The best time of day to take supplements, according to science
Our vitamin and mineral needs shift as we transition into midlife. Along with reduced nutrient absorption and metabolic shifts, many women experience a decline in bone density, which can restrict day-to-day movement and flexibility.
Sticking to a healthy diet, getting plenty of fruit and veg and building an arsenal of supplements can all help to tackle these shifting nutritional requirements. However, several factors determine how well our bodies absorb supplemented vitamins and minerals. Some supplements go best with food, whereas others may work better in the morning with a glass of water.
Figuring out the best time to take our supplements all depends on our individual needs. For example, if we struggle to take any sort of pill on an empty stomach, we’re probably best off taking them with a meal. To find out more, we looked into the different types of vitamins and minerals and how certain food groups impact them.
The best time of day to take supplements
Recent findings from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey show that much of the population lacks the required nutrients to stay healthy. Worse still, there have been significant declines in many nutrients over the last 10-20 years.
To understand what vitamins we should take at certain times of day, it’s important that we recognise the difference between water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins are best taken alongside food so our bodies can absorb them better. Water-soluble vitamins are better absorbed by the body if taken with water.
Generally speaking, taking a supplement on an empty stomach can upset our tummies. If in doubt, it’s best to check the packaging. But, if we’re taking several supplements, splitting them into the following timings can help our bodies to metabolise them better.
Taking water-soluble supplements, such as vitamin B and vitamin C, with a glass of water in the morning, can help their absorption. However, some people find that taking vitamin C on an empty stomach impacts digestion, so having breakfast around the same time can help.
For many of us, a cup of coffee is a morning must-have. Unfortunately, research suggests that a tummy full of coffee may not be the best environment for vitamin absorption. Studies, including this one from the Journal of Clinical Chemistry, suggest an association between coffee consumption and lower circulating B-vitamin concentrations. The same goes for tea and chocolate—leave them for later in the day.
The same can be said for mineral supplements. The NHS suggests leaving a two-hour gap between taking iron tablets such as ferrous fumarate, and your morning mug of tea or coffee. It also advises against taking iron supplements alongside dairy products, eggs, or soybean products. This is because they can interfere with how the body metabolises it.
Unless we’re intermittent fasting (in which case, we can treat midday as we would morning) midday is a great time to take supplements. Our stomachs are lined with food and are prepped for absorbing nutrients. A lunch with healthy fats, such as avocados and nuts, is the best time to take fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K.
One trial study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics revealed that vitamin D absorption was 32% greater in those who took a vitamin D supplement with a fat-containing meal than those who took it with a fat-free meal.
Generally, we want to take our main supplements before bedtime. But, in some cases, taking a supplement just before going to bed can be beneficial. Research shows that minerals such as magnesium and zinc can be great sleep aids, improving sleep quality and the effectiveness of our circadian rhythm.
We should avoid taking B vitamins close to bedtime. This is because some studies, like this one from the University of Adelaide, have shown that taking B6 interferes with sleep by causing vivid dreams.