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What to Eat and Drink During a 10k

Amanda Wendorff

Knowing what to eat and drink during a 10k race can make a big difference in your performance as a beginner runner. Being properly fueled and hydrated will allow you to cross the finish line quickly and feel good on race day. While much of your preparation in terms of food and drink should be focused on your pre-race meals, knowing what to take in during the race is important.

Here’s a summary of what you’ll learn in this article:

  • What to eat during a 10k race
  • How many calories to consume during a 10k race
  • How many calories your body burns during a 10k race
  • What to drink during a 10k race
MOTTIV app user Beth Warren competes in a running race.


What to Eat During a 10k

A 10k is a relatively short race, usually between 40 and 80 minutes. Most runners will run a 10k at a relatively high intensity and just below their threshold pace. For harder runs like a 10k, your body mostly relies on two types of fuel: the glucose circulating in your bloodstream (blood sugar) and the glycogen stored in your muscles. The carbohydrates you eat are the source of both blood sugar and muscle glycogen. 

Not everyone needs to eat during a 10k, but if you choose to do so, your food choices should meet the following criteria:

  • Made entirely of simple sugars that can be absorbed quickly into the bloodstream to provide more energy
  • A small amount, no more than 100 calories at a time
  • Easy to consume while you are running fast and breathing hard

Fortunately for runners, an entire industry is devoted to making products that provide quick energy and can be easily consumed while on the run. Some excellent choices for fueling during a 10k include:

  • Sports gels, like Maurten Energy gels
  • Gummy chews designed for exercise, such as Clif Shot Bloks
  • A sports drink with carbohydrates, like Skratch

When it comes to sports nutrition, like gels, chews, and drinks, many options are available with different flavors, textures, and combinations of ingredients. Before using sports nutrition in a race, it is best to practice using specific products in training runs to avoid any digestive surprises on race day.

Additionally, some 10k races will have aid stations that serve water, sports drinks, and possibly gels. To find out what, if any, products are available at your 10k, check the event website well in advance of the race. Practicing with the products served on the course will help you know if they work for you. If so, being able to pick up food at an aid station rather than carrying it yourself is very convenient.

How Many Calories Should You Take in During a 10k Run?

When taking food in during a 10k event, it is best to keep the quantities small, just enough to boost your blood sugar levels. Generally, you need at most 100 calories, which equals one energy gel, every half hour. If your 10k race takes 60 minutes or less, one or two gels (or the equivalent) should be enough.

While this may sound like a small amount, keep in mind that so long as you have plenty of carbs in the meals you eat before a 10k race, you’ll arrive at the start line with lots of glycogen already stored in your muscles, ready to be used as energy. 

The body can store around 500 grams of glycogen in the muscles. That equates to about 2000 calories of energy used by the body for daily living and, in this case, to fuel you during your 10k race. 

In other words, if you did a good job of fueling before your 10k race, you already have thousands of calories stored in your body, and the food you take in during the race is a bonus. Together, the glycogen stores and the sports nutrition you consume provide lots more calories for your body to use than you’ll ever burn in a 10k run.

This leads us to our next question:

How Many Calories Do You Burn in a 10k Race?

Although a 10k race is a hard, high-intensity effort, it’s completed fairly quickly, and the average runner will not burn as many calories as you may expect.

To find out how many calories you may use during a 10k, check out this calculator, which takes into account your weight and anticipated finish time to give an estimate of the energy used during a 10k race:

      

 

Using this calculator and entering the stats for a few hypothetical  runners, you’ll get the following results: 

  • An athlete weighing 135 pounds, or 61.2 kilograms, running the 10k in 45 minutes will burn approximately 547 calories.
  • An athlete weighing 180 pounds, or 81.6 kilograms, running the 10k in 60 minutes will burn approximately 648 calories.
  • An athlete weighing 200 pounds, or 90.7 kilograms, running the 10k in 70 minutes will burn approximately 840 calories.

From this, you can see that at a wide variety of sizes and paces, runners will need far fewer calories to complete a 10k race than are generally stored in the muscles. In other words, if you have your glycogen topped up from your carbohydrate-focused meals and snacks leading into a 10k, you’ll have plenty of energy on board to get through the race without eating much more.

What to Drink During a 10k

In addition to being well-fueled, your body needs hydration (from drinks) to perform at its best.

Studies have shown that athletic performance begins to decline as you lose more than 2% of your body weight through sweating. The best ways to avoid this decline in performance are to arrive at the race well-hydrated and, if necessary, drink water or a bit of sports drink during the race. 

Many 10k races will have an aid station mid-way through the race with small paper cups of water available. Usually, a volunteer will hand the cups to runners to drink as they continue running. However, you may sometimes need to pick up the cup from a table. Drinking while running can be tricky, and it’s best to practice this once or twice in training leading up to the race. Many runners find it easier to take a short walk break or even carry a water bottle that is easier to drink from.

In addition to water, some 10k races will have sports drinks available. A sports drink can be a good option because it provides hydration and also contains carbs in a readily-usable form. In fact, studies show that simply swishing a sports drink in your mouth can create a performance boost!

How Much to Drink During a 10k 

How much you should drink during a 10k race depends on a few factors, including: 

  • The weather conditions during the race
  • Your sweat rate/ how much you sweat
  • The intensity or speed you're running
  • How long the race will take you
  • How hydrated you are at the start

While a runner’s sweat rate is individual to them and based in part on genetics, you will generally sweat more and need more hydration:

  • The hotter / more humid the weather
  • The harder you are running
  • The longer you are out there.

Remember, running performance starts to decrease when a runner loses 2% or more of their body weight from dehydration. While some runners with low sweat rates may not need additional fluids during their 10k, it’s a good idea to consider your own sweat rate and the conditions of the race when deciding how much to drink. 

For example, let’s look at an example athlete who: 

  • Weighs 175 pounds (or 79.4 kilograms)
  • Sweats a lot, losing up to 2 liters (or 68 ounces) of sweat per hour in hot conditions when running at a 10k effort. That’s a high sweat rate.
  • Runs a 10k in 60 minutes
  • Starts the race well-hydrated

In a hot 10k race, our example athlete would lose 2 liters (or 68 ounces) of sweat during their 30-minute run, which equals 4.25 pounds, or 1.9 kilograms. With a high sweat rate, this athlete will lose 2.4% of their body weight if he doesn’t drink anything during the 10k race - which is enough to start seeing the negative effects of dehydration. 

To avoid being dehydrated, this athlete should take in at least 12 ounces of fluids, which would keep his weight loss to 3.5 pounds, or 1.6 kilograms (less than 2 percent of his body weight).

Wrap-Up

There are many things to consider when running a 10k, like pacing, running form, breathing, etc. But when it comes to creating a nutrition plan for the race, we are happy to let you know it’s fairly simple! As long as you reach the start line well-fueled and well-hydrated, you can rely on sports nutrition products and small amounts of of water or sports drinks to help propel you to your best finish.

In this article, you learned:

  • The types of fuel used by the body in a 10k race: blood sugar and muscle glycogen
  • The products you can use during a 10k to give yourself a bit of quick energy
  • The number of calories burned during a 10k race
  • How much you should eat and drink during a 10k
  • The benefits of taking small sips of sports drinks or food for a mental boost

As with anything in sports performance, practice makes perfect, so pick the products you may use during a 10k race and try them out during training. With a good plan for eating before and during the race, you can be confident that you’ll have plenty of energy to finish quickly!

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Amanda Wendorff

| Author

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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