How to Fuel for a 5K

How to Fuel for a 5K

Running and racing is one of my happy places. While I’m certainly not looking to break any records, I love the extra push that a race setting provides.

And since I’ve got a 5K race coming up, I thought I’d share my recommendations for fueling.

Because a 5K isn’t too long of a distance, nutrition during the race isn’t crucial. However, getting your food dialed in before the race can certainly give you an edge if you’re looking to set a new PR or simply run your best.


You might have heard the term “carb load” and are wondering if it’s something you need to be doing to prep for a 5K.

Carb loading is where you increase carb-rich foods while also cutting back on protein and fat in the days leading up to your race. This helps make sure your muscle glycogen stores are full, which will be one of your main fuel sources on race day.

Since 5K’s take about 30 minutes for most people, you actually don’t need to carb load, which is more helpful for distances that take 90+ minutes.

That being said, if you plan on running hard, you still need some carbs for fuel. Include plenty of starchy carb sources with each meal like potatoes, rice, oatmeal, pasta or bread. These are rich in glucose, which is the type of carbohydrate that gets stored as muscle glycogen.

Eating this way during your training will probably also be helpful, but it’s especially key in the days leading up to the race. In fact, a steady carb intake in those days is going to be more beneficial than a carb-heavy dinner the night before, as glycogen synthesis takes 24-36 hours.


Be sure to drink plenty of water in the days leading up to the race as well. For a baseline, aim to drink at least half your bodyweight in ounces + 15.

For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for 75 + 15 = 90 oz of water. Add more ounces if you’re going to be running in the heat. (I often shoot for 100+ oz per day.)

You can also add an electrolyte mix like this one or a flavored mix like this one if plain water gets old. Adding a few shakes of sea salt or pink salt to your water is another easy way to get in valuable minerals that help you stay hydrated.

And to stop or not to stop at the aid stations during the race? If you’ve hydrated well beforehand, sipping fluids during the 5K is not necessary but totally optional.


It takes food 4-5 hours to fully digest and become usable fuel, so if you’ve got less time than that between waking and hitting the start line, your pre-race meal is more about stabilizing blood sugar and staving off hunger.

You’ll want to choose protein and carb sources that are easy to digest while keeping fat and fiber low.

If you don’t have much time and / or an extra sensitive stomach, you could go with all liquid nutrition like a protein powder and carb powder supplement mixed with water. Sometimes I’ll do this plus a small banana just to have something solid in my stomach.

If you’ve got more time, you could do a larger meal with more solid food. Here are some examples:

  • Egg whites
  • English muffin
  • Oatmeal
  • Toast
  • Yogurt
  • Protein powder mixed in applesauce
  • Mashed sweet potato

Avoid sugary foods or drinks in the last hour before the race so you don’t get a drop in blood sugar just as the gun’s going off.

If you do want an added sugar boost, however, you could do a gel or few sips of a sports drink within 10 minutes of the start.


Alright, the race is complete, and now it’s time for your body to recover. And yes, there are optimal foods for this beyond that celebratory beer 🙂

To start the recovery process right away, you’ll want to include the following:

  • Post-run shake with a 2:1 to 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein within a half hour of finishing
  • Nutrient-dense meal with protein, plenty of carbs & a little fat within 1-1.5 hours of the shake


As with all pre-race nutrition, experiment on training days to learn what foods do and don’t work well for you.

Got a favorite pre-race meal? Share with us in the comments below — and then go crush that 5K!

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Need more help fueling for workouts? Join the crew to get weekly health + mindset tips, plus my Workout Nutrition Guide (for free).

Don’t like ’em? No problem. You can unsubscribe in a click.