If you are spending money to improve your health by taking dietary supplements, you want to be sure you are taking them correctly. Here are a few tips for when and how to take some common nutrition supplements.
Timing Your Nutrition Supplements
The best time to take your supplements will depend on your goals and the type of supplement you are taking. Here are a few general guidelines to help you maximize the benefit:
When you take protein supplements will depend on your goals.
For weight loss, consider taking your protein first thing in the morning. A high protein breakfast has been found to reduce overall calorie intake and cravings throughout the day.1 Whey protein, specifically, helps promote fat loss over other types of protein.2
For muscle strength and recovery, take your protein supplement before, during or after your workout, the timing is up to you.3 Whey protein has been consistently found to support muscle growth and recovery when compared to other types of protein supplements.4
Water soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body, so they should be taken daily. Water soluble vitamins include:
- Vitamin C
- All B-vitamins
- Folic acid/folate
These are best absorbed on an empty stomach. Therefore, they need to be taken first thing in the morning, at least 30 minutes before a meal or 2 hours after your last meal. Some B-vitamins can cause upset stomach, so if you can’t tolerate them without food you can take them with a meal.
Fat-Soluble Vitamins and Nutrients
These vitamins or nutrients need a bit of fat to be absorbed, therefore they are best taken with a meal that contains a bit of fat or oil. Fat soluble supplements include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Fish oil
A multivitamin that contains both water and fat soluble nutrients should be taken with a meal to prevent an upset stomach.
Single Mineral Supplements
It is generally not recommended that you take individual mineral supplements, unless recommended by a doctor. If your doctor does recommend a single mineral supplement, try to take it with food unless they tell you otherwise.
There is one interaction to note with mineral supplements between calcium and iron.
Calcium binds to iron, preventing absorption. If you need to take both, this is your schedule:
- Calcium: no more than 500 mg at a time. If you are taking calcium citrate, take it first thing in the morning with your breakfast or at dinner. Calcium carbonate can be taken any time.
- Iron: take with your lunch or dinner with a source of vitamin C, such as citrus, tomatoes or strawberries. Do not take iron with milk or other high calcium dairy products.
Supplements You Can Take Any Time
There are several supplements that can be taken any time. These include:
The timing of these depends on what works best for you and they are not absorbed differently with or without food.
Tips for Taking Supplements
Remembering to take your supplements is one of the best ways to maximize their benefit. Here are a few tips for taking your supplements regularly:
- Get into a routine. The best way to remember to take your supplements is to get into a regular routine and take them at the same time every day.
- Keep them on the counter. Out of sight usually means out of mind, so keep your supplements visible so you will remember to take them.
- Take the right dose. More is not better when it comes to supplements; be sure you are taking the proper dose and do not exceed what is written on the bottle.
- Frestedt JL, Zenk JL, Kuskowski MA, Ward LS, Bastian ED. A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study. Nutr Metab . 2008;5:8.
- Leidy HJ, Lepping RJ, Savage CR, Harris CT. Neural responses to visual food stimuli after a normal vs. higher protein breakfast in breakfast-skipping teens: a pilot fMRI study. Obesity . 2011;19(10):2019-2025.
- Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon A, Wilborn C, Urbina SL, Hayward SE, Krieger J. Pre- versus post-exercise protein intake has similar effects on muscular adaptations. PeerJ. 2017;5:e2825.
- Pennings B, Boirie Y, Senden JMG, Gijsen AP, Kuipers H, van Loon LJC. Whey protein stimulates postprandial muscle protein accretion more effectively than do casein and casein hydrolysate in older men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(5):997-1005.