The right supplement at the right time...

Does it matter what time of day you take your nutritional supplements? 

If you take a multivitamin and mineral, a fish oil supplement, or your seasonal vitamin D top up during autumn and winter, it could be worthwhile thinking about when you take your supplements, as well as what you take. 

Of course, there is some debate about whether we need supplements or not, but the way I see it is that taking a few carefully chosen nutritional supplements can help support our diet and optimise our nutritional intake. Think of your daily supplements as a little extra health insurance if you will. 

To help maximise the health investment you get from taking your daily supplements, it is worth considering the time of day you take each one, and what else you consume at the same time. 

I am definitely not suggesting that any of us need to take all of the supplements listed below, but taking the right ones for you at the right time may aid absorption and maximise their effectiveness. 

Here are some suggestions:

  • Take your multi-vitamin and mineral complex in the morning with breakfast to help support energy and metabolism pathways first thing.  This supplement needs some form of fat to help absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K, so having some eggs, full-fat natural yoghurt, nuts and seeds, or nut butter with breakfast will do the trick. 
  • Vitamin D – a supplement that is recommended for all of us in the short, dark days between October and May. Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin is best taken in the morning. Again, as this is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is best to take it with food to aid absorption. 
  • B vitamins – some people say that taking a B complex later in the day affects their sleep, so another one to take with breakfast. Save yourself some money and look out for a multi-vitamin and mineral complexes that contains a good level of B vitamins. That way you will be taking fewer supplements too. 
  • Zinc has a myriad of functions in the body – essential for every cell, and important for immune function and reproductive health. It competes with other minerals for absorption, so take it away from food, ideally at bedtime. 
  • Magnesium has been dubbed ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ thanks to its calming and muscle relaxing effects, and many people take it to help support restful sleep, so for this reason it is best to take your magnesium supplement later in the day, about an hour or so before bedtime. 
  • Some people find that their daily omega 3 fish oil is hard to digest. I have heard people say that if they take it at breakfast time, they can taste fish all day – not pleasant! Fish oil is best taken with food to help reduce this side effect, and I often recommend people to take it with their main meal of the day – usually dinner, so there is plenty of food in the stomach to aid digestion. This may also enhance the absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients form the meal, so it’s a win-win. 
  • Probiotics  – some reports suggest that may be best taken in the evening to help aid their transport into the large intestine, where the get to work to replenish level of your good bacteria. 
  • Iron, magnesium and fish oil supplements have a tendency to cause digestive upset, so take them with food, even a little snack, to reduce this effect. 
  • If taking supplements containing 5-HTP, a melatonin and serotonin pre-cursor, take this in the evening, with a small carbohydrate-containing snack (e.g. oatcake, piece of fruit) to help the nutrient cross the blood-brain barrier to help balance these important neurotransmiitters. 

Remember that some nutritional supplements can interact with medications you may be taking, so check with your GP or pharmacist before taking any nutritional supplements.

This blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 2 November 2019.