The 5K is an amazingly diverse event. Some people just hope to cross the finish line in one piece, while others train hardcore to break the 20-minute mark. Some events are all about fun and games, but other are serious competitions for money and rankings.
Regardless of why you compete or how fast you can run, you need to complement your 5K training with a solid nutrition plan starting the day before your event. Contrary to popular belief, when it comes to fueling for the race, the day before is more important than the day of.
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The Day Before
The day before the event is for fueling. The carbohydrate loading you do for longer-distance runs is unnecessary for a 5K. Stick to your regular nutrition plan, or use the pre-race sample meal plan below.
To make sure you begin your race with full carbohydrate stores, taper your exercise during the week while maintaining your food intake and drinking plenty of water. To boost your nutrition plan, use the "Rules of 3"—a carbohydrate, a fat and a protein at each meal and at least three colors on your plate. This will ensure that you combine sustainable energy with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
- Oatmeal: Cooked rolled oats with walnuts, chia seeds, dried cherries, honey, and cinnamon
- Green Tea
- BBQ Chicken Salad: Mix of kale and red leaf lettuce, chicken breast, black beans, corn, red bell peppers, green onions, avocado, with a mix of olive oil and BBQ sauce for dressing
- Stir fry: Brown rice with lots of mixed vegetables, cashews or peanuts topped with teriyaki salmon (baked separately)
Snacks (when hungry)
- Apple with natural almond butter
- 12-ounce Super Smoothie: Greens, fruit, protein powder, almond milk and avocado or cashews (for healthy fats)
- Cut veggies and hummus
Before the Race
You have two nutrition priorities to take care of before your race:
1. Top off fuel stores: Eat a meal you have tried before, one that will not upset your stomach. The perfect combination of carbs, protein and fat is useless if it gives you cramps, gas or bloating.
2. Hydrate: Your best bet is to have water with breakfast (along with a small cup of coffee or tea, if you prefer) and sip on a sports drink as you arrive at the event and during your warm-up.
Most of your fueling should have occurred the day or two prior, so do not rely on a pre-race meal to store all of your energy for the rest of the day. It's OK to have a relatively small breakfast—just don't skip your hydration.
During the Race
In a race like a marathon or triathlon lasting longer than 90 minutes, you typically need to hydrate and replace the energy your body burns. In a 5K, if you fuel during the event, you will probably take in too much fuel and finish absorbing it after the race. If your race lasts less than 20 minutes, you can run the entire race without taking in any food or drink. If your race lasts 20+ minutes, a few sips of water (half cup) at the halfway point should suffice. In hot and humid conditions, you may benefit from a sports drink instead of water, but make sure it's one you have tried during intense exercise so as not to upset your stomach. If you plan to be out on the course longer than an hour, you may benefit from adding fuel to your hydration.
After the Race
As with any workout or race, replace what you lost. That typically includes hydration (water), fuel (carbohydrate) and electrolytes (sodium & potassium). Compared to other endurance events, 5K's do not burn as much fuel. As a result, it can be easy to overdo post-race refueling. Unless you have another workout planned later that day, don't worry about the typical post-workout routine. Instead, enjoy a regular breakfast or brunch with plenty of fluids.
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