Your next race is coming up, and the big question is always: “What should I eat on race day?”

However, this question should not just apply on race day! If you want to really optimize your performance, a well-balanced diet should be consistent throughout your training. The best thing you can do for your training (and racing) schedule is to get into a routine. Know which foods and supplements your body is most comfortable ingesting.

We’ll save supplement talk for another time, as that is a topic unto itself. For now let’s stick with real food. While a well-balanced diet is vital for anyone training for any sport, it may be even more important for runners. The pounding of every step and the countless miles at the end of the week put incredible stress on the body. This is especially true for anyone who steps up their training for marathon—and for the crazies out there training for something even longer!

The easiest way to monitor what you’re eating is to simply write it down. Along with your training log, start a food log. (No cheating!) Write down everything you take in. Start with just food. You can add in liquids as well if you want to get crazy—especially for those who like to “indulge” on the weekends! At the end of every week, you should go back and review your food log. You will be surprised how many times you look back and say something like, “I can’t believe I ate that whole stack of Oreos before bed! You’ll be able to pick out things that you may be able to swap for something slightly more nutritious. If you’re really struggling with it, ask someone to help. Worst-case scenario, start reading labels and use the internet as a source for advice on healthy choices—there are even apps on your phone that can help you!

On the week of any race, you want to maintain what has already been working for you throughout your training. Don’t make any drastic changes in the week of a race. Try to stay consistent with intake as well. This isn’t the week to bulk up or take in an excess. You want to stay light and healthy.

On race day, a big factor is the time of the start. You always want to give yourself a minimum of two hours for digestion before any race. My rule is three hours for a small meal, two hours for a light snack, and one hour for any last-minute sports drinks or other pre-race fuel. Otherwise your mantra should be water-water-water. Stay away from heavy carbs or protein around this time; they will tend to sit in the stomach and make you feel full.

One of the most important parts of race day (or even days with a hard workout) is post-run refueling. There is about a one-hour window after a hard workout or race during which your body is very receptive to refueling the muscles that have been worked. After that point, your body reverts to storing carbs and proteins as it normally does.  Taking advantage of the one-hour window is key for building strong and healthy muscles, so be sure to eat nutritious foods during that time.

The main purpose of this blog is to help you figure out which foods work for you and when to eat them. Everyone is different: you may need longer to digest food than someone else does, and that should then become part of your routine. Once you find something that works for you, stick to it! Take advantage of a good habit and use it to become a better and healthier runner.

Greg Laraia, ATC