Evening 5k and 10k races are popular with runners looking for a chance to race midweek or who don’t want to forgo their weekend lie-in. But for those used to doing parkrun or taking on a 10k on a Sunday morning, the big question is what do you eat before an evening race?
Your usual race-day breakfast of a cup of tea and some porridge before heading to the start line is turned on its head if you’re planning to do an evening 5k race at 7pm on a Wednesday. There’s breakfast, lunch and hydration to consider before you even get to the start line.
We asked Registered Sport and Critical Care Dietitian Tom Hollis for his advice.
Breakfast before an evening race
“Since you most likely won’t be exercising much in the morning on race day, your breakfast should be a balanced meal of protein, fat, and complex, wholegrain carbs” says Tom. “There is plenty of time for this meal to be fully digested before you hit the start line. This might be your most substantial meal on race day. Examples might be eggs on wholemeal toast with avocado, or porridge with nut butter and chopped fruit.”
Lunch before an evening 5k or 10k race
It’s not just about what you eat for lunch, but what time you eat it. While you might assume you should eat your lunch later or eat more to avoid getting hungry come race time, Tom say that you should actually have a smaller, earlier lunch. “Lunch can and should be a well balanced meal too, but I would err on the side of caution and have this slightly earlier in the day (eg midday).
“Have a slightly smaller portion than usual, and avoiding foods which can often lead to bloating, such as beans, pulses, cabbage and broccoli. This is all to reduce the risk of feeling sluggish and heavy for your race.”
What to eat in the afternoon
With evening races usually starting around 7pm in the UK, you’re going to need something to keep you going between lunch and the start of your race. Tom recommends having some simple stacks to top up your energy.
“In the afternoon (between around 3-5pm) I would recommend topping up with some simple carbohydrates that are easy to digest. Something such as white bread products like toast, a bagel, or a crumpet with jam or honey, or a ripe banana or two.”
Most evening races are 5k or 10k, and if you get your fueling right during the day, you won’t need to worry about taking on fuel during the race. Tom says: “As long as you have fueled well earlier in the day, there shouldn’t be any need to take on additional fuel during a 5K or 10K race. However, you might want to consider something sweet in the final 20-30 mins pre-race, such as a gel, a few sweets (eg jelly babies / percy pigs), or, again, half a ripe banana.”
How to hydrate for an evening race
Hydration can be a tricky aspect to get right for evening races. You’ll need to drink something during the day, but you might be worried about needing the loo. The key, says Tom, is to keep an eye on your pee.
“From a hydration perspective, unless you are a high volume sweater and / or the conditions are really hot and humid, there shouldn’t be a real need to take on much, if any, fluid during the race, as long as you start the race in a well hydrated state.
“That well hydrated does not mean the same as ‘over-hydrated’. Keep an eye on the color of your pee in the 24 hours leading up to the race. It should be pale straw colored (not necessarily clear), and you should keep sipping fluids to keep it at this level, adjusting to the environmental conditions.”
Finally, that pre-race coffee might not be a good idea before your evening race unless you’re planning to celebrate into the early hours. “Caffeine is a known performance-enhancer, and can be particularly useful for shorter races like 5 and 10K” says Tom. “But given its long half-life, it may not be advisable to take on in the build-up to an evening race, lest you lose out on that all-important recovery sleep!”