What time of day is best to take supplements?
Ideally we would get all we needed from food, however today, we live hectic fast paced lives where we often reach for quick-satisfying foods rather than the most nutritious options. Even those of us who do eat a varied, whole food diet can too fall short due to various reasons including, in-organically grown food, depleted soil, absorption issues etc.
The best time to take your vitamins can depend on what you’re taking and for what purpose. Directions on bottles will recommend to take with a meal, on an empty stomach, before bed or with water or juice etc. Vitamins, minerals and other supplements interact and break down differently so it’s important to understand why you’re taking them a certain way and to also establish a routine so you are getting the most out of your supplements.
As is true with both vitamins and minerals, more is not necessarily better. It’s important to maintain a balance within the body as too little can result in deficiency symptoms due to the inability of certain processes to operate fully, and too many can actually be damaging by causing imbalance or becoming toxic.
Before considering taking supplements, always check with your GP that they don’t interact with any existing medication or disease.
What time of day is best to take supplements?
As touched on earlier, different vitamins and minerals work better at different times of the day to coincide with our bodies natural rhythm and chemical processes.
Below are some examples for some common supplements:
Iron – Best absorbed on an empty stomach and therefore ideal to consume upon rising. Iron is absorbed less if taken in proximity of dairy consumption however some report a stomach ache if taken without food. Vitamin C increases iron absorption which is important to be aware of, especially if getting a blood test. Caffeine and tannins within coffee and tea have been found to limit absorption. Iron can become toxic so it is important to check your iron levels and speak to a healthcare professional before supplementation. Iron interferes with zinc, vitamin and calcium so concomitant use should be avoided.
Vitamin C – Whilst you can take vitamin C any time of the day, it’s best to take in the morning and throughout the day in divided doses as it only lasts in the blood stream for a few hours. Vitamin C can increase mineral absorption such as iron. Vitamin E and vitamin C work well together as vitamin E reduces oxidised vitamin C.
Vitamin B group – These are best taken with food in the morning to support energy levels.
Mid-morning to early afternoon:
Zinc – If taken on an empty stomach, zinc can often cause nausea so should ideally be taken with a meal if this occurs. Zinc interferes with calcium and iron so is best taken at lunch if calcium is consumed in the evening and iron is consumed in the morning. Zinc competes with copper so is often taken together in ratio if zinc is consumed in higher doses. High doses of Zinc should be consumed only for a short period of time or as directed by a healthcare professional.
Mid-afternoon to early evening:
Fish oil – Best taken with a meal that contains fat to aid the absorption. However not before intense physical exercise due to potential of stomach upset.
Vitamin D – As mentioned earlier, vitamin D can interfere with melatonin so it should not be taken before bed but is best taken with meal containing fat such at lunch or an early dinner.
Vitamin K – Can be taken at any point in the day, however it is thought that vitamin K is best taken with calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin K also competes with vitamin A for absorption.
Evening / before bed:
Probiotics – Some probiotics are best taken with water during the evening and away from food to avoid interactions with enzymes, stomach acid and bile salts. Probiotics are are utilised best whilst the body is repairing itself overnight. If not taken at night, some studies suggest they are best 30 minutes before a meal rather than after.
Magnesium – whilst this depends on the reason you are taking magnesium, often people will take magnesium at night to initiate sleep. Can be taken with or without food.
Calcium – this macro mineral is found to be utilised at night. There is some debate as to whether or not magnesium and calcium should be taken together or separately as they work hand in hand.
Advice and cautions on taking supplements
- Wash supplements down with water or juice and store in a cool dark, dry place to avoid contact with contaminants and potential damage from light.
- Avoid taking supplements with caffeine and tannin containing drinks in case of interference of absorption.
- Do not compensate for missed days, always continue as normal.
- Avoid toxicity by testing nutrient levels and not exceeding recommended dosages unless advised by a registered healthcare professional.
- Be aware of interactions between supplements and medications as well as interactions between vitamins and minerals themselves. Minerals in particular can compete for absorption. Always seek help from a healthcare professional if required.
- Factor in your supplements levels with the food you are eating, especially with those fortified with added nutrients such as cereals and dairy products.
- If you are pregnant or nursing, always seek assistance from a healthcare professional.
- Investigate the supplement company, their certifications and choose supplements from reliable sources.