In an article last year, “Pill Popping 101: When To Take Your Supplements“, I helped you navigate the confusing world of how to actually get the most bang for your buck out of what you're using, answering important questions such as:
When should you swallow fish oil? Before breakfast? After a workout?
What about antioxidants? Do they actually hurt you during exercise, or are they helpful?
Are there some supplements you should avoid with others, like a high fiber supplement and a multi-vitamin?
If you miss out on taking your supplements during the day, would it be wise to just take them all in one go before going to bed?
But I'm also always paying attention to the latest studies to help you maximize your health, and recent data from Nutrition Expert from Healthspan, compiled from a number of studies sheds new light on the combinations to avoid, and gives valuable information about tablets to take with food and the capsules to squeeze in before breakfast.
I'll give you the overview first, then show you exactly what I use on a daily basis, then finish with the infographic!
When You Should Take Your Vitamins and Supplements?
Highlights of the research includes that there are some vitamins for which bedtime is a perfect time. For instance, calcium is a perfect example. Calcium is utilized by the body at night, and is a natural muscle relaxant thought to promote sleep. Research shows low calcium levels are associated with disturbed sleep patterns, including the lack of a deep REM sleep phase. Calcium works hand-in-hand with magnesium, which also has a calming effect on both the muscles and nervous system, and may therefore be beneficial in getting a good night’s sleep. I personally don't use calcium and don't really recommend you take it if you're already eating a well-rounded diet. But magnesium is important, and you should take it before bed.
Probiotics are another supplement that can be taken as part of a bedtime regime. These ideally need to be taken away from food to avoid interference with digestive enzymes and stomach acid. I personally don't use probiotics unless I'm traveling, since I tend to eat lots of fermented foods when I'm at home.
For many supplements, a meal is necessary for adequate uptake by the body, and this is why you will see “take with food” on many labels. There are a group of vitamins called fat-soluble vitamins, which include vitamins A, D, E & K – these are the type of fats I personally get through using a fat-vitamin packed fish liver oil called “SuperEssentials“. These need fat in order to be absorbed, and therefore should be taken with meals that contain dietary fat.
B vitamins and vitamin C are recommended to be taken with food; in some individuals they can cause stomach acidity and mild nausea if taken on an empty stomach. B vitamins are important for the conversion of food into energy and are therefore best taken early in the day. Typically, if I need a bit of an extra kick or immune system boost during the day, I use a combination of B & C called “Lifeshotz“, and take it about an hour after breakfast.
Iron should ideally be taken on an empty stomach for maximum absorption, and away from other supplements that may affect its absorption such as calcium and vitamin E. First thing in the morning is therefore the best time. Iron supplements can cause stomach upsets in some individuals, in which case it should be taken with a light meal (incidentally, if you do have anemia or low iron and ferritin and you need a supplement for this, I'm a bigger fan of using Floradix than a strict iron supplement per se).
What Vitamins and Supplements Do I Personally Take?
I'm often asked what supplements I personally use. So here is my daily protocol:
Morning on empty stomach:
–TianChi herbs (1 packet)
–Colostrum (4 capsules)
-If low on sleep or very hard workout the previous day, I also take my Injury supplements at this time.
–SuperEssentials fish oil (4 capsules)
Mid-Morning, if I need a “pick-me-up”, I am traveling, or I have been around sick people:
–Lifeshotz Vitamin B & C (1 packet)
–Oil of Oregano (5-10 drops)
30 Minutes Before Any Very Hard Workouts (usually 2-3 days a week):
30 Minutes Before Dinner:
–Magnesium (1 tablespoon)
I'm often asked about lots of other supplements, such as greens powders or capsules, beta-alanine, l-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, etc, etc, etc.! The answer is that I really recommend you specifically tweak your supplement protocol to meet your specific goals, and ideally you choose supplements that address genetic values or blood biomarkers you've been shown to need work in. I think that this “Ben Recommends” page should really help you with that.
In conclusion, you can see that the timing of when you take your supplements can significantly affect the way in which your body can absorb and utilize your nutrients. While bedtime may be the most convenient option, it may be worth setting some reminders on your phone (e.g. using a Vitamin Reminder phone app) or refrigerator to ensure that you get the full benefits from your supplements throughout the day.
What are your thoughts? What supplements do you take? Do you have questions about my daily supplement protocol? Do you think supplements are a waste of time? Leave your questions, comments and feedback below!
Also published on Medium.