The Best Time to Take Vitamins and Other Supplements

by Stacy Facko

 

If you’re an avid supplement taker, you’ve probably wondered if there’s actually a better time of day to take your supplements.

Should you take them as soon as you wake up in the morning? Is it better on an empty stomach or with food?

What if you have no routine at all and you take your vitamins and other dietary supplements whenever you remember? Or you forget a dose and decide to double up the next time.

If your supplement routine is all over the place with little thought to what, when, and how much, you could be wasting your money. For some categories of supplements, there actually are better times of the day to take them. And knowing when can help you maximize their health benefits.

Best Time to Take Vitamins

We love the simplicity of taking a multivitamin to help fill in the nutritional gaps. And while they should never be a replacement for a well-balanced diet, getting all the necessary vitamins from food alone can be challenging. It’s especially difficult to attain if you primarily eat a diet of highly processed, low nutrient foods, which have monopolized the Western diet.

A basic multivitamin combines both fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K) and water-soluble vitamins (B & C). And many multivitamins these days are also multimineral formulas. Regardless if your multivitamin of choice is a one-a-day deal or you take a smaller dose two or three times a day, make sure you take it with food, preferably one of your main meals of the day and one that has some dietary fat.

You need fats in your system to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins. And taking your multi with food helps to avoid nausea that is common when taking vitamins on an empty stomach.

If your multivitamin includes the B complex vitamins, take it in the morning or midday since B vitamins can be energizing, which you don’t exactly want to feel when it’s approaching bedtime.

If you take vitamin C alone, break up large doses into two or three smaller doses throughout the day. Taking a megadose of vitamin C can be a money waster since vitamin C is only active in the bloodstream for a few hours. The rest is excreted in urine.

Recap: Take vitamin supplements at mealtimes. Take with a meal containing fat to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K).


Best Time to Take Minerals

As noted above, a good multivitamin also has minerals. And just like vitamins, the general rule for minerals is to take them with a meal to maximize absorption.

If you take calcium or magnesium supplements, or even a calcium-magnesium combo, try taking them with an evening meal since calcium and magnesium help to relax the muscles.

Recap: Take mineral supplements at mealtimes.


Best Time to Take Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are all the rage. Omega fatty acids, and especially the omega-3s EPA and DHA, play important roles in just about every tissue and organ system.

Oily fish like salmon, anchovies, mackerel, and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. But if you don’t eat fish regularly, consider taking an  omega-3 EPA and DHA supplement (either from fish or algae). And just like fat-soluble vitamins, fatty acid supplements should be taken with a meal containing dietary fats.

Recap: Take fatty acid supplements at mealtimes, preferably with a meal containing fat.


Best Time to Take Probiotics

Probiotics are also a big deal these days. The many trillions of friendly bacteria in your gut support both digestive and immune health.

But their number can be thrown off balance when exposed to antibiotics, poor diet, chronic stress, chlorine from your water, and environmental toxins. To keep their numbers up, eat fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, or opt for a  probiotic supplement.

If you go for the probiotic supplements, take them on an empty stomach. Probiotics are fragile, so you don’t want stomach acid to harm them. Some people swear by taking probiotics at bedtime, assuming you haven’t just eaten prior to turning in for the night because gastrointestinal activity decreases at night and allows the probiotics more time in the intestines.

Recap: Take probiotic supplements on an empty stomach, at least 30 minutes before a meal. Don’t take probiotics with a hot beverage.


Best Time to Take Enzymes

You can maximize the benefits of enzyme supplements based on what function you want them to perform. Enzymes are proteins that make chemical reactions happen, and the human body runs on a multitude of chemical reactions.

If you need assistance digesting certain foods, you can enlist the help of digestive enzyme supplements. Take digestive enzymes at mealtimes to ease the digestion of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, dairy and so forth. There are specialized enzymes for troublesome foods (lactase for dairy, lipase for fats, invertase for sugar, etc.), but you can also find  digestive enzyme blends that cover multiple categories of foods or ingredients to avoid digestive troubles like bloating, gas, and stomach pain.

Some enzymes have additional benefits when taken on an empty stomach. Protein digesting enzymes, including bromelain, papain, pepsin and other proteases, can also help the immune system and inflammatory conditions.

