Training for a 5K race is a fantastic way to strengthen your heart, body and mind, and being a part of a running community has tremendous emotional benefits, too. Eating well throughout your training is an important consideration to ensure you’ll continue running in good health. Though we’re all a little different, there are a few generally agreed upon strategies on how, when + what to eat to get the most out of your training:
1. Nutritious carbs are a runner’s friend
Even if you started running to lose a few pounds, carbs are a runner’s primary source of energy and can play an important part of your diet. But here’s the key: Instead of cookies, white bread, juice and starchy packaged foods, choose nutrient rich carbs, like vegetables, fruit, legumes (beans), and whole grains like oats or brown rice.
2. Fuel smart before your runs + races
Timing is everything when it comes to eating and running. You don’t want run or race with a grumbling stomach, but no one wants a meal sloshing around. Hungry but have less than an hour before your run? A light carb-rich snack will provide you energy:
- A banana or other fresh fruit
- Toast + 1 tsp of nut butter
- A couple dates or a small handful of raisins
- Half a sweet or regular baked potato
With more than 90 minutes before your run, a larger meal could include carbs + a little fat or protein:
- Oatmeal with fruit
- Toast or small bagel + 1-2 tsp almond butter
- A light sandwich
You’ll want to avoid foods with lots of fiber, protein or fat right before a run, since they take longer to digest. Experiment to find out what works best for you!
3. Choose smart fuel to help recover after your workouts
Eating well after runs and workouts—especially those longer than an hour—may be even more important than eating before by helping you to gain strength and recover quickly. In the hour after a tough workout, your body needs carbohydrates to replenish the stores used during your workout, and some protein. Your snack or meal could include an apple or banana with a tablespoon of almond butter, a small sandwich, or an 8-12oz homemade smoothie with frozen fruit and almond milk. Your next meal should contain good sources of protein to rebuild and repair muscles.
4. Don’t let your hunger dictate what you eat: Plan nutritious meals and snacks
As you increase your activity level, your appetite may increase, too. When you’re hungry, it’s tough to make nutritious choices—especially if your office stocks a vending machine with chips and candy, or if you keep sugary snacks in the house. Pre-empt out-of-control hunger by prepackaging healthy snacks before hunger hits. Try fruit, vegetables + hummus, a handful of raw nuts + seeds, or fruit + plain yogurt.
5. Keep it real
Plenty of shakes, bars + supplements promise energy and fast weight loss. Truth is most of us can get all the nutrition we need from real, whole foods. Skip the bars + shakes, and nourish your body with vegetables, fruit, lean protein, seeds + nuts and whole grains. Your body will thank you!
And for the #1 UNBREAKABLE rule for nutrition leading up to your 5K: Nothing new!
During the 24 hours leading up to your 5K event, eat foods that are familiar to you. Predictable food = predictable digestion and energy! This is not the time to try a new quinoa and bean salad, or to visit that new exotic fusion restaurant. Save that for after your race!
There’s no nutritional benefit to carb load before a 5K, either, so no need to pile on the bagels and pasta the day before your race. Make nutritious choices, eat familiar foods for dinner on the eve of your race, and choose a breakfast before your event that you’ve practiced many times before.
If you’re not sure if you’re eating well to supports your active lifestyle, ask a professional for help. Have a great race!
About the Author: Lauren Shafer, Empowered Eating Expert
Lauren is a certified Health Coach who helps busy Baltimoreans articulate their health + wellness goals, and make measurable, sustainable diet and lifestyle changes for lasting transformation. Though she would never be described as athletic in her youth, Lauren started running as an adult, begrudgingly at first, until she discovered she actually enjoyed it. Now an 8-time marathoner and 3-time ultra-marathoner, you’ll frequently find Lauren running on roads and trails with her husband John and dog Osita.