Completing your first 5K isn’t just about running—food matters too. In fact, what to eat before a 5K is just as important as your actual training runs and workouts: Nutrition is a cornerstone of any kind of physical performance, but especially one as heavily endurance-based as running.
“Learning how to fuel your body properly is going to help you train harder and recover faster,” Holley Samuel, MEd, RD, LD, CPT, a registered dietitian and founder of Fit Cookie Nutrition, tells SELF.
Proper fueling is important, yes, but it also doesn’t need to be overly complicated. While it can take some trial and error to know exactly what foods are going to send you to the finish line feeling great, the bottom line is, what to eat before a 5K and your training runs doesn’t need to be much different from what you may already be eating pre- and post-workout.
That means if a 5K is the race on your docket, you likely don’t need to worry about carb loading—a nutrition tip often equated with running, in which athletes consume way more carbs than usual during the days leading up to an endurance event to increase the amount of glycogen, or fuel, they have available in their muscles.
“Typically carb loading is going to be necessary once you’re covering a distance that is going to take you over an hour, so it depends on the pace of the person,” says Samuel.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat carbs before you run, though. Quite the opposite—simple, easy-to-digest carbohydrates, such as a piece of fruit or toast with jam, should be your main source of energy, Brittany Dunn, MS, RDN, CD, owner of Dunn Nutrition and a performance dietitian at Real Salt Lake tells SELF. It’s just that you don’t need to go overboard, or only eat carb-based foods. Depending on the timing of your meal and your run (more on this later), you may also need a moderate amount of protein to keep hunger in check and help your muscles recover, says Dunn.
But what’s perhaps even more important? Choosing foods that work for your body, and ones that make you feel good running. At the 5K distance, your nutrition plan should be more about choosing foods that don’t mess with your stomach—and timing them so you don’t feel too full (or famished!) during your run.
Here are some guidelines to consider for eating based on when you’re running—think, early runs versus after-lunch workouts—so you can feel your best on your training days and on race day. Of course, while these nutrition tips can help you run your first 5K feeling your best, they’re by no means blanket recommendations. With your race (and the training runs that come before it), it all comes down to eating foods that work best for you and your body. Following recommendations like these can help you optimize your runs and improve your performance, but using them as suggestions as opposed to rigid rules allows for more flexibility. Remember, what feels best for your body is going to help you run your best, so make sure to give yourself time and the leeway to discover that.
When and what to eat if you’re running first thing in the morning
In most cases, a small snack is probably going to be your best bet to set you up for a strong early morning run. That, and about 8–12 ounces of water, which will ensure you start your run properly hydrated, Dunn says.