What to Eat Before 5K (Pre-Race Fuel Guide)

Knowing how to balance your meals and water before a race can be quite a daunting task.

If you eat too little food, you’ll be dead and exhausted before you’re even at the halfway point.

If you eat too much food, then well… let’s just say it might come out sooner than expected. (Sorry, I know it’s not a pretty imagine!)

Therefore, it’s important to know what to eat before 5K ,10K, half-marathon or really any long distance race

Nutrition is not everything (still a big factor), but what you eat and drink before a race can determine if you reach a new PR (personal record) or your run turns into one of those “bad days” of running.

It’s not as simple as “if you carbo-load the night before and you’ll be fine”. (which to be honest is not wrong, but is far from ideal advice on eating and drinking before a race)

Instead, this article will go over, what to eat before 5K in the days leading up to the race, the day before a race, and of course on race day.

The Week Before a Race

A lot of people might think they only need to prepare for a race the day before, but actually, it’s best to start a few days in advance if not an entire week before a race.

Now, a single bowl of pasta you ate 5 days before a race is not going to determine if you 5 minutes faster in your half marathon.

Instead, it’s the accumulation of meals and drinks in the days and weeks leading up to the race that will affect your performance. As a result, your main focus a few days before a race should be hydration.

On any given day most people are fairly dehydrated which is not good for runners especially before a race, and chugging a gallon of water is not going to instantly resolve this problem. (Because of course, you’ll just pee it out)

So you need to start slowly hydrating your body with water (not coffee), well in advance of your race.

How much water I need to drink is going to be much different than the amount of water you need to drink, but general WebMD states “drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day.”

So for instance, if you weigh 140 lbs. you should drink between 70 – 140 ounces of water each day, and closer to 140 ounces when preparing for a race.

As far as food, your body can only retain carbohydrates so long before it gets turned into stored energy (also known as fat), so do not try to carbo load a week in advance of your race!  

Instead just simply make sure you keep a consistent intake of healthy calories (so grains, meats, and healthy fat, etc)

Again, HEALTHY calories, so no hot dogs, burgers, beer, or soda.

Days Before Race

Unlike the previous stage whereas a runner, it was not overly critical foods you ate 5 days in advance of your race (as long as you remained hydrated). 

The day before a race is a totally different story. Again, what you eat before your 5K is most critical in the days leading up to your race.

Also, the amount you eat at this time can play a major role in your performance before a run (and to be honest can be a bigger role than on race day).

Back in the day I was consistently told “just carbo load the night before and you’ll be good to go”, and again that’s not bad advice, but there is soo much room for improvement.

First, not all carbs are the same, so when carbo loading stay away from simple carbs (such as sugar) and instead eat complex carbs like grains.

So this means eating big meals from dishes like

  • Spaghetti and meat sauce
  • Pancakes and waffles (no not the delicious buttermilk ones from IHOP)
  • Mediterranean Rice Salad
  • Even pizza (if done right!)

Ideally, you want whole grain and not refined grain (such as white bread), but fiber before a race can be bad (you don’t want to poop or have “runners trot), so some simple carbs are okay.

What to eat before 5K and what NOT to eat before 5K- There are good carbs and there are bad carbs

Also, you can eat vegetables before a race, but you have to eat a lot of them for it to be sufficient energy (hence why they are so great for dieting and weight loss!) Second, you need to consider the type of race you are running.

Let me explain…

A runner who is preparing for a marathon is going to need to eat a lot more carbohydrates than someone who is only running a 5K. (insert runners wall post)

So for each of the following race types, this is when I recommend starting eating your carb heavy meals.

  • 5K: half a day in advance (so dinner and lunch)
  • Half Marathon: 1 to 1.5 days in advance
  • Marathon: 2 days in advance of the race

Race Day Meal

On race day your body should be geared towards running and not digesting, so you should not be feeling “stuffed” or a full stomach on race day. This means you should only eat a small carbohydrate filled breakfast before your morning race.

This proper way to prepare day of race

These small breakfast meals or snacks can be

  • Oatmeal
  • Granola bar
  • Bagel

This doesn’t mean you should eat a granola bar 5 minutes before your marathon (unless you want to have a stomachache) instead you should stop eating at least 90 minutes if not two hours in advance of your race.

Now as far as water on race day, just try not to overindulge in drinking, because I know it’s never a good feeling when you can hear and feel the water moving around in your stomach. 

Note: Most weekend races occur in the morning, if your race is a weekday in the afternoon then you can have a heavier meal for breakfast and a smaller meal for lunch.

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