You’ve spent a lot of time debating if you had it in you to conquer your first 5K race but you’ve decided to accept the challenge! Now that you’ve signed up, you may have started to log your miles and your race day is quickly approaching. As you’re getting started, you may have several concerns on your mind like “Where do I start?”

Before starting a running plan, there are many aspects of this sport to consider like:

  • Do you have a training plan that works with your schedule?
  • Do you have the proper attire for running?
  • Do you have a good support team in place?

And the most important question that is often overlooked;

  • Have you thought about how you will fuel your body?

When training for a 5k, it is equally important to consider what foods you will eat to compliment your efforts on the road or treadmill. It’s important to have enough energy for your run, but you don’t want to overdo it. Every runner differs, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid eating a large meal within 2-3 hours of running. Why is this the case? Your body needs blood and oxygen directed to your working muscles when running. If you eat right before you run, the priority for your body is shifted to digesting your meal.  A light snack 30-60 minutes before your start your run such as dried fruit, a banana, yogurt or a granola bar would be a better option.  Remember, what works for your sister or friend may not work for you. It is a good idea to test out a few light snacks to find which foods best fuel you for your run. One very important thing to remember is to NEVER try a new food on race day!  Keep your food trials for your training runs to avoid any digestive problems on the day of your race.

Here are some general guidelines to help you develop a healthy 5K nutrition plan:

Keep a food record or diary.

Record everything you consume, even fast food or the afternoon cookie you grabbed in the break room.  Don’t forget to record beverages you consume like your morning specialty coffees or late night spirits. A food diary gives you good insight on where you can begin to make changes. And remember—be honest!


Make small food swaps.

Switch from whole fat to low-fat dairy. Alternate fish a couple times each week in place of red meat. If you typically have dessert after diner, try to swap it out with a low-fat Greek yogurt and fresh berries. These small changes may be challenging at first, but be consistent and it will get easier.

Plan ahead.

Take some time to create a menu for a week. Make your grocery list based off of this menu. Also, consider what healthy snacks you want to have on hand. Good examples include fresh fruit, nuts, low-fat string cheese or whole grain crackers.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces per day. A 160 pound man, should aim for 80 oz. water a day (160/2=80). Drinking enough water during the day will keep you alert and can counter hunger pangs. There are some that like to carry water during runs, however, this is a personal preference and not necessary provided you are drinking enough water during the day. One word of caution on sports drinks—these beverages contain a lot of sugar in them and likely, are not necessary for a run shorter than 45 minutes. For a short run water should be your preferred beverage.

Refuel after a workout.

Aim to consume complex carbohydrates (whole wheat English muffins, a banana or whole grain cereal) and lean protein (natural peanut butter, low-fat yogurt/ cheese or a protein shake) after your workout. If possible, try to eat within 30 minutes of completing your run. This optimizes recovery of your muscles and repletion of your energy stores. This will also prevent you from getting too hungry later on which can lead to poor dietary choices.

Remember, when training for your first 5K you are challenging and pushing your body harder than you have before. Fueling your body with the proper nutrition at the correct times will be vital to your success as a runner. Armed with this information and your new found determination to get more active, you are sure to cross the finish line of your first 5k with a smile!

In good health,