Training for your first 5K: What to eat

“Fuel is everything,” says Ann Whitaker, RD, Supervisor of Nutrition Services at Kaiser Permanente. “You want to eat a balanced diet every day, so that your body is fueled and ready for action.” Eating a healthy diet 6-8 weeks leading up to an event is important. You do not want to try something new or different right before an event.

Whitaker recommends using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s, MyPlate, as a general guide. Visualize a plate with half the plate filled with vegetables and fruit. The other half of the plate should be equally divided between grains and protein.

Here are more of Whitaker’s tips:

Eat breakfast: Start your day off right with a healthy breakfast, even if you don’t feel hungry. Whitaker recommends a serving of whole grains, a serving of fruit and a glass of milk or low-fat yogurt, which is a great protein source.

Eat something every few hours. “If you wait longer than four to five hours to eat something, even a snack, you are less likely to make good food choices when you do eat,” she says. “You are also much more likely to overeat.”

Don’t eliminate carbs: “Carbs are your main source of energy,” Whitaker says. “You will feel fatigued if you don’t get in enough.” Healthy carbs include grains, beans, starchy vegetables, fruit and milk.

Reach for water: Say no to sweet tea. Even sports drinks are sugar-laden. On heavy training days and race day, sports drinks can help replace electrolytes. Whitaker recommends one cup of sports drink for every two cups of water.

Eat right and hydrate well on race day: You don’t want a heavy meal before the event, but a light snack will keep you energized. Whitaker suggests a banana or a piece of cheese. She suggests 1 to 2 cups water before the race and 8 ounces of water every 15 to minutes during the race, especially if it’s hot. When you’re handed water during a race, drink five swallows, even if you don’t feel thirsty, she says.

A 5K is not an extreme event, and it’s not necessary to switch to an extreme diet when training. Instead, just focus on feeding your body well. “If you treat your body badly, you’ll feel bad and be tempted to quit,” Whitaker says. “Training for a 5K is like starting on a journey, and good food choices will get you where you want to go.”

About this series: Training for Your First 5K appears Wednesdays and features expert advice for all aspects of preparing for a 5K. Created by the Kaiser Permanente Run/Walk & Fitness Program, the goals are to inspire metro Atlantans to get fit and to promote workplace wellness.

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