What to eat before a 10k
Finding a balance between energy sustaining foods and foods that are easy to digest is the key for runners. The ideal pre-run meal or snack should be composed primarily of:
- Low GI foods
- Healthy carbohydrates
- Healthy fats.
Here I explain why these foods are so important before a run, plus I look at when you should eat them to achieve the best performance possible. I also explain which foods to avoid pre-run and why this should be the case.
1. Eat - Low GI foods
The glycaemic index (GI) is a rating system for foods containing carbohydrates. It measures how quickly these foods are digested and how soon they affect blood sugar (glucose) levels after being eaten. The faster the body breaks these down, and blood glucose rises, the higher the GI rating.
According to our Nutritionist Emma Thornton, it's important for runners to eat foods containing low GI carbs, particularly in the 2-3 hours before a run, as these foods release energy slower and at a more sustained rate. She says: "This will help to preserve energy stores in the muscles and should allow fat sources to be used thus ensuring energy levels are higher for longer."
It is particularly important to avoid all high GI foods in the 20 minute window prior to exercise as there can be a physiological effect attached to the drop in blood glucose at this time. This means energy gels are one to watch as they can be packed with sugar, meaning their effects on your energy levels may not be very long-lasting.
Low GI foods:
- Dried apricots
Look at our recipe hub to find inspiration for your pre-run meal – our spiced porridge is tasty and filling!
2. Eat - healthy carbohydrates
When it comes to carbohydrates, it is important not to overload as this group of foods can leave you feeling sluggish and bloated. However, eating a small amount of carbs the morning before a big run should help to see you through. That's because carbs are able to boost stores of glycogen which serves as a source of energy.
Before a 10k, aim to have around 1/3 of your meal made up with carbs and use fish, meat and vegetables to fill up the other proportions.
Healthy carbohydrate foods:
- Whole wheat pasta
- Brown rice
- Wholegrain bread
3. Eat - protein
A little bit of protein before a race can help you feel full for a longer period of time - as a rough guide, around ¼ of your dinner plate should be made up of protein. On top of this, protein is really important for the muscles as it is used to build and repair tissue there. It makes up tendons, for example, as well as ligaments, collagen and elastin, the latter of which is essential for repair work. This means it is important to get protein both before and after a run.
Read our blog 'How much protein do you really need?' for further information on protein.
4. Eat - healthy fats
Nutritionist Emma Thornton says that we mustn't forget about eating healthy fats before a run. These provide fuel to sustain the body through a long distance and help support the absorption of multiple nutrients too. Healthy fats also help support the health of the muscles and joints.
Emma says: "Healthy fats should make up 1/4 to 1/3 of our daily diet so these should feature during periods of training, although you might want to reduce this intake in the few hours prior to running as they are much slower to digest."
Foods containing healthy fats:
You could try our recipe for cranberry granola bars if you're after a delicious and healthy pre-run snack.
What is a good meal to eat before a race?
Now that I've looked at a few key ingredients to eat before a 10k, here are a few examples of meals from our recipe hub that incorporate these foods.
My meal plan for race day
I have done a few 10k races now and, with each one, I am gradually learning more about what to eat before and after the race. I hope these tips help you out if you are preparing for a 10k event too.
I start the day with some porridge mixed with banana and peanut butter as I know this is a meal that will fill me up and release energy slowly. I drink a big glass of water with this so that I'm hydrated for the race.
A blueberry smoothie is quite good around this time as I don't want anything that will make me feel too full. I also like to have a homemade cereal bar to hand, such as our muesli & peanut butter bars, just in case I feel peckish en route to the race.
After running I will usually have my main meal of the day because, after burning lots of energy, it needs to be replaced! I really like fish so will cook salmon, brown rice, chickpeas and beans all mixed together in a sauce - my favourite is teriyaki! I find the beans make the meal a bit more filling which is what I need at this time. Don't forget to drink plenty of water after the race too, as this will replace lost fluids.
If I feel hungry mid-afternoon, which is expected given the amount of calories and energy used up during the course of a 10k, I usually like to have something sweet as a little treat for my hard work. Banana bread is one of my favourite cakes and, with a cup of herbal tea, it's the perfect way to relax post-run. It doesn't have to be too unhealthy either – take a look at our recipe for healthy banana bread to see what I mean!
As lunch becomes my main meal on race days, for dinner I'll opt for something light such as pasta in a tomato or pesto sauce. I like to add lots of veg in there too such as spinach, peppers, peas and courgette – yum!
Foods to avoid before a run
As well as choosing certain foods to eat before a run, there are actually a few things that should be avoided as well. This should maximise performance and aid recovery in the days after a run! Read on to find out what you should not be eating.
1. Avoid - Fibre
Fibre is an essential part of a healthy diet and, when consumed regularly, is even associated with a lower risk of heart disease, strokes and type 2 diabetes.
That being said, we may want to avoid a heavy intake of fibre immediately before a run as it can sometimes be a little hard for the stomach to digest.
High fibre foods:
2. Avoid - High fat foods
Foods high in fat are also ones to avoid before a big run as these can only be digested slowly. This can make your stomach feel weighed down and may leave you feeling tired and low in energy.
