Getting the most out of your supplements: Timing

So you’ve finally picked out your supplements from the overwhelming selection, now the next important question is when to take them? The benefit you’ll receive from them can depend a lot on timing; since you’ve already spent time researching what you want and your hard earned money on them it’s important to get the most out of them. For many supplements it’s not as simple as just whether or not to take them with food or a meal for best absorption or on an empty stomach. Whilst a healthy, varied diet will provide us with many of the nutrients we need, food often isn’t the quality is was 100 years ago and needs supplementing to support our busy lifestyles and the demands we place on our bodies.

Many supplements come with clear directions and tell you when to take them but others aren’t as specific and can be vague. There’s also more to it than just ‘don’t eat on an empty stomach’ or ‘eat with dinner’, hmmm I have 3 meals over the course of an evening, so which meal? You get my point.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide or explanations but hopefully it’s enough to cover a few of the most popular supplements. Also depending on what you eat and when, when you train and your specific needs you can base my guidelines around that to personalize your timing. I haven’t covered protein and BCAA’s here as that’s another article entirely.

With Breakfast:

I take the following supplements after my morning workout at breakfast time (amongst others). Taking them with a meal allows for proper dissolution and absorption.

Multi Vitamins: Take just after breakfast not before as most vitamins and minerals shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach due to poor absorption and accompanying nausea. I personally like to take one specifically for women and buy a separate men’s one for my husband. I also like to opt for sustained release to last me through the day. The directions say to take 2 tablets daily, preferably with meals and I like taking it with my 1st meal so I can maximize the benefits of it throughout the day. The Vitamin C in this supplement also increases the absorption in the separate iron tablet I take. Since I add flax oil to my oats it makes it the perfect time to take my multi vitamins as they contain the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K; since they follow the same path of absorption as fat it allows for the absorption of both the fats and these particular vitamins as well.

B vitamins: You don’t have to take this at breakfast time but your B complex shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach; meaning you could take it in the morning or afternoon with food, just not too late as it may keep you up. Due to the fact that they assist in converting food to energy, promoting brain and nerve function and synthesizes enzymes, breakfast is an ideal time to take them to power you through your day. NB: Avoid taking anything with caffeine 30 minutes prior or after as it can interfere with the absorption.

Iron: Whether you should take this on an empty stomach or with a meal is personal and something you’ll have to figure out by how it makes you feel. Science shows that iron is best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach but for myself and many others doing that causes nausea so I take mine on a full stomach. If you are having stomach problems with iron look for gentle iron tablets. Do not take at the same meal as your calcium as it can interfere with absorption. I wait until the evening to take my calcium supplements. NB: Check with your Dr before taking iron if you are on any prescription drugs and/or anti-biotics.

Glutamine: Prevents muscle breakdown, increases protein synthesis, increases glycogen storage in muscle and supports a healthy immune system. Which basically means glutamine powder can really assist in helping you achieve lean muscle gains. The optimal time to take it is “upon waking in the morning, immediately after your workout and just before you go to bed at night.” ( I like to take 1 teaspoon/5g of Labrada Glutalean mixed with water immediately after my morning cardio, again after my afternoon weight session and then with my last meal just before bed.

Last meal of the day:

Again, I’m just covering a few of the most common supplements used by everyday people not everything.

Minerals (Zinc, Magnesium): Zinc assists in physical immunity, cell division, metabolism, and protein and DNA synthesis. Magnesium, much like calcium, maintains healthy muscle and nerve function and blood pressure. Magnesium regulates heartbeat and blood sugar levels as well as supporting the immune system. They are better when taken individually and in acid-rich stomach environments so again taking with food is important and at this time it’s a long time since your breakfast supplement intake.
NB: If you are considering taking these, check with your healthcare professional before adding these as most requirements are met through a healthy and balanced diet unless you are an athlete or body builders with higher requirements.

Vitamin C: I like to take it in the evenings, after my weight training since it improves macular degeneration, reduces inflammation and repairs the body tissues. It doesn’t really matter what time of day you take this but things to take into consideration are:

• Netdoctor recommends that you should “never take vitamins on an empty stomach in the morning; they will quickly pass out in your urine.” B vitamins and vitamin C are wate –soluble vitamins that dissolve in water so it’s especially important to take these with food.
• It’s recommended to divide your doses to provide a steady flow of the vitamin as well as avoiding stomach upsets.
• Taking this at the same time as your minerals permits the proper absorption of vitamins.
• If you are taking a bioflavonoid complex or Vitamins E & A they’ll enhance the absorption of vitamin C so aim to take them at the same time.
• It should be included in your daily diet since your body cannot store it.

Calcium: Check the directions for the specific type you are taking as it varies from whether you should take them with a meal or on an empty stomach. Besides that, it doesn’t really matter what time you take it as long as you aren’t taking a separate iron supplement at the same time.

Always consult with your physician before commencing with any supplementation. If you want any more information, there’s a wealth of information on the web. Here’s to getting the most out of your supplements and becoming the best version of you.

About the Author

Eve Dawes is an accomplished fitness professional and NPC athlete with international experience as a dancer, model, host and personal trainer. You can visit Eve at any of her following: