What to Eat Before Running a 10k
If you are preparing to run a 10k and looking to optimize your performance we need to talk about pre-race nutrition. Distance running is an energy demanding sport and understanding your fueling needs, both in training and on race day, is critical to sustain long runs and prevent injury. Knowing what to eat before running a 10k allows you to go into the race feeling confident and prepared.
Finding your perfect pre-race meal can help avoid gastrointestinal upset and provide maximum, sustained energy for optimal performance. In this blog post I will share some sport nutrition fundamentals and provide several race day sample meals to help you find your ideal pre-race combo. Alright, let’s go…
Carbohydrates for Energy
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of fuel and should make up the majority of your diet. While running your body can utilize carbohydrate from a previous meal consumed as well as stored carbohydrate (aka glycogen). I recommend getting a combination of carbohydrates from different sources throughout training as well as for your pre-race meal to maximize glycogen stores and increase energy availability on race day.
Here are some carbohydrate sources to consider:
- Breads, cereals, pasta, rice
- Fruits and vegetables
- Cow’s milk or soy milk, greek yogurt
Protein for Power
Protein provides the building blocks for maintenance and growth of muscle mass. These building blocks, known as amino acids, are essential to repair and rebuild skeletal muscle and connective tissue during training blocks helping to prevent sport related injury (1). Moderate protein in your pre-race meal will also aid in sustained energy during your race and prevent rapid energy depletion.
Here are some protein sources to consider:
- Cow’s milk, greek yogurt, cottage cheese
- Soy milk
- Tofu, Tempeh
- Turkey, chicken, lean beef
- Fish, shrimp
- Beans, legumes
Again, I recommend getting a variety of protein sources as each have individual benefits and nutrient profiles. It is important to mention that milk protein in particular has been studied extensively in athletes. Milk consumption following exercise has shown several notable outcomes including:
- Accelerated recovery from muscle damage due to exercise (2)
- Increases in replenished glycogen stores (3)
- Improvements in hydration status (4,5)
- Increased muscle protein synthesis (6,7)
During training dietary fat is essential to ensure you are meeting your fueling needs and absorption of vitamins. However your pre-race meal should be low in fat due to its slow digestion which could increase the probability of gastrointestinal upset during your race. Additionally, keeping fat intake low in your pre-race meal allows for better utilization of your body’s primary source of fuel, carbohydrates.
Hydration is critical for optimal performance in distance running. Focus on hydration throughout your training and pre-race to avoid dehydration. Consequences of dehydration can include: decline in performance, increased core temperature and heart rate, decreased blood pressure, fatigue, headaches, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting.
Water is appropriate for most training and events that are less than 1 hour. If your run is longer than 1 hour or on hot days, a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink (such as a sports drink which offers carbohydrate, sodium and potassium) can keep you adequately hydrated. The best way to determine your hydration status is monitoring the color of your urine. If urine is a light straw color you are likely consuming adequate fluids.
Meal and Hydration Timing on Race Day
Consuming a meal 3-4 hours before your race is ideal. This allows enough time for proper digestion before you begin your run. Eating a large meal too close to the start of your race can increase the probability of an upset stomach as running decreases blood flow to the gut.
Approximately 2-3 hours before your race consume 16 – 20 oz of water. After that continue to drink based on thirst as you wait for your race to begin.
What to Eat Before Running a 10k
Your pre-race meal should be high in carbohydrate, low in fat and fiber, moderate in protein. Below are examples of pre-race meal ideas but portion sizes will vary based on your individual needs. To determine your specific needs work with a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Sample Pre-Race Meals, Breakfast Inspired
- Oatmeal with brown sugar & almonds, low fat milk, berries
- Low fat cottage cheese, grapes, apple butter & crackers
- Non fat greek yogurt, low fat granola, fruit
- Peanut butter & honey toast, fruit and low fat greek yogurt smoothie (can sub smoothie for instant breakfast drink)
- Bagel, peanut butter, banana, low fat chocolate milk
Sample Pre-Race Meals, Lunch & Dinner Inspired
- Deli turkey & cheese sub sandwich, tortilla chips, banana, low fat milk
- Grilled chicken on flour tortilla, pretzels, berries, low fat milk
- Tuna sub sandwich, fruit cup, crackers, fat free yogurt
- Sweet potato, almond butter, fruit, low fat milk
It is best to experiment with different pre-race meals during training to see what works best for you. Working with a registered dietitian nutritionist can help you determine your specific nutrition needs taking into consideration age, body composition, and duration and intensity of training schedule and race. Your goal in determining what to eat before running a 10k is to find a pre-race meal that is well tolerated (doesn’t cause upset during your run) and provides a maximum amount of readily available energy to sustain you.
- Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, Cribb PJ, Wells SD, Skwiat TM, Purpura M, Ziegenfuss TN, Ferrando AA, Arent SM, Smith-Ryan AE, Stout JR, Arciero PJ, Ormsbee MJ, Taylor LW, Wilborn CD, Kalman DS, Kreider RB, Willoughby DS, Hoffman JR, Krzykowski JL, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun 20;14:20. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8. PMID: 28642676; PMCID: PMC5477153.
- Cockburn E, Stevenson E, Hayes PR, Robson-Ansley P, Howatson G. Effect of milk-based carbohydrate-protein supplement timing on the attenuation of exercise-induced muscle damage. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2010;35:270–277. doi: 10.1139/H10-017
- Wojcik JR, Walber-Rankin J, Smith LL, Gwazdauskas FC. Comparison of carbohydrate and milk-based beverages on muscle damage and glycogen following exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2001;11:406–419. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.11.4.406.
- Cockburn E, Stevenson E, Hayes PR, Robson-Ansley P, Howatson G. Effect of milk-based carbohydrate-protein supplement timing on the attenuation of exercise-induced muscle damage. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2010;35:270–277. doi: 10.1139/H10-017.
- Watson P, Love TD, Maughan RJ, Shirreffs SM. A comparison of the effects of milk and a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink on the restoration of fluid balance and exercise capacity in a hot, humid environment. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2008;104:633–642. doi: 10.1007/s00421-008-0809-4.
- Tang JE, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J App Physiol (Bethesda, Md: 1985) 2009;107:987–992.
- Hartman JW, Tang JE, Wilkinson SB, Tarnopolsky MA, Lawrence RL, Fullerton AV, et al. Consumption of fat-free fluid milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accretion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice, male weightlifters. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(2):373–81.