High fat foods:
Try some of our healthy snacks as an alternative to chocolate and cake. Our peanut butter bliss balls are the perfect option!
3. Avoid - Caffeine
Caffeine is known to give you an energy boost so it can be tempting to have a coffee before a run. This is not a good idea, however, as caffeine can cause stomach upset and diarrhoea - not something you want to have to deal with while you are out on a run, especially if there are no restrooms nearby!
Emma also says: "Don't forget to watch out for energy products like gels, drinks and bars that are cleverly marketed at runners but may also be loaded with caffeine. The energy hit these kinds of products provide may also be relatively short-lived."
Sources of caffeine:
- Tea (including green tea)
- Energy drinks
4. Avoid - Sugar
Although sugar will initially provide a bit of an energy boost (or a sugar rush!), this isn't long-lasting and the inevitable crash in energy levels will soon follow. This means it is best to avoid sugary foods in the lead up to a run.
We know that sugars are abundant in the likes of cake and sweets, but don't forget they can be hidden in other, more surprising, sources too.
Unexpected sources of sugar:
- Fruit juice
- Canned soup
How long before a race should you eat?
A big meal can often make us feel tired and weighed down which is not what we want right before a run. To prevent this, there are some general guidelines you can follow to ensure your food is properly digested before putting on your running shoes:
- 150-200 calories should be consumed every hour before a run
- If you consume a large meal, wait 2-4 hours before running
- If you consume a light meal, wait 2 hours before running
- If you consume a snack, wait 30 minutes to an hour before you then decide to run.
These are general guidelines. Not everyone digests food at the same rate, so it's a matter of trial and error to find out how long it's best for you to wait before you start running.
What to eat and drink after a 10k race
After passing the finish line of your 10k race (and stretching out tired muscles!), one of the first things you'll want to do is eat! So, what should you opt for at this time?
Try beetroot juice – Studies have shown that beetroot could aid muscle recovery after exercise so this is definitely one ingredient to include in your post-run meal.1 Alternatively, why not try some of Biotta's Beetroot Juice mixed into your favourite smoothie?
Opt for wholegrains – these replace glycogen (a form of energy) that is lost through exercise. This energy is released very slowly which can help avoid a crash later on. Brown rice, brown pasta and brown bread are all examples of wholegrain ingredients.
Fruit and vegetables – fruit and veg can have a high water content, particularly if it's the likes of melon, courgette and oranges. This means it can help replace lost fluids after exercise. Fruit and veg also contain plenty of vitamins and minerals that your body may need to top up on after the run.
Nut butters – these are loaded with protein, fibre and minerals so are a healthy and tasty way to increase energy levels and replace any nutrients lost through your 10k run.
Stay hydrated – Make sure to drink water before and during a run to help replace fluids lost through sweat. Getting into the habit of drinking around 2 litres of water a day may also make it easier to stay hydrated come race day.
Try Balance Mineral Drink – This contains nutrients and electrolytes, including magnesium and potassium, and can help to ease the fatigue and aching muscles you may experience after a race.
What to eat before training
If you go for a short run first thing in the morning, it is not usually necessary to have breakfast beforehand as your glycogen stores should be enough to fuel your workout.
If you do skip breakfast before your morning run, though, make sure you leave enough time afterwards to have something to eat. It's important that you eat within 30 minutes of finishing your run to allow your body to replenish glycogen stores and rebuild muscles.
Be prepared to have a bigger appetite as you up your training regime and know that this is ok! Get used to listening to your body and increase your intake of healthy, substantial foods, as required.
Good foods for training:
- A banana
- A granola bar
- Handful of cereal
Smoothies make another great snack before a run. Take a look at our recipe hub for a whole range of smoothie flavours!
What to eat before a 5k
For runs which last less than 1 hour, or up to a 5 mile distance at an easy pace, runners often find that they have enough stored energy to undertake this type of run on an empty stomach - but how can you guarantee your stored energy won't fail you?
The best thing to do is to have a light snack, 30 minutes before your run, to keep you energised throughout. Try to aim for about 15 grams of carbohydrates and low fibre content in this pre-run snack.
Foods to eat before a short run:
What should you eat the day before a race?
Carbohydrates are ideal the night before a run as this can help prep glycogen stores. Foods including rice, bread, potatoes and corn are all rich in carbohydrates. That being said, we don't need to do any major carb-loading for shorter distances such as a 10k, so don't get carried away! Instead, aim to have around 1/3 of your plate covered with carbs, with the other two thirds a combination of fruit, vegetables, fish or meat.
Emma says: "Eating a better variety of foods pre and post-run will ensure you get a wider range of nutrients to help support better performance and recovery. Also, it's important that you don't change up your diet just before an important run or race and, instead, get used to trying out what different foods work best for you during your training period."
The night before a big race it is also important to drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol (how can you run with a hangover?) and stay clear of coffee. This is likely to keep you awake at night, meaning you won't get enough rest to see you through the run.
With all these tips you should be well prepared for your next 10k so, all that remains to be said is good luck and enjoy the day!
Originally published 20 May 2015 (updated on 22 Auagust 2019)