Have you been popping your vitamin tablets first thing in the morning or after dinner? Are you taking certain supplements on an empty stomach? When and how you take your vitamins, minerals, supplements and probiotics can be as important as what you’re taking. If you don’t know the best times to take your vitamins and other nutrient- or health-boosting additions, you could very well be taking them at the wrong time of day.
Get the most out of your supplement regimen with this morning, noon and night guide to optimal timing.
Most probiotic supplements are best taken before meals, when the stomach is less active. Otherwise, elements like bile salts, enzymes and harsh stomach acids can destroy probiotics’ beneficial organisms before they reach the intestines. However, the acid-buffering action of a meal may also protect some beneficial bacteria (and probiotics are traditionally consumed through cultured foods).
Try splitting the difference. Research suggests taking probiotic supplements half an hour before eating dramatically enhances survival, especially if the subsequent meal contains fat to buffer stomach acids.
Some theories say it’s best to take collagen supplements before eating, when undiluted stomach acids maximize digestion and absorption. But if you’re taking hydrolyzed collagen (or collagen peptides), it probably doesn’t matter. These broken down forms of collagen are designed to be easily digested and absorbed through the intestines. You can experiment a bit and see what works for you.
Most herbal extracts, tinctures and powders are best taken on an empty stomach, when they don’t have to compete with food in the digestive system. Take them about 30 minutes before eating to optimize their availability. To keep herbs in your system longer, you can divide them into two doses. Take the first before breakfast, then take your second set mid-day, about 30 minutes before or 2 hours after eating.
Taking calcium supplements with food boosts absorption and reduces the risk of kidney stones. The body absorbs smaller amounts of this mineral better, so take calcium supplements in divided doses of 500 mg or less – one at breakfast, the second with lunch. Because most multivitamins don’t have enough calcium to meet your daily needs, and other minerals in these dietary supplements compete for uptake, it’s best to use calcium as a separate supplement.
However, you do need magnesium – just not at the same time. Take this at night, away from calcium.
Fish oil and omega-3 supplements are notorious for causing an upset stomach. Taking them with a meal lessens potential gastric distress, and the fats in food also increase absorption. Take these supplements in divided doses to improve your digestion, but avoid taking them right before exercising or bed. Vigorous activity or lying in a prone position can hamper digestion and lead to heartburn and reflux. Have your second fish oil at lunch, not dinner.
Take B vitamins, especially B12, on an empty stomach for optimal absorption. Because these vitamins have an energy-boosting effect, it’s best to use them earlier in the day. And you never want to take B vitamins before bed, as they can cause restlessness and disturb sleep.
Breakfast beverages like coffee and tea reduce iron absorption, as do grains, milk, eggs and other foods. And since iron supplements interfere with the availability of other vitamins and minerals, it’s better to use them after breakfast and away from your morning supplements.
While iron is best absorbed on an empty stomach, it’s also likely to cause nausea. If you have a sensitive stomach, take your iron supplements with a small amount of food or a glass of orange juice: vitamin C significantly improves iron uptake.
Vitamin D is best absorbed with a meal, especially one that contains fat; some research shows taking this particular vitamin with food can boost its levels in your bloodstream by as much as 50 percent.
Why is it better to take vitamin D with lunch instead of dinner, particularly a late dinner? Vitamin D disrupts melatonin production and can interfere with sleep. Plus, taking this vitamin with your second calcium supplement maximizes calcium availability.
Take your vitamin C supplement at lunch to enhance your second calcium supplement. Divided, smaller doses (500 to 1000 mg) increase absorption of calcium, and you’ll maintain steady blood levels throughout the day. You can then take your second dose of vitamin C with dinner.
If you’re using ashwagandha, maca, rhodiola or other adaptogens for energy, taking them after lunch is ideal. You should aim to take them about 30 minutes after eating, while there’s still enough food in your system to minimize stomach upset, but your belly’s not full enough to lessen their absorption.
However, if you’re using adaptogens to promote sleep, it’s better to take them about 30 minutes after dinner instead of lunch.
Most homeopathic remedies should be taken with a clean mouth, away from food and drink, so between meals is ideal. For the best results, avoid eating or drinking for 10 to 15 minutes before and after.
Because psyllium, acacia and other fiber supplements can interfere with the absorption of other vitamins and minerals, it’s best to take them after lunch. There’s another bonus that comes with taking fiber after your midday meal: This nutrient can help you feel full and less inclined to snack. You may be better equipped to stave off that late afternoon snack craving by timing your fiber just right.
Just be sure to keep any other dietary supplements you’re taking in mind before you consume your fiber. It’s best to take other vitamins, minerals and supplements (besides homeopathics) an hour before or two hours after fiber.
Taking your multi with the first meal of the day ensures you won’t forget to take it later on. But if you drink coffee or tea, dinner may be a better time. Caffeine interferes with iron, vitamin D, calcium and many other vitamins and minerals. If you drink a caffeinated beverage right around the time you take your multivitamin, you could diminish its impact and potential benefits.
Instead, pop your multi in the evening. And be sure your nighttime meal includes some fat too, as this helps enhance the absorption of vitamins A, D, K and other fat-soluble varieties.
Take bromelain, papain or enzymes with dinner, especially if you favor heavy meals or eat later in the evening. Digestive supplements support complete digestion before bed, and they can lessen the risk of heartburn or reflux when you’re lying prone, promoting restful sleep.
Magnesium and calcium compete for absorption, but you need both. Taking magnesium before bed, after you’ve finished all doses of your daily calcium supplements, maximizes its availability. Magnesium also has a relaxing effect, calming the nervous system and encouraging restful sleep.
Sleep-promoting herbs like passion flower, valerian and catnip are best taken on an empty stomach right before bed to promote slumber. But be careful with St. John’s wort; it can amplify the effects of tranquilizing herbs and other sleep supplements, like melatonin.
The time you take your vitamins and other dietary supplements matters, but so do the different supplements themselves. To learn even more about vitamins and supplements, keep reading: