How to Nourish for a 5K

Training for a road race — even a short one — can be physically demanding beyond your expectations. Whether you’re already a runner or you’re going all the way from the couch to a 5K, you’ll need to do more than just stretch and sprint to train. You’ll likely also need to tweak your diet to support the physical activity in your new daily routine.

Remember: Before making any additions or changes to your diet or fitness routine, be sure to discuss your plan with your physician.

Before the Race

While developing an exercise routine to support your 5K goal, this is also the time to make changes to your dietary habits to help fuel your new activity. Again, you’ll want to talk with your doctor about both exercise and dietary changes.

You’ve probably heard runners say that activity-fueling is all about carb loading, but your doctor will likely tell you that things are more complex than that. Carbohydrates are definitely important — they’re the easiest fuel for your body to burn during exercise and if you aren’t eating enough of them, you might not see the kind of improvement you’re looking for — but they aren’t everything. Fats have more than double the calories per gram compared to protein or carbohydrates (9 vs. 4 kcal/g).

Are you lucky enough to have a bowl full of ripe avocados? Check out these how-to videos for information on how to keep them. You can store a whole ripe avocado in the fridge for up to a week, if you can wait that long! Or you can whip it up and keep your guac fresh and green with a layer of milk or water on top — just pour it off when you go back for leftovers.

When You Run

In the days and weeks leading up to your race, you’ll want to test some simple ways to consume extra calories before, during, and after you run. Prepared drinks with easily digestible sugars and electrolytes are popular with runners, but you can also make your own tasty drinks with simple ingredients like sugar, fresh mint, lime juice, cucumber, salt, and water. Try freezing some of this mix into ice cubes so your drink stays cold while you race.

Make your daily meals with whole foods that prioritize ingredients with higher percentages of protein and fiber. Be sure you are getting plenty of fluids. And if, during training, you find yourself feeling off, or not progressing in the ways you’d like, consider keeping a diary. Track all your food and drink, as well as your exercise, moods and energy levels, sleep, and any injuries, pain, or discomfort you experience. Use this information to tweak and personalize a diet that works for you and, of course, to discuss these issues with your doctor.

After the Race

If you finish your race strong but tired, you are in the zone. After you finish, be sure to take in more fluids, and within an hour of finishing, eat a snack with both carbs and protein. When your body settles, two or three hours after race time, your body will be ready for a meal.

By Barbara Ruhs, MD, RDN September 18, 2017

An avid avocado-eater and guacamole-lover, Barb is the Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for Avocados From Mexico and former sports nutritionist for Harvard University. Her philosophy on food is simple: Enjoy what you eat, prepare food with love, and add avocados to everything! 

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