Be Race for the Cure Ready with Whole Foods Market: Here’s What To Eat When!

By: Kathleen Wood, MPH of Whole Foods Market

Getting Ready to Race for the Cure

Susan G. Komen Central and South Jersey’s Race for the Cure on Sunday, November 5th, at Six Flags Great Adventure is a day dedicated to ending breast cancer forever. This inspiring 5K run and fitness walk not only helps to raise funds and awareness, but celebrates breast cancer survivorship and honors those who have lost their battle with the disease.

We know many of our Race participants are training hard for the big day, putting in those extra miles and workouts. Kathleen Wood, MPH, Healthy Eating Associate Coordinator of Whole Foods Market shares tips and tricks to prepare a Race-ready healthy eating regimen!

For peak performance: Here’s what to eat and when to eat it!

Athletes need to be especially conscious of their food choices throughout their training, but in the week, days and hours leading up to the big event, it’s even more important. Here is a plan for what to eat in order to maximize your performance come race time!

1 week before

Pre-hydrate with fruits, veggies and water-heavy foods

Most people focus on the day of a race, but getting serious about hydration a full week before a big event helps train your body to maintain proper hydration more effectively on race day.

Pre-hydrate throughout the week leading up to a big event or long training session by eating foods that contain high amounts of water like fruits, vegetables, soups, and smoothies.

Add chia seed to your diet this week. Naturally high in omega-3 fats and covered in hydrophilic soluble fiber — Chia seeds absorb about 10–12 times their weight in water (watch the gel form around them when put in water). This unique characteristic means chia seeds help your body prolong hydration and retain electrolytes, promoting endurance and recovery in your training.

Pro Tip: Make a big batch of this chia pudding to have for breakfast the week of the race.

3 days before

Carb-load

Glycogen is how your body stores extra carbohydrates and it’s the most easily accessible form of energy. Keep in mind that you can’t fill up your glycogen supply from just one meal, so start carb-loading two or three days before your race. Long athletic events, you’ll burn both glycogen and fat, but fat is not as efficient, which means your body has to work harder to convert it into fuel. This is why you’ll want to fill your muscles with glycogen before the race.

While it’s good to emphasize carbohydrates this week, you don’t need to overdo it. If you are running a 5K, your glycogen won’t get quite as depleted as if you were doing an extremely long event like a marathon. So balance your carbs in well-rounded meal like one of these easy dinners that combines carbs with protein and veggies. Try to get your carbs from high quality, whole food-based sources like grains, rice, oatmeal, whole grain bread, pasta, fresh juice, and fruit.

Pro Tip: The day before the race, you’ll want to bump up the carbohydrates a bit more, but eat your biggest meal earlier in evening or at lunch. You will sleep better if you’ve had more time to digest that big bowl of pre-race spaghetti!

3–4 hours before

Complex Carbohydrates (with a side of protein and fat)

A few performance-zapping blood sugar drops will teach you never to skip a pre-race meal. To avoid drops, choose complex carbohydrates from whole grains. All carbohydrates raise blood sugar, but complex carbs are digested more slowly. This raises your blood sugar at a slower, more even pace which gives you a consistent source of energy that will continue to release throughout your training session or race.

The fiber in the whole grains slows the digestion of these carbs, but you can further extend their release by adding in some protein and fat. The addition of protein before activity will also help speed recovery after you are done. This simple smoothie is the right mix of carbs and protein.

Pre-race snack ideas: Whole grain bread and nut butter, oatmeal with chopped nuts, banana with nut butter or granola with milk or yogurt.

15–60 minutes before

Simple Carbohydrates

Eat simple carbohydrates to give your body instantly accessible energy. Choose easy to digest, high sugar foods like a banana, dried fruit, or energy gel/gummy. Research shows that runners who consume simple carbohydrates 15 minutes before running are able to run 13 percent longer than subjects who took in nothing (a handful of raisins were seen to have equal performance benefits to sports gel).

Make sure you eat whole foods or gels/gummies made from real food — you will get clean energy from products made without added chemicals, dyes or sugars.

During the Race for the Cure

Simple Carbohydrates & Electrolytes (and water of course)

Eat/drink simple carbs to get sugar in your system quickly to refuel muscles. This will keep blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels up, making exercise seem easier and delaying fatigue — it’ll also make exercise more pleasurable! Electrolytes are minerals in your blood that are depleted during training. Great natural sources are coconut water, dried fruits like raisins or dates, and natural energy gels or gummies. Test foods during training to see how you react to them before the big event.

Take in at least 30 grams of simple carbs (¼ cup raisins) and electrolytes (dried fruit or coconut water) every 60–90 minutes. Hydrate every 15 minutes.

15–30 minutes post-race

Simple Carbohydrates & Protein

In the 15–60 minutes immediately following a workout, your muscles are primed to receive fuel to start the repair process. So eat/drink your recovery meal as soon as possible after you workout is complete. Consuming the right foods shortly after exercise can also help prevent muscle damage and even sickness (a drop in the immune system can occur). So respect the 15–60 minute window and refuel!

Ideally, aim for a 4-to-1 carbohydrate-protein ratio to maximize recovery. Snacks like whole grain bread with peanut butter & banana, chocolate milk, or cereal with milk & banana have the correct ratio.

These figgy almond treats make great refuel snacks. Make them ahead and keep them in your pocket for a healthy post-race snack.

1–3 hours post

Balanced meal

Eating a good meal a few hours after your event will support the rest of your recovery. Incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables to bring your body back from the acidic state created by intense exercise. Keep hydrating and get some extra protein to support muscle repair.

Pro Tip: A thick protein shake is a great way to help your muscles recover… plus it’s a delicious treat!

You’ll be a bit tired after your race so popping ingredients into a crock pot to cook while you’re out is a great way to have a meal waiting for you when you get back. Here are our favorite slow cooker recipes.


Kathleen Wood Leverenz is Whole Foods Market’s Healthy Eating Expert and she makes eating healthy eating easy and delicious! Kathleen leads the Healthy Eating Program at Whole Foods Market, for the Mid-Atlantic region. She graduated from Dickinson College and then did a Master’s degree in Public Health at Boston University where she focused on nutrition and theories of health behavior change. She also completed a certificate in plant-based nutrition from Cornell University.

She posts seasonal recipes and tips here. If you have specific food or nutrition questions feel free to email her!

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