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Timing of Supplements: When to Take Supplements

Monday, March 16, 2015
By Danielle C. Tworek, CPT, WLS, Nutritionist


When Should I Take My Supplements?


You have already completed the arduous task of talking to your doctors, perusing websites and reading labels – you know which supplements you need to take. And, you have a worthy collection lined up on the edge of the counter. But now on question still remains, “When should I take what?”

It’s a smart question to ask, after all a vast cause of nutrient deficiency is absorption interference – like when you wash your calcium supplements down with a hot cup of coffee or swallow your iron with iced tea. The heat from a hot cup of coffee or tea, as well as the caffeine, can limit absorption of nutrients. Tea – iced, hot, black or herbal, contains oxalates that binds most micronutrients, completely thwarting absorption.

These types of mistake can make your supplement regimen not only ineffective, but a big waste of money.

Timing is everything.

When to Take Multivitamins

Multivitamins are often comprised of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, water soluble vitamins, such as the B vitamins and vitamin C and a variety of minerals.

Fat soluble vitamins are able to solubilize in fat, meaning fat acts as a carrier for these nutrients, shuttling them from your intestinal lining and out to general circulation for distribution to all your tissues. Water soluble vitamins on the other hand, only need water to make their way through your body systems.

Ideally, you want to take your multivitamin with a meal containing moderate amounts of fats, during the day (some vitamins may interfere with sleep patterns.) Taking your multi without enough fat or without food can lead to gastrointestinal upset and diminish absorption.

When to Take Mineral Supplements

Most people get their minerals from multi-ingredient supplements. Minerals tend to be hard on the gastrointestinal system, leaving many consumers with nausea or an upset stomach. For this reason, most mineral supplements are best taken with food. If you are taking individual mineral supplements, most experts recommend consumption in the evening before bed. Calcium and magnesium can be beneficial for relaxation and winding down at the end of the day.

If you take iron supplements, choose a light meal that is rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C enhances absorption of iron. Just make sure your meal or beverage does not contain dairy (calcium), caffeine or vitamin E. Iron is a very sensitive mineral and absorption interference runs high, especially when consumed with these other nutrients. Standalone iron supplements are best consumed 3 to 4 hours apart from other vitamin or mineral supplements.

When to Take Probiotics

when to take probioticsProbiotics are designed to promote the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut. Many individuals that struggle with imbalance suffer from chronic gastrointestinal distress. For the bacterial strains contained in probiotics to work most effectively, they should not be exposed to high levels of stomach acid and other digestive substances. This means that probiotics are best consumed on an empty stomach when digestive enzymes, stomach acids and bile salts are at their lowest levels. One study found that the greatest absorption of probiotic bacteria occurs when taken 30 minutes prior to a meal containing some fats and the lowest absorption rates occurred when supplemented 30 minutes after a meal.

When to Take Fish Oil Supplements

Fish oils are a fatty acid supplement, yielding the greatest absorption rates when taken with a meal that contains fats. Much like the fat soluble vitamins in multivitamin supplements, fatty acid absorption is improved when consumed with fats. However, fish oil supplements should not be taken prior to physical activity – even in conjunction with a meal. This can raise the level of digestive distress and lead to indigestion.

Your doctor may advise you otherwise – as a team you can work together to determine the best times to take your supplements to maximize the benefits and minimize discomforts. Don’t ignore timing when it comes to taking it supplements, it can make all the difference in your health and your investment.


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