Whether you’re about to run your first 5km race or you’re a seasoned pro, making sure that you’ve got energy on board and avoiding stomach upset is the key to performing your best. From personal experience, I found that it was crucial to train my stomach to be comfortable with eating specific foods 2 hours before the race. This ensures optimal performance and no G.I (gastrointestinal) problems. In terms of making sure we have enough energy and fuel on board, if a decent meal is eaten the night before, and a few hours before the race, the human body has enough energy for up to 80 minutes of endurance activity. This means “bonking”, or in other words, running out of glycogen stores for muscle recruitment is not so much of an issue for shorter races like a 5km or 10km.
What should I eat the night before a 5k race?
A decent meal which includes a quality form of carbohydrates is really important to take on board the night before a race. It ensures our body is stocked with energy to recruit for the race the next day. Since most road races are run in the morning, here are some examples of dinners to eat the night before (tried and tested!) and breakfasts for 2-3 hours before the gun goes off!
Personally, I like to keep it simple stupid. The night before some of my best middle to long-distance track races I eat a very simple take on fried rice:
- Long grain low G.I rice, the Dongara kind normally (the most important component, complex carbohydrates)
- Tuna/Salmon/Chicken or pork (lean protein, not a big fan of red meat the night before a race)
- Shredded carrot, steamed green beans (some simple veggies)
- ½ a small avocado sliced (Fats)
- Topped with soy sauce, a dash of sweet chili sauce and lemon juice + salt/pepper (for flavor!)
For the morning of the race, I like to stick with a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates. We want energy to be easily accessible and be enough to keep you satiated on the start line and throughout the race. For example, I generally eat oats, maple syrup/honey/brown rice syrup, and a banana 2-3 hours before the race. This is my go-to breakfast before some of my major 5 and 10km road races.
- ½-¾ cup of oats, cooked on the stovetop so they are well done. This decreases digestion time.
- 1 teaspoon of honey, or maple syrup (slightly more if using the latter option)
- Chopped banana on top
- Dash of cinnamon
Toast with banana and honey is also a very good option if you’re not a big fan of oats. I like to stick with white bread or sourdough the day of the race, rather than a grain bread or wholemeal/wholewheat, as this can cause stomach upsets.
How long before a 5k should you eat?
If it is an early morning race, I’d recommend a larger meal, and possibly a small dessert of some sort the night before, just before heading to bed. This is because some races have a gun start time around 7 or 8 am, meaning eating 2 hours beforehand requires an early rise, which might not be as convenient for some participants. However, it is recommended if you’re desiring to hit that personal best time, that you plan to eat around 2-3 hours before the race.
For evening races, it is slightly more flexible. Eating a solid, well-balanced breakfast or brunch 8-6 hours out, another meal 4 hours out, and a snack 2 hours out to top up energy stores will ensure you are ready.
It is crucial to train our stomach to become used to the food we intend to eat before we race when in a running context. Before race day, plan to do some of your harder workouts with the same foods on board, sticking to the same eating timings. See it as a race day simulation in a sense! The stomach can even learn to digest food closer to race time. I can now eat porridge an hour before I run, and not experience discomfort.
Should you run the day before a 5k?
This is very much up to the individual and the coach. The best way to test which will work best for you is to try a 20-30 minute very easy jog the day before a 5km specific workout or tempo run. Do the same with taking a rest day the day before either kind of workout also. Track how you feel in a journal or online software for the period in which you carry out this test. This will allow you to gauge whether it’s best for you mentally and physically to either take rest or run the day before the race.
Personally, I have done both. I prefer to take a rest day 2 days before the race and jog 20-30 minutes with 4x 100m strides the day before the race. This is more for mental preparation over anything. No actual fitness gains will be made at this point.
Is it OK to drink coffee before a 5k?
It is absolutely ok to drink coffee before a 5km, or any race or sporting activity for that manner. In most cases, it is actually recommended as it can have a slight performance-enhancing effect if the individual times their ingestion correctly to the event start time and duration. Caffeine can cause an upset stomach, better known as G.I distress for runners if the athlete is not used to coffee when training. However, if the individual is able to take on board coffee, their awareness, alertness, focus can increase and their perception of effort may be decreased. What’s not to love about that? I’m a big fan of coffee before racing.
Here’s an even niftier trick you can consider yourself which I came up with whilst out on a long run. I practice this regularly to get the optimum race-day advantage. As a regular coffee drinker, many would agree that we become slightly immune to the effects of coffee over time. Considering this, I only drink decaffeinated coffee and tea, or no coffee at all, 3 days before a race. Whether it is a placebo or not, I can’t be sure, but I know I definitely feel the caffeine effects when I drink coffee on race day after no coffee for a few days. On the day of the race, if it is an early start time, I take on board 2 shots, and if it is in the evening, up to 3. I’m buzzing and ready to go!
How long before a race should I drink caffeine?
Caffeine has a pretty short-acting effect, so from personal experience, I like to have 1 shot an hour out from the race, and another shot 30 minutes before. I take these in caffeine strips such as Revvies (https://www.revviesenergy.com/) in which each strip is equivalent to one shot of coffee. This reduces any chance of stomach upset which might be experienced if a coffee, particularly one with dairy milk, is ingested too close to the gun time. However, the stomach can also be trained to take caffeine on board close to a race. I can have a black coffee with a dash of milk up to 45 minutes before an event, as long as I ensure I get to the bathroom before the start, this is no issue for me. I’m firing and ready to run fast!
How much should I drink before a 5k?
Water is important for any person undertaking exercise, particularly hard efforts. However the 5km is no marathon in distance, so water doesn’t need to be taken during the race. A large glass of breakfast and small regular sips up until the race start is recommended. I often find people get nervous and sip on too much water before a race, creating a gluggy, uncomfortable feeling in their stomach.
Again, practice this. Make sure the day and night before the race you are on top of your hydration, and you’ll be right to go the next day!