The body is a complex machine and like any machine, it needs careful maintenance. Taking supplements can help us maximize our good habits with food, exercise and sleep. What isn’t so widely known is that the time you take your supplements can impact on how much your body absorbs these supplements and how successfully they work, hence it is essential to know when is the best time to take supplements.
Remember: taking your supplements with lots of water and not with hot drinks such as coffee and tea will ensure you are getting the best from your regimen. Caffeinated coffee and tea can work in conflict to some of these supplements. Supplements help as part of a healthy meal plan and an exercise routine – often supporting the work you are doing in the gym.
With all this in mind, here is a quick day to night routine to help improve how you feel and perform.
Sam-E: Taking this 30 minutes before you consume food first thing in the morning. Or, one hour after eating to ensure you have an empty stomach. Taking it as you wake is likely to be most convenient.
Whey Protein: You have been fasting for 6 – 9 hours. At this point your body has turned to your muscles for food. To stop this process in its tracks, it is a good idea to start the morning with a whey protein shake. This will allow your body to take in much-needed protein quickly – unlike eggs or fish, which could take up to an hour to be absorbed. If you eat a piece of fruit with the shake you will encourage a glucose spike and increase insulin levels, which will help the body turn away from muscles for food.
Multivitamins: Mornings are often best for taking the majority of your supplements, purely because you are better in control of your routine first thing in the day. Routines in supplement intake is everything.
Iron and Vitamin C: Taking iron with Vitamin C help with absorption and it is important to take it as far away as possible from calcium – as calcium acts as an inhibitor to iron. Taking iron on an empty stomach is best – so 30 minutes before your breakfast meal and at least an hour after your protein shake. If you find it gives you an upset stomach, then take it with your breakfast.
B vitamins: B vitamins are best taken with breakfast and will set your body up with what it needs to metabolize food for the day.
It is worth noting that B Vitamins and Vitamin C are water soluble vitamins, so your body cannot store these. It is best, particularly with Vitamin C, to split the dose – so maybe take another dose with your lunch.
Vitamin E: This is a fat soluble vitamin and eating with a breakfast of nuts, yogurt, milk or avocado can help absorption. This will help with the maintenance of the heart and your circulation. It can be stored in the body and so one dose will work to maintain your body levels.
Selenium: This is a powerful antioxidant and anticancer supplement. This also facilitates the intake of Vitamin E and should therefore be taken in the same dose.
Morning or Afternoon
Coenzyme Q10: This is known at the body’s spark plug and can be found in every cell. It is especially dense in organs with high energy requirements. It is better to absorb this supplement with dietary fat. So, you can take this supplement with your breakfast or lunch. Remember, the simpler you make your regimen the more likely you are to stick to it. So, maybe taking this at breakfast with the majority of other supplements is best practice.
Zinc: Zinc is best taken at a different time to iron and calcium, therefore the best time is with your lunch. This will contribute to your immune system but can cause an upset stomach, so take it with food.
Iodine: This is an important supplement for normal cognitive functions and maintenance of the skin. It is naturally found in kelp. This can increase your energy levels, so can bring a welcome midday boost if taken with your lunch.
At some point, maybe at this point – mid-morning – or mid-afternoon, you will be thinking about your preparation for a workout. Taking supplements in the right order around this time can optimize our efforts – so, as with everything mentioned so far, timing is everything.
One Hour Before Workout
Caffeine tablets: Drinking coffee is not advised as it can hinder the absorption of many vitamins and minerals. Therefore, take a caffeine tablet to boost fat burning and endurance.
Green tea extract: Green tea extract better absorbs into our system, therefore better works to increase endurance.
Nitric Oxide (NO) supplement: This will increase endurance and strength during workouts aid muscle growth and aid fat loss.
15 – 30 Minutes Before Workout
Whey Protein/ BCAAs/ Creatine/ Beta-Alanine: This combination of supplement before your workout will help muscle recovery as you train. This sounds counter-intuitive, as you are ripping into the muscle as you work out. However, you will work muscle groups in clusters. When muscle groups are resting they will begin recovery. The supplement will assist the body in this recovery process.
Whey Protein/ Casein Protein/ BCAAs/ Creatine/ Beta Alamine/ Fast carbs: Clearly this combination of supplements after your workout is aimed at the speedy recovery of your muscles. Recovery of muscles will help you to reach a point when further training is possible and helpful again. Most worry about the take up of fast carbs and that it might lead to the body turning this to fat. The best option is to exercise early enough in the day that fast carbs can be processed before sleep. Your body will need fuel after your workout otherwise you will very quickly suffer an energy dip. So time it right and take the fast carbs is always the best advice.
