail?
Knowing what exactly works for you means that on race day you can stick with what you know, reducing the chance of any hiccups (literally and figuratively) on the day of your 5k.
TIP: The same way you may use a couch to 5k app to track your training, consider an app that will help you track your meals as well.
Meal Planning If Your 5k Race is in the Afternoon or Evening
If you have a race that is later in the day, try to keep your eating as normal as possible. There usually seems to be this temptation to drastically change the way we eat on a race day, but all this does is confuse our bodies. So now I try to keep things as normal as possible.
Hold off on a heavy meat-filled pasta dinner the day of your race and instead go with a breakfast smoothie, a sandwich, and fruit. Carb-loading for a 5k isn’t usually necessary if you’re eating enough in the days and weeks leading up to the race.
If you do choose to over-stuff yourself with carbs you’ll risk cramping and feeling nauseous during the event.
If you’re craving veggies the day of your race, make sure to cook them rather than eat them raw since this will be easier for your system to digest. Think light food options versus greasy and heavy meals. Choose smaller, more frequent meals (again, easier on that digestive system) than large one-off portions.
And as mentioned above, stay with what you know. This isn’t the day to start trying new foods. This is the time to stick with what is tried and true. Eat what works for you.
How Much Water to Drink Before a 5K
Water is also a source of fuel for your run. Make sure to sip throughout the morning leading up to the start (and throughout the day if you have a later start time). Avoid chugging, as this can sometimes be an overload for your system, especially right before running.
When it comes to the exact amount of water to drink, this will vary from person to person. A few factors to consider include a) how thirsty you feel and b) if it’s hot outside. If you’re running a 5k with 80-degree temps, you’ll want to go into the race well-hydrated (and remember to drink electrolytes!).
Also keep in mind that even temps in the 70s can feel really taxing on the body when running, especially if you haven’t done much heat training. This could also affect the amount of water you need to drink both before and during the run itself.
How early before a 5K should you eat?
Consider eating your meal around an hour or so before the start of your race. This exact timeframe is going to vary based on what works best for each person, but a good rule of thumb to follow is within one to two hours prior to the start.
Should you run a 5K on an empty stomach?
Running without anything in my stomach simply does not work for me. To each her own on this one, but personally, I prefer to eat real food before a run so that my body has fuel to power it through. It doesn’t have to be an extremely heavy meal.
It can be light and simple, such as a banana with almond butter. But when you start running without eating anything, you’re potentially putting yourself at risk of extra strain, fatigue, and injury.
What should a runner eat the night before a 5K?
The night before your race, think balance. Eat carbs, protein, and fat. This can include some salmon with cooked vegetables and rice or potatoes. Maybe some pasta if that’s your thing, but remember that carb-loading isn’t necessary for a 5k distance.
You could eat some ramen noodles with a veggie stir-fry and chicken thrown in. You can also consider having a protein shake right before bed if you feel like your protein consumption for the last few days was lacking.
Carly Moree is the Owner & Founder of Rocky Mountain Hiking Company. She was the first woman to attempt the men’s unsupported record on the 223-mile John Muir Trail/Nüümü Poyo. She is the co-author of the popular thru-hiking book Pacific Crest Trials, and has hiked and run thousands of miles on trails, including the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim, both the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail, and the Tahoe Rim Trail. Her work is featured in REI and Larabar and she is the co-host of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s podcast Unlikely Stories.