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How to Fuel for a 5KHow to Fuel for a 5K


Fuel for a 5K

Running 3.1 miles to complete a 5K race takes both fitness training and a healthy eating plan. It is important to start preparing several days before so that you get the fuel you need to feel your best on race day and perform well in your event.

Carb-loading and 5Ks

Carbohydrate loading is an eating method used to maximize glycogen stores (sugar stored for energy in the muscles and liver). It’s often associated with running, but not all distances require this dietary practice. Research shows that carb-loading is beneficial for events that take 90 minutes or longer to complete. Depending on pace, most runners will finish a 5K in 20 to 40 minutes. A mixed diet of about 50 percent carbohydrates is effective for giving you the fuel you need.

Low-fat and Low-fiber

About one week before the event, continue to eat your regular healthy diet. Aim to make it about 50 percent carbohydrates and include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fat. About three to four days before the event gradually reduce your fat intake and focus more on carbohydrates that are lower in fiber. While lean protein is still important, too much fat and fiber take longer to digest and they can cause stomach upset.

Don’t use your race as an excuse to load up on baked goods, sodas, or candy, which have little nutritional value. Continue to eat healthy and include low-fiber fruits without edible seeds and skins like bananas and melons. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and rice can also be helpful in getting the quick-burning carbohydrates you need to store glycogen during these few days before the race.


Learning what to eat and when to eat before a 5K takes some trial and error, but here are a few tips to help you prepare in the final 2 to 12 hours before the event.

  • Instead of eating a large dinner the night before, consider eating a larger lunch and a small dinner. This helps reduce the risk of overeating and feeling stuffed the next morning before the race.
  • Keep your pre-race meals low-fat and low-fiber and high in carbohydrates. People tolerate fat at different levels. For example, while nut butter on toast may work well for some, others may find that it causes a stomach ache.
  • Test your pre-race meals and snacks. Try eating what you plan to have on race day before a few training runs a couple weeks prior to the event.
  • If you feel like you need a meal before the race, consider getting up early so you can eat at least four hours before the event and give it time to digest. Otherwise a snack about 2 hours before the event is good for most people.
  • If you find food hard to tolerate before an event, consider drinking a sports drink or similar product to supply a few calories and carbohydrates before your run.
  • A few ideas for pre-race snacks include: toast with jam, a low-protein energy bar, low-fiber cereal, a banana, or almond milk.
Lori Rice, M.S., is a nutritional scientist and author with a passion for healthy cooking, exercise physiology, and food photography.
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