This article was written by specialist dietitian – Elle Kelly
Training in the lead up to your 10k race is a really important factor in determining how well you do, but your race day nutrition can either enhance or hinder your performance. This article will break down how to fuel for your next 10k run to give you the best opportunity at hitting a new personal best.
In the lead up to your race, you may begin to start winding down your training runs so that you are well rested and ready for race day. But, this doesn’t mean that your nutrition should change too much. It is important that the body is fuelled to sustain performance throughout the race, and so it is not recommended to limit or reduce your food intake in the lead up to it.
Although carb-loading (which involves increasing carbohydrate intake over a period of time to maximise the amount of carbohydrates that can be stored in the body) is not required for a 10k run, focusing on getting enough carbohydrates in the days leading up to your race will be beneficial.
Our body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen in our muscles and in our liver. When our blood sugar levels begin to drop, either because we’re exercising or haven’t eaten in a while, glycogen can be converted back to glucose and dripped back into our bloodstream(1) in order to maintain stable blood glucose levels. This enables us to maintain performance when we’re exercising.
However, depending on the intensity of exercise, we can use up glycogen quite quickly. Long and intense runs can completely deplete glycogen stores, which can sometimes take more than 48 hours to fully restore.
So, it is really important to ensure that you are replenishing these glycogen stores following the training sessions leading up to the race.
The evening before the race
Aim to have a carbohydrate rich meal with a source of protein, and ideally a meal that is low in fat and fibre, which are super important in our daily life, but can lead to digestive discomfort during the race as they take longer to digest.
- Quorn or lean beef bolognese with spaghetti
- Stir fry chicken or tofu with noodles or rice
- Tuna or chicken pasta bake
- Baked cod with homemade potato fries
The morning of the race
Aim to have a breakfast rich in carbohydrates at least 2-3 hours before the race. Similar to the night before, steering away from high-fat and high-fibre foods is advisable, as this can slow down the release of energy and could have negative impacts on digestion.
- Low fat Greek yogurt with muesli
- Bagel with scrambled tofu or eggs
- Porridge with jam
Eating something easy to digest and that can provide fast acting energy can ‘top up’ glycogen stores before the race. This isn’t essential, especially if you’ve had a substantial breakfast, but if it’s been a few hours since having breakfast, something like a banana, a crumpet with jam or a handful of dried fruit or jellies can give you a boost of energy before the race if you feel like you need it.
It is also important to hydrate in the morning. Water and fruit juice can be a good choice in the morning of the race, as although caffeine is associated with improved performance in some individuals, caffeine can stimulate our gut… which is far from desirable when you’re about to run a 10k!
The good news is that most people don’t really not need to worry about eating during the race. However, it is important to be realistic here with your expected finish time. If you are aiming to complete the 10k in under an hour, you probably don’t need to take anything with you to have during the race. However, if you’re going to be running hard for over an hour, having something to keep your energy levels up could be beneficial.
Whilst eating during a run is not necessarily required, especially when events are less than 90 minutes, or 60 depending on the intensity, it may be beneficial for some people to have some form of carbohydrates during the race to prevent performance from declining. It might also be required if you haven’t adequately fuelled beforehand.
When our glycogen levels drop below a certain point, we can start to experience symptoms like fatigue and struggling to concentrate (2). It’s understandable to think that this is when a ‘top up’ of energy is needed, however, it is often too late to negate these symptoms at this point.
Ideally, we want to avoid falling into this depleted state, and so taking on carbohydrates before these symptoms occur, is important in order to reap the benefits (3,4). For most, taking on some carbohydrates around 45 minutes into a run should help to prevent glycogen stores from depleting too low (5).
When it comes to hydration, evidence suggests that drinking to thirst can be sufficient (6), however, it’s also important to take the weather into account. If it is warmer and you are sweating more, there is an increased emphasis on remaining hydrated.
Hydration status can influence performance. When we become dehydrated, it affects our blood flow and blood pressure, which can put a strain on our cardiovascular system and consequently make exercise feel harder (7).
After finishing your 10k, you may have some celebrations lined up or be eager to get home to your sofa, but remember that rehydrating and refuelling are important to prevent muscle protein breakdown, reduce the likelihood of muscle soreness and prevent fatigue.
It is common for appetite to be impacted by long runs, and so you may not feel ready for a meal after your race, but try to get a source of carbohydrates and protein in, even if it is just a snack.
Things like flavoured milk, a protein shake and a banana, a pot of Greek yogurt with a cereal bar provide a combination of protein, carbohydrates and fluid which make them great post run snacks for your journey home. That flapjack in the bottom of your race goody bag is there for a reason! Salty foods or liquid foods are also great to incorporate as these can help to rehydrate.
You can also rehydrate by having a sports drink, which will normally provide sodium too.
A final thing to mention…
Don’t try anything new on race day or the days leading up to it!. If you have been training without having any food or gels during your runs, it is not advisable to try this on race day. It’s important to experiment with these protocols prior to race day so that you know what type of food suits you, and the timing that provides the most benefit to you.
Good luck and have fun!
- Daghlas, S. A., & Mohiuddin, S. S. (2021). Biochemistry, Glycogen. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
- Venhorst, A., Micklewright, D. P., & Noakes, T. D. (2018). Modelling perception-action coupling in the phenomenological experience of “hitting the wall” during long-distance running with exercise-induced muscle damage in highly trained runners. Sports medicine-open, 4(1), 1-11.
- Costill, D. L., Gollnick, P. D., Jansson, E. D., Saltin, B., & Stein, E. M. (1973). Glycogen depletion pattern in human muscle fibres during distance running. Acta physiologica scandinavica, 89(3), 374-383.
- Zachwieja, J. J., Costill, D. L., Pascoe, D. D., Robergs, R. A., & Fink, W. J. (1991). Influence of muscle glycogen depletion on the rate of resynthesis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 23(1), 44-48.)
- Mata, F., Valenzuela, P. L., Gimenez, J., Tur, C., Ferreria, D., Domínguez, R., … & Martínez Sanz, J. M. (2019). Carbohydrate availability and physical performance: physiological overview and practical recommendations. Nutrients, 11(5), 1084.
- Kenefick, R. W. (2018). Drinking strategies: planned drinking versus drinking to thirst. Sports Medicine, 48(1), 31-37.
- Watanabe, K., Stöhr, E. J., Akiyama, K., Watanabe, S., & González‐Alonso, J. (2020). Dehydration reduces stroke volume and cardiac output during exercise because of impaired cardiac filling and venous return, not left ventricular function. Physiological reports, 8(11), e14433.
How to fuel your next 10k run was last modified: December 7th, 2022 by