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If the race is early in the morning, is it unwise to skip breakfast beforehand? How long should you avoid eating before running a 5K?

I normally finish in twenty-one minutes, and the race is at 8:30AM.

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How fast do you run it and how much time would you have before the race? –  Ivo Flipse Mar 25 '11 at 9:33
    
I recommend you eat only if you are hungry! Sometimes I eat a banana in a situation like that, but usually wait till after the run. Coffee before a race is very good and shown to enhance performance. (Coffee, but not necessarily sugar, milk, syrup and chocolate) –  J. Winchester Mar 25 '11 at 18:50
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4 Answers 4

up vote 29 down vote accepted

The main problem with eating before running is nausea and burping up your breakfast during your race. Once the food moves from the stomach to the small intestine, most people are fine (some people experience cramping, but this is uncommon in healthy runners). The stomach usually takes 30-60 minutes to empty, and it empties more quickly with a liquid meal than a solid meal (PubMed).

In endurance running, your main nutritional concern is carbs, because your body has relatively small stores of them. Runners often load up on carbs in the days before long races to fill up these stores as much as possible. Full stores can last 30-90 minutes, depending on intensity (about.com), so maybe that covers you for a 5k, maybe it doesn't, but why not give yourself a little extra fuel, just in case?

Before a race, I usually go for something like a banana smoothie made with yogurt about 45-60 minutes before the race. It has a low glycemic index, which means it will give you a sustained delivery of glucose throughout your run (rather that a spike and a drop). Bananas are also high in potassium, which is important to prevent muscle cramps (health911). If you want to really step up your game, caffeine is an effective performance enhancer, which is thought to work by increasing muscle contractility, mental alertness, and pain tolerance (Current Sports Medicine Reports). According to the article I cited its diuretic properties (makes you have to pee more) are not significant enough to dehydrate you.

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Excellent answer @Barbie, your answers are a great example for other users to follow! –  Ivo Flipse Mar 25 '11 at 17:42
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+1 for including references. A useful answer. –  J. Winchester Mar 25 '11 at 18:44
    
Thanks guys :) I recently moved to the US from Canada, and I don't have a Green Card yet, so it's nice be able to put my education to use one way or another! –  Barbie Mar 26 '11 at 6:30
    
Is a banana and yogurt smoothie really high in complex carbs. Looks like bananas carbs are half sugar and yogurt has no complex carbs dailyburn.com/nutrition/banana_usda_facts_calories dailyburn.com/nutrition/… –  tjjjohnson Mar 26 '11 at 12:20
    
Huh, you're right, I should have looked into it. A banana smoothie would still have a low glycemic index (probably due to the protein content), so I'll stick to the claim that it would give you a sustained delivery of carbs, but not for the reasons I thought. I will update my answer to reflect this. Thanks! –  Barbie Mar 26 '11 at 16:06
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Its perfectly fine (and common) to skip breakfast if your race is in the morning PROVIDED that you eat a good meal the night before with lots of healthy carbs (wholewheat pasta is a good one).

Also bear in mind that it is very subjective and what works for one person won't for another.

Something that I would highly recommend is to work training runs into your schedule that are at the same time as your race so that you are used to getting up and running in the morning already. Make sure to test whether you can eat breakfast or not during these tests and you'll have no problems.

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Training like you race is sound advice. But what is the basis to recommend carb loading? AFAIK evidence indicates that it MAY help, but not at a short event like 5k. It's perfectly fine to run without eating lots of carbs. –  J. Winchester Mar 25 '11 at 18:48
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You certainly don't want to be hungry right in the middle of your run, as that hungry feeling is quite distracting. Eating immediately before exercise though can lead to cramps, which are quite undesirable as well. Running.about.com suggests eating a light snack or meal an hour and a half to two hours prior to running. They also suggest that what you do eat be higher in carbohydrates for quickly available energy, and lower in fat, fiber, and protein.

My personal experience is that I'm fine to run in the morning provided I ate a sufficient supper the night before. If I didn't, I'll have something light like less than 300 calories about an hour before I go. I will say though, I'm not quite up to 5K yet either, and I can't guarantee that my personal experience will remain the same as I increase my running distances.

Another article on about.com agrees with this, stating that you should simply get up early enough to eat well before your run if you're going to be running for more than an hour. They also suggest a 300-500 calorie breakfast. As a less-preferred alternative, they suggest taking an energy gel about 30 minutes into your run.

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I usually eat breakfast before I run for races or training. For races, I usually eat before I leave the house. By the time the race starts, then it's been at least an hour because I get to the race early to register, etc.

For training, I run in the evenings before dinner and mid-morning on the weekend. On the weekend, I eat breakfast and run sometime after 1.5 hours. I eat the same breakfast on training and race days, so I know how I will react. I'll get up earlier on a race day so that I can eat my normal breakfast.

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