What to Eat Before Running a 5K Race

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If your race is tomorrow, and you are just now reading this post, then it’s already too late.

You are better off skipping this article entirely and going with something you know. It is never a good idea to try a new pre-race food for the first time on the day of a race.

This research should start early on in your training, so that you have time to do test runs on which foods make you feel the best. Using a training plan gives you the structure you need as you try new foods. 

There are literally a million articles out there that tell runners to eat this or eat that, but the truth is, everybody is different and it takes a little trial and error to get the formula right.

Best Foods to Eat Before Running

A small iced coffee with a splash of low fat milk, raw bell pepper, and a handful of grapes. When I eat this about an hour before a long run or a race, it always seems to do the trick.

Something about that magical combo gives me the perfect amount of energy and focus, though I’m positive other runner’s wouldn’t agree.

Generally speaking, the things you eat before a race should be light, hydrating, low fiber, high vitamin, easily digestible snacks.

Avoid high fiber items and high fat foods, complex carbohydrates, anything that makes you feel gassy or bloated, and heavy starches (like, for example, oatmeal).

We also recommend staying away from high gi foods as they can impact your blood glucose.  

Here are a few suggestions:

Raw Bell Pepper or Carrots.

Nothing like starting the day off with some healthy foods. 

Like I stated above, I swear by raw bell peppers as a pre-race snack. They are light and hydrating, easy to digest, and provide a powerful punch of B6 that help convert the carbs from last night’s pasta feast into energy. 

Raw carrots are closely related to bell peppers, since they are also beta-carotene and caratenoid rich, and are a good alternative if you prefer them to bell peppers.

Snack on these veggies anywhere between 45-90 minutes before race time. 

David's Garden Seeds Pepper Bell Mini Bell Blend 4644 (Multi) 50 Non-GMO, Open Pollinated, Heirloom Seeds

Beets

I loved the blog post from Fuel My Run on beets, and I’m tempted to try them out as a pre-race meal.

They are also a beta-carotene rich, nutrient powerhouse, and I was surprised to read that they proved in a 2012 study to make 5K participants 3% faster than their non-beet-eating competitors (what!?).

Try them an hour to two hours before a race with a little goat cheese and some chopped walnuts.

Gefen

Caffeine

Hundreds of studies (including this one by RICE University) have proven that caffeine can help improve your performance when consumed about an hour before physical activity.

Some runners stay away from caffeinated beverages since they’ve gotten a reputation for dehydrating you. 

This is a myth, there are no studies that prove coffee or other caffeinated beverages dehydrate you (see “Ten Effective Hydrating Strategies for Runners”). 

What studies do show, is coffee and tea have several health benefits and have been proven to help runners improve their performance.

If you typically drink coffee/tea in the morning, or afternoon, or both, definitely don’t skip it on race day.

If your body is used to consuming caffeine, it will most likely perform better with it than without it.

Just a heads up - sometimes caffeine in the morning can jumpstart your bowel movements similar to how fiber foods might. 

Apples & Bananas or Toast with Peanut Butter

Apples and Bananas (or any type of whole fruit, really).

Raw fruit or dried fruit is often a good fit for pre race snack, since they are thirst-quenching, low calorie, easy to digest snacks that are vitamin rich. 

Try a banana or an orange if you cramp easy. If you need a hydration boost, try a peach, a handful of grapes, or a few wedges of watermelon.

For an energy boost, go with an apple or a few handfuls of blueberries. It’s best to eat raw fruit 45-60 minutes before race time, as they do contain a decent amount of fiber and need a little time to settle before you start running.

The other option is toast with peanut butter or almond butter on it. This has been my go-to for my first thing pre-run snack. Peanut Butter is good healthy fat which helps you for a 5k run. 

Gala Apples Fresh Produce Fruit, 3 LB Bag

Rice Crisps, or Rice Krispy Cereal.

If you are craving something crunchy or salty before a race, go with some flavored rice crisp snacks.

Unlike other chips, crisps and crackers, they are low fiber and quickly digestible, and you can eat them around 30-45 minutes before the 5k race. 

You could also do a small bowl of Rice Krispy cereal with almond or low-fat milk and a few berries thrown on top (preferably 45-60 minutes prior to race time). Rice Krispies are tasty and so are Rice krispie treats. There is a difference, as I explained to my five-year-old this morning. Those treats have a ton of sugar and fall into the "fat foods" category. 

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Breakfast Cereal, Toasted Rice Cereal, Fat-Free, 18 oz Box

Energy Bars.

Most energy bars are designed to be a pre-activity meal and contain easily digestible carbohydrates and a kick of protein.

I prefer an energy bar before running to “heavier” snacks like whole wheat toast or bagels when I need to fill my tummy before a long run.

Experiment with some different types of energy bars, and see which makes you feel satisfied and energized simultaneously. Avoid energy bars with high fiber, or sugary toppings.

I like Clif Bars best, they are easy on the stomach and actually taste good. Eat 60+ minutes before race time. (The chocolate chip is my favorite!) I like these before some of my training runs as they provide just enough energy to get going but not too much sugar. 

CLIF BAR - Energy Bar - Chocolate Chip - (2.4 Ounce Protein Bar, 12 Count)

Applesauce or Jell-O.

Both options are easy to digest, have a high H2O content, and provide a hit of simple carbohydrates with little or no fiber.

Plus, they taste a lot better than energy gels, if you ask me. 

They have just enough calories to quiet a rumbling stomach, but are light enough to eat with only 15 minutes to go until race time.

If you are closing in on the race, but need to eat something, these are a better option than something whole like fruit or an energy bar.

GoGo squeeZ Applesauce on the Go, Apple Cinnamon, 3.2 Ounce (12 Pouches), Gluten Free, Vegan Friendly, Healthy Snacks, Unsweetened Applesauce, Recloseable, BPA Free Pouches

Energy Gels.

Not my favorite, but I know a lot of runners who love them.

They are made for runners as a pre (and during) race energy boost, so they are pretty safe bet if you can stand the texture.

Runners I know who use energy gels feel comfortable slurping them down in as little as five minutes before race time.

The CLIF brand is the one I am most comfortable with. I've tried the GU brand and it tasted a little too salty for my liking. 

Lately, the energy chews have become my-go to over gels. These are the best that I have found listed by categories

I do want to bring up carb loading the night before a race. Pasta is high in good carbohydrates which can give you fuel for a longer race. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

-Can runners eat anything they want?

It is not recommended that runners eat whatever they want. Certain foods fuel your body better than other foods. Runners typically burn 280-520 calories per 30 minutes of running so fueling their body with empty calories found in high-sugar foods is not advised.

-Can runners eat chips, cookies, cake, candy or ice cream?

Runners can eat sweet treats such as cookies, cake and candy or salty foods like chips in moderation. Considering these foods are high in calories and low in nutrients, these foods take longer to burn and do no provide runners with nutrients needed to run their best.

-Can runners eat fried chicken? 

-Can runners eat pizza? 

-Does junk food affect running?

-Can runners eat too many carbs?

-Can runners eat meat?

-can runners eat quinoa?

-can runners eat rice?

-can runners eat tuna?

-can runners eat Christmas dinner?


We love this infographic by blog.freepeople.com, it gives you a visual idea of foods that are perfect before your run. 

We detail the best things to eat before a run

via blog.freepeople.com