Some diets are meticulously constructed from the best ingredients and preparation processes. Others are a hodgepodge of fast food, snacks and quick bites whenever there's a few minutes. We all know what a good diet looks like -- it's just hard to meet those rigorous dietary needs of lean meats or alternative protein sources, leafy greens and whole grains in today's world where instant food is just seconds away.
In light of these challenges, many turn to supplements to get what they may miss out on any given day, especially for supplements that you can't get with a standard or normal diet. But then the question becomes, do you take supplements before bed time, in the morning or at another time of day? Furthermore, does the time of day make a difference, and should you be considering anything else with your supplement consumption?
Best time to take supplements
There's been a long-standing debate about whether taking supplements before bed time or in the morning is best. Some believe that since you're already eating and getting nutrients throughout the day, the best time to take supplements is before bedtime. During sleep, the reasoning goes, you'll be replenishing your body with the stuff that it needs when it's not getting much of anything from foods.
But the problem is that digestion slows down while you sleep, which affects the body's ability to break down and absorb the goodies in various supplements. This would suggest that nighttime is not a good time to take supplements, and that you'd be better off taking your supplements during the day. In fact, the best time to take multivitamins is morning, not night, where the body can make better use of B vitamins and other ingredients that can actually stimulate your metabolism and brain function -- not something you really want when you're trying to get some sleep.
In general, you're better off taking multivitamins and other supplements during the day while you need their power. Instead of sticking your supplements in the bathroom where you're prone to take them at night, consider putting them next to the coffee machine, which will help remind you that many supplements are best taken while you're awake, not when you're about to sleep.
Alternatively, if taking supplements in the morning doesn't appeal to you, feel free to take them at another time during the day. While some fuss about the particularities of when you should take a supplement, the best time to take any supplement is when you'll actually take it. If lunchtime works for you, great. If it's with breakfast when you wake up, that works, too.
With food or not?
While the specific time of day isn't much of an issue when considering your supplement regimen, it is true that most supplements should be taken with food. That's because when you take supplements with food, you're reducing the chance that they'll upset your stomach, and you'll also be stimulating digestion and improving absorption. Some supplements can be taken with or without food, but when in doubt, you should always strive to take your supplements with some food.
If your supplements have iron, magnesium and fish oil, you won't want to break this rule. These supplements can give you an upset stomach if you take them without food, so it's best to have at least a snack on hand to consume with your supplements. Vitamins A, D, E and K are also better absorbed by foods with fatty content, which means you'll want to take these and any multivitamin well before bed and with some kind of snack or meal. It doesn't have to be a heavy meal, either. Just five grams of fat is enough to help your body process fat-soluble vitamins.
However, not all supplements need to be taken with food. Certain chelated mineral supplements can be taken without any food at all due to the presence of acid, which means you're not relying on your stomach acid to break it down. These supplements include calcium citrate and magnesium glycinate, among others -- but that's not to say that you can't take it with food. When in doubt, grab a snack.
What about water?
While taking supplements before bed time is largely discouraged because of how the human body digests vitamins and minerals, it is important to take supplements with lots of water. Hydration plays a huge role in breaking down the tablet or capsule where all the nutrients are held. By drinking water, you're providing plenty of fluids to help dissolve water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin B and C.
For some supplements, taking them with others can actually enhance their effectiveness. Vitamin D can help boost calcium absorption and vitamin C helps boost iron absorption. That's why you'll see many supplements use both these ingredients together, but you can also make it happen by drinking a tall glass of orange juice with your iron supplement to get the boosting benefits of vitamin C.
Other times, vitamins can actually work against one another, such as when calcium affects the body's absorption of iron, zinc or magnesium. But all is not lost. As long as you take your calcium supplement at a different meal than your multivitamin or iron supplement, you won't run the risk of one affecting the other. It's important to also keep in mind that the body can't absorb more than about 600 milligrams of calcium at a time, so you'll want to split up any large doses of calcium throughout the day if you can.
Last but not least, fiber is another nutrient that you'll want to avoid taking with other supplements because it flushes your system and interferes with nutrient absorption. For many, fiber is best taken before bed with a tall glass of water.
Scheduling your supplements
While taking your supplements before bed time may not be the most ideal time to cram your body with nutrients and other goodies, there are certain times of day that you'll want to focus on to get the most out of your supplements. Taking supplements with food is more important than when you take them, but with three square meals a day, you only have a few chances to get it right.
In the morning -- more specifically with breakfast -- you'll want to take any multivitamin, omega-3 or probiotic. The full day will give your body the most amount of time to absorb and use the valuable nutrients, leaving other supplements for later in the day.
When it comes to the best time to take vitamin C or iron tablets, morning or night, dinner is a great time to get these rich supplements in while you're enjoying a hearty meal.
At the end of a long day, you shouldn't be looking to take supplements before bed time. Instead, look to take them throughout the day with each meal, leaving a fiber or digestive supplement to help flush and ready your body for tomorrow's nutrient rich day.
But if you're like most people, you don't necessarily want to be carrying around bottles of supplements for each meal. Alternatively, simply take your multivitamin and any fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) with some food in the morning, then circle back to iron and calcium supplements later in the day, possibly with dinner. For the most part, you'll want to avoid supplements before bed time, though any fiber-based supplements are a great way to end the day.