You wake up, stretch, and focus on your day before heading into the kitchen to start your morning routine. Along with a tall glass of water, perhaps herbal tea and a nutritious breakfast, you get pumped for the day by beginning your supplement regime. But have you ever wondered when you should take each vitamin or mineral? Does it matter if you take it before, during, or after eating — and which meal?
We’ve got you covered with this comprehensive guide on the best time to take the most common minerals, vitamins, and supplements. Read on to learn more.
What Are Water & Fat-Soluble Vitamins?
Experts classify vitamins by how they behave in your body.
Many are water-soluble, which means they dissolve in water. Rather than getting stored in the body, you excrete any excess. As a general rule, take water-soluble vitamins on an empty stomach. You should have a regular supply of these vitamins from your diet — or supplements — to keep enough in your system.
Fat-soluble vitamins, naturally, dissolve in fats (lipids). Your liver stores any excess. Sometimes excess gets stored in the body’s fat, as well. Generally, you want to take fat-soluble vitamins with a meal.
When Should I Take A Multivitamin?
Many people take vitamins to address gaps in their nutrition. A multivitamin ensures you have a broad spectrum of nutrients even if your diet is lacking in certain areas. As the name suggests, multivitamins contain a multitude of vitamins and minerals. They usually include vitamins A, C, D, E, plus B-vitamins. Most multivitamins also include essential minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, and more.
Some of the vitamins in a multivitamin formulation should be taken with food. Taking it with your breakfast makes it easy to remember. Just make sure your breakfast contains some fats, or your body will not properly absorb the fat-soluble vitamins.
When Should I Take Water-Soluble Vitamins?
Your body absorbs water-soluble vitamins best on an empty stomach. Ideally, take them 20 to 30 minutes before a meal, whether breakfast or lunch. Alternatively, you can consume water-soluble vitamins two hours after a meal. If you take them with a meal or close to one, you may experience reduced absorption.
B12 & B-Vitamin Complex
You can find water-soluble B vitamins in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A B-complex supplement usually contains all eight B vitamins:
- B1 or thiamine
- B2 or riboflavin
- B3 or niacin
- B5 or pantothenic acid
- B6 or pyridoxine
- B7 or biotin
- B9 or folate (folic acid)
- B12 or cobalamin
B vitamins play many roles in the body, including supporting brain health and are essential for energy production throughout the body. They often act as coenzymes, which means that they work with enzymes to help break down and build up molecules. Vitamin B12 is a particularly important nutrient for metabolism, energy, and mood.
If you can, take B vitamins first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. This helps energize you for the day ahead. Some people find if they take them too late at night, it affects their sleep and produces vivid dreams.
Vitamin C, sometimes called ascorbic acid, can be found naturally in citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, papaya, and other fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C is essential for good health and for maintaining a healthy immune system. It helps improve the body's absorption of iron, so if you take an iron supplement, consume vitamin C as well.
You'll lose excess vitamin C through urination since your body will not store it. Take vitamin C on an empty stomach at least 20 to 30 minutes before eating. If you find that it upsets your stomach, you can take it with food.
When Should I Take Fat-Soluble Vitamins?
When you take a fat-soluble vitamin, it gets packaged in the small intestines in a “chylomicron,” a droplet of fat that contains the vitamin. After getting absorbed into the cells lining the intestines, the vitamin package gets sent to the liver or body fat for storage. When the cells are ready for it, the fat-soluble vitamin gets metabolized by the enzyme lipase.
Vitamins A, D, and E are all fat-soluble and should be taken with meals to aid their absorption. Generally, it’s best to take them with your evening meal, especially one that contains healthy fats or oils. These help you better absorb the vitamins.
Vitamin D is a hormone that plays a role in cell growth, immune function, and the neuromuscular system. Unlike most vitamins, the body can make its own vitamin D, but when your skin is not exposed to enough sunshine, you may become low or deficient.
Vitamin A is essential for eye and skin health. Your body cannot produce it, so if you don’t have an adequate supply of vitamin A-rich foods like dark leafy vegetables, carrots, and pumpkins in your diet, you should supplement.
The best time to take your vitamin A supplement is with an evening meal containing fat to aid absorption.
Because vitamin A is fat-soluble, do not take more than the recommended daily allowance. Some evidence suggests that excess vitamin A can lead to weaker bones in older individuals. Be mindful that omega-3 fatty acid supplements and multivitamins often contain vitamin A, so keep tabs on your consumption.
Vitamin E is also essential for skin health, as well as protecting and strengthening the body’s immune system. It’s a powerful antioxidant. Nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils are the best natural sources of vitamin E.
As a fat-soluble vitamin, consume vitamin E with fat-containing foods. You can take vitamin E with vitamins A and C, as well as selenium. If you are low or deficient in iron, taking vitamin E has been shown to not only improve iron tolerance but also to improve the gut microbiome in the intestinal tract.
