When (and How) to Take Vitamins & Minerals
How do you know if you’re taking your vitamins and minerals at the right time?
Even if you’re just taking a multi-vitamin or a prenatal vitamin once a day, figuring out the right schedule for it to fit into your life AND get the most out of that supplement can be overwhelming.
Remembering to take your vitamins and minerals (wondering if you took them already..?), figuring out the right time to take them (before breakfast? With lunch?) and generally figuring out how they fit into your everyday routine is not always easy.
Even just one vitamin can be a bit of a headache.
As I’m writing this, I’m thinking back to breakfast and wondering it I had my omega-3 this morning?
Yup. I think I did.
But add in a few more- whether they’re vitamins or minerals- and it gets downright confusing!
Now, one thing I will say: if your provider has given you different directions than I’ve got written here, follow their directions.
I’ll start with a few general rules that can be applied to most supplements. Then, I’ll get into specifics (and even break some of the general rules) for certain vitamins and minerals.
So, without further ado, general supplement rules:
Don’t take supplements right before bed.
A multi-vitamin and anything with B-complex vitamins (especially methylated, or active, B-vitamins) should be taken in the morning because they will perk your brain right up (great during the day, less than stellar if you’re trying to sleep).
Take most of your supplements with food and make sure you’ve got some fat in that meal (aim for about ~10% of your calories from fat. Or, make it simple and add a teaspoon of oil, or a tablespoon of nut butter or avocado). Fish oil, magnesium, and iron are best taken with food to prevent stomach upset.
Drink plenty of water with supplements and throughout the day (because water is good for errrrything and is key for metabolism!)
Hate taking pills? A common question I hear is “can I just open up my supplement and dump it on my food?”. Generally, yes. But there are a few caveats: B-vitamins taste horrible this way and they, along with vitamin C, can be destroyed if heated so don’t add them to any warm/hot food.
That’s it, those are the general rules! Simple right?
Here's a flow chart to help you keep it all straight:
But if you’ve ever wondered why those rules exist (and want to learn about when to break them) keep reading!
Why shouldn't you take supplements before bed?
When you go to sleep your digestion slows down, meaning your body won’t be able to breakdown and absorb the supplement as well.
Now, there are two exceptions to this rule: fiber and niacin.
Fiber can “grab” onto other vitamins and minerals and pull them out of the body, meaning less of the supplement is absorbed and now they’re less effective (you’re spending your hard earned money on these, make sure you’re getting what you paid for!).
Niacin can be taken anytime, but if you’re noticing flushing and feeling uncomfortable try taking niacin at night. You’ll still have the flushing but you’ll be asleep, which can help prevent discomfort from that flushing.
In the rules, it states that “most” supplements should be taken with food. Although that’s a good general rule, it’s not always necessary (and sometimes not recommended at all).
If you take any minerals (magnesium, calcium iron) separate from a multi-vitamin this applies to you.
Check your bottle. If your supplement bottle says “carbonate”, “oxide”, or “sulfate” after the name of the mineral it’s a mineral salt (heads up: most retail versions of minerals are mineral salts). Mineral salts compete with the absorption of other vitamins and minerals so take them away from meals.
If your minerals have the words “citrate”, “glycinate”, “arginate”, “malate”, “fumarate”, “succinate”, or “oritate” after the name it’s a chelated mineral. These are bound to amino acid making them look like a protein to your body. Chelated minerals are best taken with food, but can be taken any time.
(oh, and if you do take calcium and iron don’t take them together, they tend to compete. Take them at least an hour apart).
Probiotics are also best taken away from food- have them before your meal.
When I say “take them away from food” I mean at least an hour before or after eating and at least an hour before eating again.
Then there are the supplements that need to be taken with food, no if’s and’s or but’s:
Fat-soluble vitamins (and CoQ10) and multi-vitamins that contain fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin D and vitamin E).
These should be taken with a meal that contains plenty of fat. Fat in a meal triggers the gall bladder to release bile. Bile initiates the fat digestion process which helps with emulsification, digestion, and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (basically, you’re able to use and absorb the vitamins better when you take them with fat).
Let’s talk more about multi-vitamins because this is a subject that is surprisingly complex and there is more here than meets the eye.
When it comes to multi’s you have an almost overwhelming number of options: one a day formulas, two a day formulas, up to 7 a day formulas, heart support formulas, brain support formulas, gummies, powders, pills, generic brands, professional lines… the list goes on.
Go for a professional line 2 (or more) a day formula and get the activated (methylated) B vitamins.
Professional lines are more thoroughly tested and many voluntarily go through the FDA drug registration process so you can bet that what the label says is in the product is actually in these pharmecuetical grade supplements. Very few- if any- over the counter brands can make that claim.
As for the methylated B-vitamins?
Do you know your genomic SNPs? There are many SNP’s that deal with converting B vitamins from the form they come in in food to the form your body can actually use (the activated or methylated form). If you have SNP’s in these categories you may not be an efficient converter.
If you don’t know your SNP’s then the active form is usually better (and usually safe for everyone).
And opt for the 2-a-day (or more) formulas.
Unlike fat soluble vitamins (A, K, D, and E) which can be taken in larger doses and stay in the body, your body can only absorb so much of the water-soluble vitamins, like the B’s, at one time.
If you need b vitamins you can’t just take them in the morning- your body will take what it needs at any given time and you’ll pee out the rest. But, if you were insufficient in B-vitamins to start out with, a few hours later and you’re insufficient again. If you need water-soluble vitamins then you need them a couple of times a day so your body can get what it needs, when it needs it.
Got a one-a-day formula?
Follow the instructions on the container and do not just take your one a day multivitamin multiple times throughout the day. Remember those fat-soluble vitamins that stay in the body? They can add up if you take a multi-vitamin too often and lead to toxicity.
(One last thing about the B’s: When you start taking B vitamins (or a multi with B’s), your urine may turn yellow. It’s common to think a) something is wrong or b) you’re wasting your money. But neither is true, yellow pee is normal and it shows that it’s being metabolized and absorbed, so don’t panic).
It can be confusing. If you have any questions at all make sure you ask your provider to write down exactly what they mean and exactly when and how you should take your supplements.