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Increase Your 5K Performance through Nutrition

posted Oct 13, 2015, 7:00 AM by Rachel Dolgner
Just wanted to share some tips you can be thinking about as you focus on your race plan. I work as a Registered Dietitian, and have learned that nutrition can help or hinder a race in major ways, and I love to share food ideas:)!

Wise athletes treat food as fuel. Like fuel for an Indy car the day of the Indianapolis 500, energy for a 5k, has an optimal blend. Enhanced performance for a 5k does not start and end on race day -- it is vital to consider fueling every day, and before, during and after workouts to maximize the cumulative effect. For optimal performance, eat a balance of carbs, protein, and fat on a continuous basis, then focus on race day with these recommendations provided.

Carbohydrate and fats are the optimal energy for high intensity aerobic exercise. Typically, an athlete has enough fat stored to get through a 5k; carbs thus becomes the focus for this event. Protein is unlikely to be used as an energy source in a 5k, however, protein is essential for repair of muscle, and should be an essential part of your post-race recovery meal.

Consuming carbs before your race can enhance performance by maintaining adequate blood glucose (sugar) levels, which is the main fuel for your muscles.
Furthermore, glucose is also the source of energy for your brain, and a well-nourished brain will improve your race focus. Studies have shown that a high carb
snack before an event enhances endurance and energy.

For a 5k, however, a large breakfast may be too much, yet a snack, a banana or toast w/almond or peanut butter, or a powerbar, will provide energy required for a 5k. Many athletes avoid food before an event because of the perception it may cause GI distress if not digested, but a low-fiber, low fat snack can digest within five minutes, such as a banana, half a bagel, or granola w/nuts and dried fruit. Research suggests that just the 100 calorie snack mentioned above could enhance performance by 10% on average.

Here are some food ideas to work into your race plan:

Non-Fat Greek Yogurt: This stuff is an ideal food for runners and trumps plain yogurt when it comes to protein—it has, on average, 18g. protein /serving. It is high in calcium, potassium, zinc, B6 and B12, all of which promote strong bones, optimal immune function and energy. Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier and lower in lactose. For a pre-race breakfast, top with granola, or blend with fruit (berries, banana) for a nutrient-dense smoothie which you can make the night before or morning of. Drink 3-4 hours pre-race.

Eggs: Eggs are also a pre-race power food or perfect for breakfast. Hands down the best whole food source of quality protein. They are loaded with protein that revs your metabolism and repairs muscles. Eggs contain 6 g. protein each and contain all essential amino acids. The yolk contains choline, which helps fend off inflammation—ideal for post-workout recovery.

Bananas: Bananas are the ideal on-the-go energy source for athletes...packed with potassium, B6, vit. C and manganese. Runners are known for training on consecutive days, often with little rest. Because of this, the body spends more time repairing , leaving you more susceptible to getting sick. Eating bananas can help you stay healthy throughout race season. One medium banana contains around 28 grams of carbs, making them a smart choice pre- and post-workout.

Peanut Butter: When it comes to running fuel, you can't get much better. High in heart-healthy fats, fiber and protein, it provides you sustained energy. The fats are digested slower than carbs, keeping you feeling fuller longer. When we eat carbs, our insulin spikes. Slowing that boost down a bit with the addition of healthy fats like peanut/almond butter turns that boost into sustained energy. Eat a spoonfull or packet of almond butter a few hours before your race for optimal energy.

For optimal performance in a 5k, your nutrition goal is to focus on pre-race. Based on scientific averages, optimal energy can be derived from 0.3g - 0.5g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight eaten approximately one hour before the race. For example, for a 140 pound athlete, 0.3 - 0.5 g X 140 pounds = 42 - 70g of carbohydrates. (There are 4 calories per gram, thus 40 - 70g = 160 - 280 calories of carbs).

Because carbs are available in the form of drinks, bars, gels and food, it is recommended you experiment when you are training. If you find GI distress is brought on at high intensities 
 consider liquids (drink Gatorade) versus solids, as they empty faster from the gut. Gels provide an intermediate and are an electrolyte (potassium and sodium) carb blend designed
for optimal digestion of carbs recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine. Gels are designed to be taken with 12oz water and if this is neglected, it may cause GI
distress. Do what makes you feel the best.

Hydration for a 5k should not be neglected. Pre and post race is your focus.

Drink 17-20 oz. water or sports drink 2 - 3 hours before (7:30-8:30am before 10:30am 5K…and between 8:15am - 9:15am for an 11:15 race). Clear urine means you are hydrated.

Another 7 - 10 oz. water, 10 - 20 minutes before the race is recommended (drink water at 10:10-10:20am for boys, and drink water around 11am for girls race).

Recovery: For muscle recovery and glycogen replenishment, post-race food is important. The enzyme responsible for storing glycogen is elevated after exercise. It is thus recommended that after you cool down jog 1.5-2 miles (critical for recovery), that you eat carbs as soon after as tolerated. Add protein as well, as it will enhance glycogen storage and aid in muscle recovery. Chocolate milk is perfect. Ideally, eat 72g carbs every hour for 4-5 hrs for a 140lb. athlete (50-60 g. carbs every hour after the event for a smaller athlete).

Here are a couple articles written by Runner’s World Sports Dietitian, Liz Applegate, PhD, on honey and one on snack ideas:

Good luck!

Coach Rachel Noirot