The Best Diet While Training for a 5k

Add a balance of healthy vegetables, fruits and nuts to your 5K diet grocery list.

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Nutrition is an essential component for a runner training to run a 5K, but there are no extreme diets you need to follow. When training for the 3.1-mile race, simply eating a balanced, healthy diet will help you stay fit and perform your best. By incorporating some essential carbohydrates, fats and proteins into your diet, you will be able to better fuel your body for training and race day.

Counting Calories

While getting enough calories is important for anyone living an active lifestyle, you'll want to make sure you are getting the energy you need while you train for your 5K. Exactly how many calories you need depends on a few factors - your age, body size, individual genetic makeup, and more. Estimate your calorie needs with an online calculator, and adjust up or down to maintain your weight as you train.

Whole Grains

Carbo-loading, or eating large amounts of carbohydrates, has been a running tradition for many years, but for a short race, eating piles of refined carbs is not necessary. Eat whole grain breads -- which are made up of the entire grain, including the bran, the germ and the endosperm. They aren't stripped of nutrition and fiber like refined breads. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends Americans eat an average of 6 ounces of carbohydrates per day (based on a 2,000-calorie diet) and call for half of that to be consumed as whole grains. Those training for a 5K need at least this amount of whole grains -- whether it's in the form of whole grain bread, pasta or cereal -- for their bodies to function and perform effectively. According to Jaclyn Maurer, Ph.D., research specialist at the University of Arizona, "Runners should be taking in about 50 to 65 percent of their calories in the form of carbohydrates," though the upper portion of this scale is for longer-distance runners.


Vegetables are an obvious component for a healthy training diet, but their benefits to a runner's body are vast. According to an article published by "Runner's World" titled "The Best Foods For Runners," the antioxidants found in vitamin-rich vegetables such as red and yellow peppers, onions, bok choy and soy beans may lessen muscle soreness after hard interval workouts by reducing the inflammation caused by free-radical damage. Phytonutrients found in leafy greens also act as antioxidants, warding off muscle damage brought on by tough workouts.


Nuts have a range of essential nutrients for any runner's diet. Almonds are a particularly powerful nut, containing everything from healthy fats and proteins to antioxidants and fiber. In fact, "Runner's World" recommends that runners eat a small handful of almonds at least three to five times per week, citing that these healthy nuts are an excellent source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that many runners fall short on because there are so few good food sources of it.


Fruits have long been known to be a sweet, healthy treat, especially for training runners. They pack a healthy dose of essential carbohydrates, antioxidants and other vitamins needed for a runner's active body and muscles. Strawberries and oranges can be thrown onto a leafy green salad, or lemon and orange zest can be grated into recipes. Oranges are particularly beneficial to runners training for a 5K; oranges supply more than 100 percent of the daily value for the antioxidant vitamin C. According to "Runner's World," a study from the University of North Carolina Greensboro showed that taking vitamin C supplements for two weeks prior can also help alleviate muscle soreness -- a major perk for runners training.


Protein can be found in one of two foods -- animal or plant foods. The key to incorporating animal protein into a 5K training diet is choosing the right ones. Leaner cuts of meat, such as poultry and fish, have fewer bad fats and more high-quality, healthy fats. These leaner meats are also packed with omega-3 acids, essential fats that help balance the body's inflammation response -- a bodily function that, when disturbed, appears to be linked to many diseases, including asthma, according to "Runner's World." Plant protein can be found in rich foods such as nuts, beans, soy and greens. Eggs, which are considered an animal protein but are eaten by some vegetarian runners, are also packed with omega-3 acids, essential fats. Beans, another protein-packed food, provide a wealth of nutrients. According to "Runner's World, "One cup of these beauties provides 30 percent of the daily value for protein, almost 60 percent of the daily value for fiber (much of it as the cholesterol-lowering soluble type) and 60 percent of the daily value for folate, a B vitamin that plays a key role in heart health and circulation."