March 29, 2024

A Guide to Fueling up for a 5K

By Rosanne Walsh, RD, LDN Registered Dietitian

As we welcome spring, many of us are eager to embrace outdoor training. Signing up for a race like the upcoming Spring Classic 5K is a great motivator to log some miles and enjoy the warmer temperatures we have waited months to enjoy. And whether it’s your first or 50th race—just a reminder that proper nutrition is just as key as logging your miles.

Choosing the right foods before going for a training run and on race day will not only help keep you energized and feeling your best, but will also prevent you from being derailed by unexpected bathroom stops or stomach cramping.  Here are some basic nutrition tips to keep in mind while training:

1. Avoid Carb-loading

While marathon runners follow a practice of increasing carbohydrate intake and reducing protein and fat the night before a race to ensure sustained energy for longer runs, a 5K typically doesn’t require this type of preparation. The energy stores in your muscles from a well-balanced meal are generally sufficient for any run shorter than 90 minutes.

2. Eat a Light Breakfast

If your race is in the morning, be sure to plan ahead so you have time to consume a light 200-300 calorie meal 1-2 hours before it starts. Whole, unprocessed carbs lower in fat and fiber are ideal as they are quick to digest. Aim for less than 10 grams of fiber and between 5-10 grams of fat. Today is not the day to experiment with any new foods – so be sure to test out different options before training runs to find what works best for your body. A few options to try include:

  1. Sliced apple or banana over toast with nut butter and cinnamon
  2. Bowl of oatmeal topped with berries, nuts and honey
  3. No time to cook? Try a Larabar – any flavor!


3. Hydration

Avoid consuming too much water at once just before the race – you may end up needing to stop for the bathroom or even feel nauseous. It’s best to take regular sips throughout the hours leading up to the race.  Aim to consume 17 to 20 ounces of fluids two to three hours before the race, or about 2-2.5 cups.

4. Post Run Nutrition

After a workout of any kind, whether a training run or race day, eating after the event will help with muscle recovery. The type of meal and the timing of when it is best consumed will vary from athlete to athlete, so use your appetite as your guide as to whether a snack or full meal is more appropriate. Ideally, the meal should contain at about 20-30 grams of protein as well as 1-1.5 grams of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight.