Running 3.1 miles is no small feat. Even if you’re an experienced runner, upping your speed for a shorter distance can be a challenge. In order to run your best or fastest, you’ll need to fuel up beforehand. Of course, with a 5K, it’s a delicate balance for how to do so. You don’t want to eat too much and risk feeling bad, but you also don’t want to go out with an empty stomach and risk feeling slow or sluggish.
We asked the experts exactly what is best to eat before running a 5K. So whether you’re running in a race and hoping to accomplish a new personal best, or are just taking to the streets to complete your couch to 5K program, we’ve got you covered so you can focus on crushing your goal and getting through your run.
Meet the Expert
What Kind of Fuel Does Your Body Need Before a 5K Run?
Your body needs three types of fuel before a three-mile run, explains Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietician nutritionist, board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, and Daily Harvest nutritionist partner: a carbohydrate for fuel, a little protein to help the carbs release more slowly and start early muscle repair, and a form of hydration.
“Aim to have a snack 30-90 minutes before a run,” she recommends. “And because it’s close to your run time, keep it on the small side so your body isn’t working to digest a big meal and is instead focused on the run. Plus, you won’t feel bloated or weighed down with too much food.” Don’t forget to drink plenty of water pre-run, too, which will help keep you energized. “As important as what you eat is making sure you are well hydrated,” Blatner says. “Aim for at least 8-16 ounces before the run, and if you are a heavy sweater and/or it’s a hot day, consider adding an electrolyte tab to your water bottle to replace the minerals you lose in sweat.”
The Best Foods to Fuel Up With Before a 5K
Some of Blatner’s favorite pre-run combinations include a carb and protein source. They are:
- An apple (carbs) with a sprinkle of hemp seeds (protein)
- A banana (carb) and peanut butter (protein)
- Grapes (carbs) and almonds (protein)
- Berries (carbs) and greek yogurt (protein)
- Orange slices (carbs) and a hard-boiled egg (protein)
- An energy bite with dates (carb) and nuts/nut butter (protein)
- A smoothie with fruit (carbs) and hemp, nut butter, kefir, or yogurt (protein)
Can’t decide? Blatner especially loves smoothies pre-run because they are easy to digest and keep you hydrated. “If they are on the big side, you can drink half pre-run and drink the other half after the run,” she says. And if you need extra energy if you run in the morning or after work, she recommends adding some matcha powder to your smoothie. The caffeine may give you a natural performance boost.
What to Avoid
Even though it might not feel like it while you’re out there sweating, huffing, and puffing, a 5K is still a relatively short distance, notes Lori Russell, a registered dietician, board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, and certified personal trainer. That’s why it’s important not to eat too much before you run and avoid anything that’s too heavy. “Anything high in fiber, protein, or fat should be avoided as it will slow digestion, meaning you won’t get fast energy and are at higher risk of experiencing digestive issues,” she says.
Blatner says everyone is different when it comes to what works for them before running. Your cousin may be able to keep down eggs while you cramp up with anything more than a granola bar. That’s why you should stick to foods you already agree with your body, she recommends. If you’re new to running, it may take some trial and error before you know what is best for you.
Refueling and recovery start as soon as you finish your run. “To replenish lost fluid and glycogen and to begin repairing damaged muscle fibers, it is essential to consume a combination of protein and carbohydrates very soon after finishing the effort,” Russell says. Try a milk-based smoothie with whey protein powder or have some cottage cheese with fruit, she recommends. “Once your body is cooled down and rested, you should return to normal, balanced meals.”
And don’t forget to drink plenty of water, Blatner adds. “Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, after your run,” she says. “And then within two hours, aim to have one of your regularly scheduled balanced meals—breakfast, lunch, or dinner, depending on when you went for a run.” Your post-run meal should include carbs to refuel energy stores, protein to help rebuild tired muscles, and a healthy fat to repair cells. Some of her favorites include:
- A balanced breakfast bowl: quinoa, eggs, kale, and avocado
- Breakfast toast: whole grain toast, chicken sausage, low sugar green juice, and nut butter
- A tuna plate: whole grain crackers, tuna, cut veggies/grapes, and avocado mayo
- A harvest bowl: a Daily Harvest Bowl and grilled salmon or chicken
- A burrito bowl: brown rice, black beans, peppers/onions, and guacamole
- The burger night: sweet potato wedges, turkey burger, veggie sticks, and a healthy ranch