Preparing for a 5K: Nutrition Tips

As you set off on the road, trail or treadmill to train for your first 5K (or your next one), it’s worth giving some extra thought to what you’re putting in your body for fuel.

Eat Well: Get the Energy You Need to Go the Extra Mile 

Luckily, the best nutrition plan for 5K training looks a lot like a healthy, well-balanced diet. While marathoners might need to “carb-load” for long training runs or take in specific extra nutrients, most runners training for 5K races can get what they need by eating wholesome meals with a variety of fresh foods.

For maximum payoff, make sure you get a good mix of carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats. These elements all play a role in making sure your body has enough energy to exercise, keeping your muscles healthy and promoting good recovery as you train.

Tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

  • Limit added sugars and saturated fats
  • Make half your grains whole grains
  • Make half your plate fruits and veggies
  • Vary your protein routine.

Over time, small changes add up. For instance, switching out an everyday breakfast of waffles with syrup to include high-quality options — such as oatmeal with berries, or scrambled eggs on a bagel with a side of fruit — can help keep you on the fast track.

Hydrate: And Drink in Your Success

You should drink approximately 64 ounces of water per day. If you stay well hydrated throughout the day, you won’t need to drink anything prior to your run. Carry a water bottle with you so you can sip from it regularly. Sports drinks with electrolytes are healthy for people who exercise for long periods of time, or sweat profusely.  In general, we get more than adequate amounts of sodium and potassium and sugar in our food. We don’t need to drink those nutrients.

Also, if you’ve been thinking about reducing your alcohol consumption, this is a good time to do it. Drinking alcohol can get in the way of a good workout in a number of ways, including dehydrating you, disturbing your sleep and affecting your blood sugar.

Have a Great Race

When it’s finally race day, your healthy nutrition choices will set you up for success. In the hours before the starting gun, stick to the meals your body is used to eating rather than reinventing the wheel or introducing new foods.

For dinner the night before your 5K, good meal options might include brown rice with grilled chicken and veggies, or whole wheat pasta with meat sauce and a lightly dressed salad. It’s also best to avoid higher fat foods, since they take longer to digest.

If your race is early in the morning, make sure to put something in your stomach first. A banana with a little peanut butter, wholegrain toast with jam or an energy bar might do the trick.

Throughout your 5K prep, consider good nutrition part of your training. Making higher quality choices more often than not will support your running plans and help you feel your best on race day.

On your mark, get set…go!


Davis Maurer, MS, RDN, LDN, is a clinical nutrition manager at Luminis Health Doctors Community Medical Center.