The optimal time for the post workout supplements is said to be 45 minutes. After this it is felt you have missed the window for optimizing your efforts. Remember your body is a complex biological machine and like all machines it needs food. Without this food it will under perform, in short, you will feel awful rather than enlivened!
Vitamin D: This is synthesized in the body after exposure to the sun. The UV index needs to be 3+ for the body to naturally generate vitamin D. If you are lucky enough to live in a perpetually sunny place, then you could be fine. But, Vitamin D is crucial in the regulation of our moods, so shouldn’t be underestimated in its power to impact on our day. It is best taken with a main meal, which includes dietary fats. So, with your lunch or dinner.
Vitamin K: This is best taken with Vitamin D and can help with wound healing, as it assists blood clotting. It can also contribute to the maintenance of bones.
Fish oil: Long Chain Omega Fatty Acids is necessary for brain function and normal growth and development. It is also important for eye and heart health. This is best taken with a meal to aid absorption, though which meal is open to discussion. Some say this should be part of your morning routine, some say it is better with a main meal. Fitting it in somewhere is not debatable in the literature, it is seen as one of the most helpful supplements to a healthy body.
Calcium: Calcium is an inhibitor for the intake of iron. It is important to take this at a different part of the day to iron, hence take it in the evening. Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in the body, mostly in bones, but also aids nerve transmission and muscle function. It is best taken at night because some argue that the body works to repair whilst sleeping and calcium supplement will support this process.
Magnesium: This should be taken with calcium to aid absorption. Magnesium and calcium are often packaged together in supplements, just for this reason. 50% of magnesium is found in bones. Magnesium also has the welcome effect of calming effect on the muscles and nervous system, therefore can help with restful sleep. This is a good reason to take this supplement at night, before going to bed.
Probiotics: These aid the friendly bacteria, or microflora in the gut. These are best taken on an empty stomach and therefore 60 minutes after eating to avoid the supplement interacting with digestive enzymes. By taking the supplement before bed the body can absorb the microflora whilst you are naturally fasting.
Some important suggestions
It is important to realize that Vitamin A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. This means they are best taken with food. This is because these supplements can cause nausea, heart burn and gastric disturbances when taken on an empty stomach.
Vitamin C is processed quickly by the body, as it is water soluble. Therefore, taking your dose of vitamin C in two separate doses is important. It may be necessary to increase the number of doses dependent on your lifestyle. Ask yourself: do you live a stressful life? Do you live in a heavily polluted environment? Do you eat enough fruit and vegetables? Depending on your answer to these questions could define whether you need another dose at another point in the day. Too much vitamin C in one dose and it is just excreted from the body before absorption, as it cannot be stored.
Remember Vitamin C helps iron absorption. So taking your iron at the same time as one of your Vitamin C doses is good practice. Calcium can inhibit iron, so take this at a distinctly different period of the day.
B12, unlike other B vitamins, works best on an empty stomach. You will notice that most energy supplements contain a large dose of B12, therefore taking this vitamin mid-morning or mid-afternoon will offer a good boost to your day. But, importantly, you will then be taking the B12 on an empty stomach when your body is more receptive.
Our body can only digest 10grams of fat each hour. Fish oil can cause indigestion and gastric problems when taken on an empty stomach. Therefore, taking fish oil with a healthy meal will help absorption but also avoiding fatty meals at this time is important, as it can slow your body’s ability to ingest the supplement. Taking fish oil with Vitamin D will help the body’s uptake.
Green supplements such as Supergreens are high in necessary fibres. This can cause bloating, gas and bowel movement. So, here timing is a matter of practicality. You should avoid taking these supplement a couple of hours before a workout or competition, as the consequences could be highly inconvenient! You should also take these supplements separate to fatty acids, as the fibre can slow the bodies uptake of fat.
Proteolytic Enzymes can aid your muscle recovery and have anti-inflammatory properties. Therefore, these are a useful supplement when working out. However, taking these on an empty stomach is crucial, otherwise your body will just use them as a digestive enzyme rather than working on the muscles. So, taking this mid-morning or mid-afternoon, about one hour after eating is best for this supplement.
The timing of your supplements can make a big difference to the effectiveness for your body. It is dizzying to consider all the different combinations and exclusions and inclusions that make up a supplement timetable. The best advice is to work on the basis of what is best for you and your routine. If it is too inconvenient, you will quickly fall out of practise of taking the supplements. So, if you notice, a lot of the supplements can be taken first thing in the morning or late at night. If you work out, you are able to have a routine that supplements can work around.
The only hard and fast rules you must consider are: empty stomach or with food? Will the vitamins inhibit or facilitate uptake of other vitamins and minerals? Beyond these two questions it is about your day and your life.
If you enjoyed reading this article, we are sure you will enjoy the rest of the Ultimate Guide to Supplements Series: