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What to Eat Before Running a 5K: 2024 Guide for Athletes

You’ve been training for weeks, pushing through the long runs and speed workouts to build up your endurance for your upcoming 5K race. All the hard work and dedication have led up to this moment. According to experts, the key to performing at your best and finishing a 5K race in a shorter time than the average of 34 to 40 minutes is to watch what you eat in the hours before the race.

This guide outlines tried-and-true recommendations on what to eat before running a 5K. With the right diet plan, you’ll be flying through the course, crushing your goals and feeling strong from start to finish.

Preparing Your Body: What to Eat the Day Before a 5K

To ensure your body is well-nourished and ready to perform at its best, you must watch your diet and properly understand what to eat the night before a 5K. Proper nutrition in the days leading up to the race plays a critical role in optimising your energy levels, muscle function, and overall performance.

Preparing Your Body for marathon
  • Carb-load: On the night before your 5K, carb-load to replenish your glycogen stores — the primary source of energy for your muscles. Opt for complex carbohydrates like pasta, rice, or sweet potatoes, which provide sustained energy without causing digestive discomfort.
  • Maintain optimal hydration levels: In addition to carb-loading, stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day and evening — especially electrolyte water drinks. Proper hydration ensures optimal muscle function, prevents dehydration during the race, and aids in nutrient transport and waste removal.
zero electrolyte water drinks

With a balanced meal, you can ensure your body is fueled and ready to perform at its best on race day. Remember, proper nutrition is just one piece of the puzzle; consistent training, adequate rest, and a positive mindset are also essential for achieving your 5K goals. Embrace the challenge, keep yourself motivated, and run strong!

What to Eat Before Running a 5K in the Morning?

On race day, eating healthy foods is key to powering through those 3.1 miles. As a runner, you know that what you eat before the gun goes off directly impacts your performance and how you feel during the run.

Here are 3 tips for loading yourself with enough nutrients for a morning 5K race:

HIGH5 Energy Drink Caffeine
  • Hydrate with water and caffeine: Drink plenty of water with electrolytes to ensure you’re fully hydrated. For an extra boost, have a sports drink with caffeine. However, consume caffeine with caution in the hours before your race (more info on this later!)
  • Opt for easily digestible snacks: Within an hour of running, have a light, high-carb pre-race snack like a banana, granola bar, or toast with jam.
  • Gel up: For longer races, energy gels, chews or sports beans can fuel you during the run. Take one every 30–45 minutes to keep you energised in the final miles. Look for options with electrolytes and carbs like the HIGH5 Energy Gel.

Tip: If your race is later in the day and you seek what to eat before a 5K race in the afternoon, opt for a carb-loaded breakfast (e.g., oatmeal mixed with nuts and fruits) and an easily digestible lunch (e.g., turkey sandwich and a piece of fruit) 3–4 hours before the race. In the hour preceding the 5K race, focus on hydration and chew some energy gels if hungry.

HIGH5 Energy Gel

Hydrating Properly: How Much to Drink Before a 5K

Knowing what to eat before a 5K run is crucial, and water is an important nutrient to consider. As an active runner, you know how important it is to drink plenty of H2O. But figuring out how much to drink in the hours leading up to your race can be tricky.

Lady Drinking HIGH Drink Image

Here are 3 tips for proper hydration:

  1. Aim for 180–240 mL of water every 15–20 minutes in the 2–3 hours before your 5K: This will ensure you’re fully hydrated without feeling overly full or bloated. Start hydrating the day before the race as well, so you go into it with your body already topped off. Drink water and electrolyte-replenishing sports drinks. Be careful to avoid alcohol, as it can lead to dehydration.
  2. Pay attention to thirst and the colour of your urine: Thirst is a clear sign of dehydration and a cue to hydrate immediately. If your urine is dark yellow, you need to drink more clear fluids. Ideally, your urine should be pale yellow or clear. We recommend using the bathroom frequently in the hour leading up to the race to empty your bladder — you’ll run more comfortably without a full bladder.
  3. Don’t overhydrate: While being properly hydrated is key, drinking too many fluids before a 5K can be dangerous. It may lead to hyponatremia, a condition denoted by extremely low sodium levels. As a rule of thumb, limit your fluid intake to about 475 mL in the 30 minutes before the start of the race.

Staying hydrated will keep your body temperature regulated, your muscles and joints lubricated, and give you the energy you need to complete the 3.1-mile run. You’ve got this — get out there, run like the wind, and be sure to rehydrate when you’re done. Also, check out this guide on what to eat after running for a comprehensive overview of post-run nutrition.

Timing It Right: When to Eat Before Your Run

Now that you know what to eat before a 5K race, you must understand that timing is equally important. The ideal time to fuel up for your 5K depends on your digestion and how much you can eat before feeling so full that you become uncomfortable while running. As a general rule of thumb, aim for a small snack 30 minutes before your run. After the race, you can have a more substantial meal.

HIGH5 Energy Bar

If you have a sensitive stomach, consider having an energy gel, granola bar, banana or other carb-heavy snack 30 minutes before your 5K.

This will provide fuel for your muscles without weighing you down. We recommend HIGH5’s Energy Gel and Energy Bar.

 

If you have a bigger appetite, it’s best to take your pre-run meal at least an hour or two ahead of time. Choose high-carb, easy-to-digest foods like:

  • Oatmeal with fruit and honey
  • Rice and vegetables
  • Pasta with marinara sauce
  • Grilled chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread

Properly fueling your body at the right time will provide you with the energy you need to run strong for the entire 5K. You’ve trained hard for this race, so give your body the proper fuel to enable you to smash your goals.

Avoiding Pre-Race Mistakes: What Not to Eat Before a 5K

Some foods can limit your track performance, so it’s advised to steer clear of them or moderate your intake.

Here are 4 diet suggestions to help you avoid an upset stomach while running:

  1. Don’t do dairy: Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt are difficult for many runners to digest and can cause stomach cramping during a race. The proteins and sugars in dairy take a long time to break down, so avoid them for at least 2–3 hours pre-race.
  2. Skip the sweets: Cookies, candy, and other sugary snacks will give you a sugar crash mid-race. While the sugar may make you feel good at first, your energy will plummet after the initial spike, leaving you struggling to make it through the last mile.
  3. Leave out fried foods: Anything fried, like chips, onion rings or French fries, sits heavy in your stomach. Even greasy foods with healthy fats are hard to digest and can make you feel bloated and nauseous during an intense activity like a 5K run. Give your gut a break and avoid anything fried for at least the day before your race.
  4. Watch your caffeine intake: While a cup (235 mL) of coffee can boost your energy, too much caffeine too close to race time can backfire. Half of your caffeine intake remains in your system after 3–5 hours, and in large amounts, can cause restlessness, anxiety, and disrupted sleep the night before your run. Limit coffee and espresso drinks to no more than 1 cup (235 mL), and stop drinking them at least 6 hours before your 5K start time.

Avoiding these common pre-race mistakes will set you up for success in your 5K run. Stick to lighter, easily digestible foods like bananas, oatmeal, and whole-grain toast, and be sure to hydrate well in the hours leading up to your run. Following these tips will have you feeling light on your feet at the starting line and strong all the way to the finish. And if you ever want to run a half marathon, here is what to eat before hitting the track.

Of course, we have only focussed on what to eat or not to eat before a 5k, but if you have home gym equipment or a gym membership, it may be advised to skip a gym session before your run. As always, speak to a trained fitness consultant before adding extra sessions on top of your normal fitness routine.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you eat before or after a 5K?

Yes, you should eat before a 5K to ensure adequate fuel levels for the race. With 5K races, you need to achieve a fine balance with your diet. You want to ensure you don’t overeat; you also want to avoid starting the race on an empty stomach.

HIGH5 Recovery Drink

We recommend having a small, easily digestible meal or snack at least 1–2 hours before the race to avoid stomach cramps. Great options include bananas, oatmeal, yoghurt, or a bagel with peanut butter.

After a 5K race, it’s important to eat a meal or snack that includes carbohydrates and lean protein to help your body repair and rebuild muscle tissue.

This can be a sandwich or a piece of fruit with nuts. Also, consider a Recovery Drink from HIGH5 to replenish lost nutrients.

What foods should you eat before a 5K?

Examples of foods you should eat before a 5K are:

  • Pasta: A classic pre-race meal, pasta provides complex carbohydrates for sustained energy release.
  • Bananas: Rich in potassium and natural sugars, bananas offer a quick energy boost and help prevent cramps.
  • Oatmeal: High in fibre and carbohydrates, oatmeal provides a slow-release energy source and keeps you feeling full.
  • Yoghurt: A good source of protein and carbohydrates, yoghurt also contains gut-friendly bacteria that aid digestion.

Is it OK to run a 5K on an empty stomach?

It’s not OK to run a 5K on an empty stomach, as it can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and lightheadedness. We recommend eating before running a 5K to provide your body with the fuel it needs for efficient and safe exercise. People who choose to run on an empty stomach should only engage in light to moderate runs while taking a break in cases where they feel lightheaded.

Moreover, carbohydrates, the primary energy source for muscles, are stored in the form of glycogen. When you run on an empty stomach, your glycogen stores are depleted, and your body may have to resort to burning fat for energy, which is less efficient. 

Is a banana good before a run?

Yes, bananas are an excellent pre-run snack for these reasons:

  • Easy to digest: Bananas are a good source of simple carbohydrates, which are easy for your body to digest and absorb. This means that they’ll provide you with quick energy without causing stomach upset.
  • Rich in potassium: Bananas are a good source of potassium, an electrolyte that’s important for muscle function and nerve signalling. This can help to prevent cramps and fatigue during your run.
  • Naturally sweet: Bananas are naturally sweet, so you don’t need to add any sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Conclusion

You’ve trained for weeks, and the big day is finally here. As you lace up your running shoes, take a deep breath and remember why you started this journey. All the miles you’ve logged and sweat you’ve poured have led to this moment. Now that you know what to eat before running a 5K, choose foods that energise and excite you and remind you of your strength and purpose. Also, don’t forget to take some Energy Gels and electrolyte drinks to help enhance your performance.

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