We’ve talked about getting in shape and training your body so that its ready to handle the rigors of participating and having a good showing in a half marathon. But while we touched on what you need to do, we maybe glossed over one important aspect of training that is just as important as the shoes you choose to wear and the number of miles you need to hit in training in order to end up at that finish line with a respectable showing. That important aspect is the food you need to eat in order to provide your body with the energy that can sustain it through a course of a 13.1 half mile or 26.2-mile, marathon.

Like fuel in a car, your diet influences your body’s performance. Quality fuel can lead to better training, which leads to better performance on race day.

“When you’re running a half marathon, you could be out there for more than two hours,” explained Dr. Callista Morris, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. “You can’t run on empty—you need to make sure you properly fuel your body not only ahead of time, but also during and after every run. This means following a diet designed to help you do your best.”

Here’s a layout of what you need to keep in mind and make sure you’re following the below points as an outline of what, when and how you should be eating so that your getting the most out of your training, leading up to and including your half or full marathon runs.

Three months before the race
Whether it’s your first half marathon or your fifth, you should start preparing for the race about 4 months in advance. Take some time to map out your workouts and dietary changes from now until race day. Now is the time to ensure you’re eating enough calories to fuel progressively longer runs.

Four months before the race:
Start with small dietary changes, make sure you’re eating enough food throughout the day, and make sure you’re getting enough vitamins and nutrients. If you’re on a fad diet, stop it! Trade it in for a standard, healthy diet full of lean protein, whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Remember, most “Fad Diets” are geared to having you drop weight in the short term and are not big on your ingesting the good carbs, grains, proteins and fats that your body is going to need for the hard training grind that you’re going to be putting it through.

While you do need more calories when you’re training for a half or full marathon, you don’t need to go crazy with eating. Generally, you should add an extra 200 to 300 calories per hour that you work out. Try to get these calories from lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Keep in mind, just because your training harder and longer to get to your goal of being able to not only run that long distance, does not give you the license to eat everything you see. Yes, you’re going to be eating more, but you’re going to be eating more of what’s good for your body to transform those food groups into energy that will stay with you and not evaporate or turn into sugars that take longer to convert into energy than a 6oz piece of chicken or fish.

One month before the race:
With just one month to go, you should now be running anywhere from 15 to 25 miles per week. It’s vital to make sure you’re focusing on complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are foods that are slowly converted into sugar in the body. Foods like pasta, whole grains, beans, lentils, and potatoes are all examples of complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates are the best source of energy for a workout because they offer sustained energy rather than a quick burst of energy followed by a crash. This is whats going to carry you through to the finish line with a little gas left in your tank as well.

Try to eat complex carbs at least two hours before a workout. After working out, eat a meal with complex carbs and a serving of protein to help rebuild your muscles.

Several weeks before the race it’s also important to create your pre-run fuel routine. Now’s the time to figure out whether whole grain toast with nut butter agrees with your stomach, for example. Remember, running a lengthy marathon, the last thing you need to have happened is a severe intestinal pain caused by cramping. Only by trying different kinds of food groups to see how your stomach and system can handle them.

Two weeks before the race:
In the two weeks before the race, you should begin eating more complex carbs than you were previously. This means eating meals like oatmeal for breakfast, potato-based dishes for lunch and pasta for dinner. Throughout these two weeks, you can start sacrificing otherwise-healthy foods in favor of complex carbs. Start tapering off your leafy green vegetable intake, as they can be hard on your stomach during a run. Again, you are the best judge on how your body handles the foods that you are eating, adjust where needed but continue to get the right mix of carbs, fats, and proteins!

At the end of the two weeks, you may notice that you’ve gained some weight. Don’t be alarmed; this is totally normal. This means your body is storing the carbohydrate energy, known as glycogen, in the liver and the muscles. During the race, your body will pull from this energy to help you finish strong. The key here is to bounce back to your regular diet about 2-3 days after any type of endurance event. Otherwise, that extra poundage may just stick around for longer than you would like!

Two days before the race:
While many people are tempted to eat a big meal the night before the race, this isn’t a good strategy. Overeating can cause stomach pains and cause you to slow down during the race.
Eat your last big meal 48 hours before the race. This allows your body enough time to digest and store glycogen.

Once you reach 18 hours before the race, start to decrease the size of your meals. Lunch the day before the race should be your last normal-sized meal.

Day of the race:
On the day of the race, practice your pre-run fuel routine by eating a small meal of carbs, like a banana with oatmeal or a bagel. Now is NOT the time to experiment with an unfamiliar food.

During the race: Focus on staying hydrated and balancing your carbohydrate and electrolyte needs. Drink water along the race route at about the same rate you did during training and try to avoid drinking too much. In addition, small, simple carbohydrates like gels, like the GU Energy gels found at HeartRateMonitorsUSa.com can help you maintain the energy you need to push through and finish strong And a great way to carry them with you during the race is by using the easy to carry, Camelbak 2017 Ultra Running Belt  It not only provides pouches to carry supplements with you like those GU gels that we mentioned above, but it also permits you to take along Quick Flow Flask  from Camelbak. It keeps your water cold 2X longer, without the extra weight and bulk of traditional insulated bottles, since it’s collapsible!

At The Finish Line:
If you did it right, you’re most likely going to hurt after your race. Now it’s time to make recovery as smooth and short as possible, starting right at the end of your race. “Your recovery phase begins the second you cross the finish line,” says Susan S. Paul, training program director for Track Shack in Orlando. Keep walking after you cross the finish line. Move through the finish area to get your medal, (and be PROUD of your accomplishment, you’ve earned it!), a space blanket (take one if they’re offered, and even if you’re hot. You cool down quickly), and whatever food and water they offer at the end.

Keep moving because “as soon as you stop moving, your blood pressure is likely to bottom out,” says Ms. Paul. That’s one common reason runners faint at the finish line. If you have any sharp, stabbing pain or an erratic heartbeat, get medical attention immediately.

Just After The Race:
Drink and eat. Dr. Todd Arnold, a performance scientist for USA Track and Field and sports performance physician at St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indiana, suggests trying to get some water, sports drink and fruit into your system, even if you don’t want to.

Then, if your clothes are soaked with sweat or rain, change into something dry. Elevate your legs if you can. That will get the blood that has pooled in your feet back up into the rest of your body. “A lot of people bonk 20 minutes later,” says Dr. Arnold.

Within the first hour, you also want to get protein and carbohydrates into your body — more than just what a sports drink can provide. If your stomach feels unsettled and you have no appetite, Ms. Paul suggests chocolate milk or a protein drink.

Later That Day:

Massage: If you have access to one, and many races have masseuses at the finish line, a massage can bring welcome relief after a race, and also prevent soreness tomorrow. Remember to bring cash to pay and tip your masseuse. You can stuff some cash in that Camelbak 2017 Ultra Running Belt  you’ve used for those quick energy boosts during the race. It’s always a good idea to take an amount which you feel is appropriate for the region your racing in.

1 To 3 Days Later:
You’re going to hurt, and you may hurt more two days after the race than you did after you finished! Don’t use the aches and pains from stopping you from moving around. It’s in your best interest to get yourself mobile and moving. Walking is a great way to keep your circulation going and not inflict any more trauma. Ice any sore spots and keep elevating your legs whenever you can.

With your legs up, (resting I mean), it’s time to evaluate your race and what you’ve accomplished. What went right? What went wrong? What could you have done better? Put these thoughts in writing within the first few days post-race and keep them wherever you logged your training. Note what you ate before and during the race, too, so you know what you need to adjust for the next time.

Also, record how you felt about the race course. What elements did you like? What do you not want to face again? This will help you pick your next race, suited to what works best for you.

If you’ve used a sports watch to monitor your race progress. And if you’re not using one, why, Oh why not? These devices have gone way past the stylish phase. If you’re a serious runner/marathoner, then you need to know just how well your body is performing from your initial starting point to your ending point. How else can you improve on your running style and progress? One such Activity Monitor that has become my personal running coach and trainer is the Garmin Forerunner 630 GPS Running Watch  The Forerunner 630 provides all the extensive data you need for training and racing. It will help you get the most out of your workouts and feel confident with what you can accomplish when you toe the line. Once Forerunner 630 learns your lactate threshold through a guided test, you can apply it to your heart rate training when setting up zones. Overall training load, sleep, nutrition and general life stress play a role in how you will perform in a tough workout, or when it counts on your racing day.

When Can I Run Again?
This answer is easy,  whenever you feel you can. If you ran your heart out and left everything you had on the race course, you may not be able to run for a few weeks. If you realized you weren’t doing well and then took your time to finish, you could be ready to run a few days after.

Until you are ready to run, non-weight-bearing exercises like cycling and swimming can help your muscles recover until you’re ready to run again. These exercises should be approached as a break-in period, to allow your muscles to remember how they work together in harmony. This will help to bring back their elasticity and allow you to be able to hit the ground (running ground that is!) sooner than later.

And when you feel your body has recovered, and you’ve spent some time doing some short 5Ks up to a slow 10K run, get yourself entered into a local running event. This way you can gauge your recovery progress against others. It’s a lot better than constantly running solo against a time and distance goal. Anyone who has raced on a competitive basis knows that the adrenaline pumping during an event where you match yourself against someone else is so much more invigorating than simply running alone.

So, there you have it. Get yourself ready, both physically, which also means nutritionally and also be able to have your mind focused on the overall goal of you crossing that finish line.

And you know what? You Will !!