Training for My First 5K: What Do I Eat?

Nutrition Tips to 5K Ready

 Training for a 5K run or walk is a great way to kick-start getting in shape while applying motivational goals to keep you going.  A 5K walk, jog or combination of the two “wog” will require a few months of physical and nutritional preparation which hopefully turns into a lifestyle of health.  This article will be addressing the right foods to eat towards achieving your goals and feeling your best while preparing for race day.

Learn Healthy Eating Habits

5k Race
Use a 5K Race to Kickstart Your Fitness. Martin Novak/Getty Images

 The 5K race is 3.1 miles and can range from 15 minutes for some to over an hour for others to complete.  The fitness levels may vary but the healthy food guidelines will remain the same. Learning healthy eating habits will be part of the overall training process and consuming quality nutrition will provide energy to meet the demands of the running training schedule.  Preparing for a 5K is all about life and health improvement and cleaning up the food choices while having fun achieving a personal goal.  

Food Inventory

5K Race Foods
Adopt Healthy Eating Habits. Sam Edwards/Getty Images

 The body needs energy and good carbohydrates will be the foods to satisfy that requirement.  If the pantry is stocked with chips, crackers, and cookies the first order of business will be to inventory your stash.  Processed foods are not your friend and will need to be replaced with simple carbs like fruits to complex carbs like whole grains and oats.  It may feel wasteful to ditch the “junk” food but that term itself should let you know that it is not something that belongs in your body, training or not.  Healthier selections would be a wide variety of vegetables, organic canned beans, quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, and 100% whole grain or wheat breads for complex options.  Seasonal fruits like apples, berries, pears, and peaches are great quick energy grabs to fuel a body in training and in general.  

Protein for Muscle

Lean Proteins
Eat Lean Protein for 5K Training and Recovery. Philip Wilkins Photolibrary/Getty Images

 Lean proteins are essential for muscle recovery and overall good health.  If the refrigerator is full of fake food options like salami, hot dogs, and frozen chicken nuggets grab the trash and dump that stuff.  Excellent sources of healthy lean proteins are boneless and skinless chicken breast, lean turkey meat, egg whites, low-fat dairy foods, and fatty fish like salmon.  Training for a 5K will place demands on the body that will require the right foods to help with recovery and allowing for prime fitness.  As you adopt healthy eating habits you will begin to see results in how you feel, weight loss, and increased ability to perform better.  Healthy food selection will be the key to reaching your goals.  

Heathy Fats

Healthy Fats
Eat Healthy Fats for Optimum 5K Performance. Brian Leatart Photolibrary/Getty Images

Healthy fats are another important nutrient to be included daily for optimum health and fitness.    Not all fats are created equal and if your kitchen is swarming with saturated or trans-fat foods like chips, batter fried products, hydrogenated oils like margarine or shortening, and canned frostings time for another removal of the enemy.  Healthy fat options include raw nuts and nut butters, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, flax seeds, and fatty fish like salmon.  Eating healthy fats helps reduce cholesterol and inflammation.  Eating the right fats and foods will help you feel better and provide the motivation to keep going. 

Water is Essential

Water is Essential for Training
Drink Water During 5K Training and for Good Health. Cultura RM/Corey Jenkins Cultura/Getty Images

 Drinking plenty of water will be an important part of your 5K training and adopting a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition.  The body is comprised of over 60% water and should be of no surprise the essential role it plays in overall health.  When running or involved in other exercise activity drinking plenty of water will be essential for peak performance.  Water is lost through sweat and replenishing every 15 to 20-minutes during physical activity is recommended.  

You Can Achieve Your Goals

You Can Achieve Your Goals
You Can Achieve Your 5K Goals. Steve Debenport/Getty Images

 When the proper nutrients from good carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, and water are included in daily food intake, achieving your goals are within reach.  With all foods, including healthy selections, proper portion sizes will also be important.  Typically vegetables, greens, and fruits are not the issue and mostly free foods to be enjoyed throughout the day.  Closer attention to the portion sizes of healthy fats, whole grain carbohydrates, and proteins will keep you on a healthy track and well-fueled.  Eating right to reach your goals is not difficult and simply requires a realistic change.  Applying the above guidelines during your 5K training will enable you to achieve your goals feeling your best and provide the motivation to pursue the next big race.

Sources:, Nutrition Basics for 5K Runners, Kelly Devine Rickert, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, 8/11/14

Eat Right Organization, 5 Tips to Put the Spring Back in Your Step, Sharon Denny, MS, RDN, 5/15

American Council of Exercise, Training to Run Your First 5K, Fit Facts, Cardiovascular Health

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