Although minerals are often lumped together with vitamins, they are distinct. Unlike vitamins, minerals are inorganic and come from rocks, soil, and water. They support a multitude of biological processes that keep us healthy.
The body requires some minerals in trace amounts, like zinc, iron, and copper. Macrominerals are required in larger amounts, including potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Calcium & Magnesium
Calcium helps you maintain a strong skeleton. Your body stores calcium in the bones and teeth. This mineral also plays a role in your muscular and nervous systems — including the brain. Kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are excellent plant-based sources of calcium.
Experts recommend that you take calcium and magnesium together because these two macrominerals work together. You should take them in a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium. Global Healing’s IntraCal® provides calcium and magnesium in this ultra-absorbable ideal ratio.
It’s a good idea to split your dose by taking it with your morning, lunch, and evening meals.
You can take calcium orotate or calcium citrate on an empty stomach, but calcium carbonate must be taken with food so stomach acid helps break it down. However, calcium carbonate is little more than chalk and is the least helpful calcium you can take. Calcium orotate is the best, most highly absorbed supplement.
Don’t take a calcium supplement with iron or zinc, as they inhibit its absorption. Do take calcium with vitamin D — the latter helps with the absorption of the former.
Zinc plays an important role in cell division, wound healing, and cellular functioning.[12, 13] Zinc is found in many plant sources. However, plant-based zinc often occurs along with phytic acid, which can inhibit its absorption. That means that vegans or vegetarians taking zinc should take more.
Take zinc with a meal; some people get an upset stomach if zinc is consumed on an empty stomach. Also, take zinc at least two hours apart from iron as well as calcium, as they inhibit the absorption of each other.
Zinc is helpful to your immune system when you feel a runny nose and sniffles coming on, or anytime you first feel that little tingle in your throat. It gets you feeling better in no time.
Iron, an essential mineral, helps form the hemoglobin in your blood, a molecule that carries oxygen throughout the body. This mineral supports brain development, muscle metabolism, and cellular functioning.
Take iron with food because it can cause digestive issues when taken on an empty stomach. Some people like to take their iron supplement with orange juice because the antioxidant nature of vitamin C can increase the absorption of iron.
Iodine is a trace element that regulates thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) in the body. On top of its role in hormone production and metabolism, iodine helps detoxify the thyroid by displacing harmful “halogens” like chlorine, fluorine, and bromine.
Many people do not get enough iodine, and low iodine can lead to many health issues.
Like zinc, the best time to take iodine supplements is at mealtimes — or a few minutes before — because some people get upset stomachs when taking it on an empty stomach.
Many people take supplements other than vitamins and minerals. Two of the most popular ones include probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids, so we will break down the best time to take them.
Probiotics fall into two main groups; transient probiotics that pass through your system and resident strains that live in your gut. Transient probiotics like Latero-Flora™ are best while cleansing the body, as they target harmful organisms.
Other probiotic strains take up residence in the gut, helping your body in a symbiotic way. A good supplement contains multiple strains with up to 75 billion CFUs, like Global Healing's Ultimate Probiotic.
All probiotics should be taken 20 minutes before eating a morning meal. Ideally, eat a morning meal that contains fats, as many probiotic strains survive longer when transported to the stomach with lipids. This enables them to bypass stomach acid, which may otherwise destroy them, and reach the intestines, where they can establish themselves.
You might wonder if you can take a probiotic at the same time as other supplements, and the answer is yes. In fact, taking a probiotic along with your omega-3 fatty acid supplement can improve its effectiveness.
Omega-3s are found in oils, nuts, and seeds. If you decide to take an omega-3 supplement, look for a plant-based option like flaxseed oil or algae oil.
The best time to take it is later in the day as they should be taken with foods containing fat. Since the breakfast meal often contains lower fat than other meals, try taking omega- 3s with the lunch or evening meal. If you do take the omega-3 with breakfast, include some fat with your meal.
You can take omega-3s with vitamin D. Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids work together to affect serotonin production, a hormone that influences happiness.
Points to Remember
Taking your vitamin and mineral supplements at the right time optimizes their absorption, which better supports your total health and wellness.
Some vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and should be taken with food — often with fats — to increase their absorption or to prevent stomach issues.
Other vitamins, like vitamin C, work best when taken on an empty stomach. Calcium is best when split up into two or three different times during the day.
Some vitamins and minerals have adverse reactions when taken together, like zinc and iron, and can prevent proper absorption of either. It’s a good idea to take these two minerals separately.
To prevent any issues that could arise from an over ingestion of a particular vitamin, keep notes on your daily supplement regime, and read the labels carefully.
Have you had experience with finding the optimal time for taking your vitamins and minerals? Share below!
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.