When and How to Take Your Supplements


As a nutritionist, two of the top questions I am asked are “What time of day should I take my supplements?”, followed by “Is it better to take my supplements with or without food?” The answers depend on which type of supplement you are taking. Generally, I believe if a nutrient comes from food, like most vitamins and minerals, then it should be taken with food. This is because most vitamins and minerals are best absorbed and used in combination with other vitamins and minerals. In nature, food rarely contains only one nutrient, so it makes sense to consume them together.

Multivitamin
The main purpose of a multivitamin is really as an insurance policy against the possible nutrient deficiencies of poor diets.[i] Health Canada has found that up to 35% of Canadian adults have nutrient levels below the estimated average requirements including: vitamins A, B6, B12, folate, C, D, and the minerals calcium, magnesium, and zinc. [ii] By taking a multivitamin with your breakfast, you are giving your body the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of each of the vitamins your body will need that day.

Vitamin Bs
There are 8 different B vitamins, often found in combination as a B complex supplement. One of the main benefits of B vitamins are that they “help to maintain the body’s ability to metabolize nutrients (and) help in energy metabolism within the body”.[iii] This is why B vitamins are considered naturally energizing. Since they work towards breaking down fats, carbohydrates and proteins, it is a good idea to take them in the morning with breakfast.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C can be taken any time of day. If you are taking it as an everyday antioxidant, take it with your breakfast. If you are trying to help your immune system after being exposed to a cold or flu, it is best to take it more than once throughout the day in order to absorb a more therapeutic dosage.[iv] Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means unlike fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E & K), it is not stored in our bodies, but instead we excrete what is not used through our kidneys. For that reason, it is ideal to consume water-soluble vitamins in smaller, more frequent doses.[v] For many people, this is easiest to remember by taking with meals or once when you wake up and again when you go to bed.

Vitamin D
Can be taken any time of day with or without food. If you are taking it for bone health, taking with calcium and magnesium is ideal. Many people find taking the 3 supplements together in the evening easier to remember.

Calcium
Calcium can be taken at any time of day. However, according to Health Canada, it should be taken a few hours before or after taking other medications[vi] This is because calcium may hinder absorption of certain medications. Calcium can also decrease iron absorption from most supplements as well as vegetable food sources. Therefore, it is best to take iron supplements two hours apart from calcium to maximize iron absorption. [vii] Many people find taking calcium with magnesium and vitamin D in the evening easiest to remember.

Magnesium
Can be taken any time of day. However, for those who have difficulty sleeping and relaxing their muscles, taking magnesium before bed with melatonin may be a better option.

Omega-3
Omega-3 will be absorbed whether you take it with or without food. However, many people find taking fish oils with food helps to avoid the dreaded burp back. If this is concern for you, there are also 'no-fishy aftertaste' formats available which include natural lemon flavour. It doesn't really matter what time of day, just whenever you are more likely to remember to take them.

Melatonin
Melatonin should only be taken before you would like to fall asleep. It is important to note that if you are going to bed late, but need to wake up within 5 hours, do not take melatonin. This is because you need to allow yourself time to complete a full night's sleep. According to Health Canada, driving a car or operating heavy machinery should not be attempted within 5 hours of taking melatonin[viii].

Probiotics
Whether you take them with food or not depends on the delivery system in place around the probiotics – for example, specialized capsules. Probiotics are living organisms, and our own stomach acid can diminish the amount of certain probiotic strains before they arrive in our intestines to provide health benefits. Depending on the format (capsules, powder, gummies) the directions will state if you should take them with food or not. If you are taking antibiotics, ensure you take your probiotics at least 2-3 hours away from the antibiotics[ix], as probiotics can be destroyed by antibiotics.

 

Morning

Evening

With food

Multivitamin

B-Complex

Omega-3

 

With or without food

Vitamin C

Vitamin C

Calcium

Magnesium

Melatonin (unless as shift worker you need to sleep during the day; always take melatonin before you need to sleep)


For most daily foundational or essential supplements (vitamins, minerals, omega-3s, probiotics) as long as you remember to take them, you will receive some benefit. If the time of day truly makes a difference, it will be displayed on the label. For example, if you were to take melatonin in the morning, it would likely make you sleepy during the day. Therefore, to be used as a sleep aid, melatonin directions state “to take at or before bedtime[x]. Overall, it is best to follow the directions on the label for whichever natural health product you are taking. When in doubt, talk to your pharmacist about creating a timetable of your individualized medications and supplements.

References
[i] Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Nutrition Insurance Policy: A Daily Multivitamin. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved on Jan 23, 2018 from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/multivitamin/

[ii] Health Canada. (2012). “Do Canadian Adults Meet Their Nutrient Requirements through Food Intake Alone?. Retrieved on Jan 23, 2018 from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-nutrition-surveillance/health-nutrition-surveys/canadian-community-health-survey-cchs/canadian-adults-meet-their-nutrient-requirements-through-food-intake-alone-health-canada-2012.html#a33

[iii] Health Canada. (2018). Multivitamin Mineral Monograph. Accessed Jan 28, 2019 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=multi_vitmin_suppl&lang=eng5Health Canada. Product Information Number 80069433.

[iv] Carr, AC & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. Nov 3;9(11). Pii:E1211.

[v] Health Link BC. Vitamins: Their Functions and Sources. Accessed Feb 5, 2019 at: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/ta3868

[vi] Health Canada. Calcium Monograph. Accessed Feb 4, 2019 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=57&lang=eng

[vii] Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Centre. Calcium. Accessed Feb 4, 2019 at: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/calcium

[viii] Health Canada. Melatonin Monograph. Accessed Feb 5, 2019 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=melatonin.oral&lang=eng

[ix] Health Canada. Probiotics Monograph. Accessed Feb 5, 2019 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=probio&lang=eng

[x] Health Canada. Melatonin Monograph. Accessed Feb 6, 2019 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=melatonin.oral&lang=eng