Inflammation is a running theme in many diseases. It’s normal for your immune system to send out specialized cells and antibodies to combat the threat of pathogens, allergens, and foreign matter. But if the immune system is tricked into thinking it’s constantly under attack, the overstimulation of immune activity causes localized tissue inflammation. And chronically inflamed tissues fed by poor diet and stress ignite disease formation.

Proteolytic enzymes (systemic enzymes) support the recovery of stressed tissues and promote a healthy inflammatory response.

But the key to taking proteolytic enzymes for inflammation and immune support is to do so on an empty stomach, when the stomach is less acidic, for better absorption into the bloodstream.

Recap: Take digestive enzyme supplements at mealtimes. Take proteolytic enzyme supplements on an empty stomach.


Best Time to Take Amino Acids

Amino acids are called the building blocks of life since they come together to form proteins. And the human body is a collage of protein structures.

When you eat protein foods, your body disassembles the dietary proteins into amino acids. And whatever amino acids are needed to make new proteins, you have a supply ready to go. However, amino acids are not stored for indefinite use. So if you’re missing certain aminos from the diet or you’re not consuming protein foods on a regular basis, your body is missing out on the key components for making enzymes (remember, enzymes are proteins), strengthening muscles, and repairing stressed tissues.

For athletes and those performing regular strenuous activities, your dietary protein intake alone may not sufficiently provide you with all the amino acids required for muscle recovery and strength building. Hence the abundance of protein replacement products and amino acid supplements available.

For the athletically minded, you’ll get the most out of amino acid supplements around your workout. There’s some debate about when exactly is the best time to take amino acid supplements. Depending on your goals – endurance training or muscle building – 30 to 60 minutes before, during or closely after your workout are the most advantageous times. Your trainer might even suggest a combination of specific aminos at specific times.

But if you’re simply trying to supplement a diet lacking in certain amino acids, take them at mealtimes.

Recap: Take amino acid supplements on an empty stomach before, during or after a workout, depending on your athletic goals. Take amino acids at mealtimes if you’re supplementing a low protein diet.


Best Time to Take Herbs

We couldn’t post this article without touching on herbs since many of our products fall under the herbal category.

Herbs and other plant-derived supplements are a mixed bag. Traditional uses stemming from Chinese medicine and Ayurveda have evolved over the centuries. Back then herbal formulas were taken based on density (heavy herbs before meals, light herbs after meals), ethereal characteristics or how quickly herbs were expected to trigger a physiological reaction.

But in modern herbalism, the traditional classifications don’t hold up. With the huge growth in herbal supplement use and the variety of herbal supplements available, there is no standard timetable.

Some health professionals well versed in herbal applications suggest taking herbs on an empty stomach, but individuals with a sensitive digestive tract may fare better to take herbs with food, or immediately after a meal, to ease digestive discomfort.

Many herbal supplement labels reflect taking herbs with food, probably as a precaution for stomach irritation and the understanding that the presence of food in the stomach triggers the digestive process. After all, you want those herbs released from any capsule or coating and their chemical components absorbed.

We’re also contending with herbs that have an energizing effect versus a sedating effect that is better suited to different times of the day.

The herbal category is too varied to stick with precise rules.

Recap: Take herbal supplements according to label suggestions or as directed by a healthcare professional.

 

All that being said, never underestimate your reaction after you take a supplement. Your body is the best indicator to help determine if a manufacturer’s suggested use is really right for you. If taking one on an empty stomach, as suggested, makes you nauseous, try it with food next time. If one calms you down too much during the day or keeps you wired into the night, try switching up the time of day you take those supplements.

Read each supplement bottle carefully to determine how and when it should be taken. And keep in mind that some supplements are not recommended if you have a medical condition or if you’re already on certain prescription medications. So always check with your doctor or pharmacist about possible drug interactions if you’re on any medication before you start taking dietary supplements.

There really aren’t any rigid rules that can’t be modified when it comes to taking supplements. Many factors go into figuring when the best time to take supplements is. Not everyone reacts the same and we have different reasons for taking supplements in the first place.

But with a little planning and guidance, you can get your random acts of supplementation under control and get the most out of your supplement purchases.


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