Timing of supplements; best moment to take your supplements

Timing of supplements

We frequently receive the question whether it really matters when to use a particular supplement. 
Most supplements come with instructions to ingest them with a meal. This is in the assumption that meal contain fat, as fat will aid with absorption through the gut wall. Whether or not this can be your first meal of the day, depends on how much fat it contains. Especially fat-soluble vitamins, such as A,D, E and K need fat for proper absorption.
A work-around is to ingest them together with a larger amount of fish or krill oil softgels if your first meal doesn't contain enough fat. 
Another reason take supplements with a meal, is that taking it by itself, can cause nausea or discomfort. This is particularly true for minerals such as zinc.

Spreading out or not

While most people will prefer to take all of their supplements together, it may be a better idea to spread them out over the day and just take one or two tablets with each meal, espcially when you are required to take multiple tablets or capsules a day as for some multivitamins. However, when you tend to be forgetful, it is easier to take all supplements at a time you won't forget them, which mostly tends to be in the morning (or at lunch time when you only have a light breakfast or skip it altogether).

An advantage of taking your multivitamins and singular vitamins in the morning is that the B vitamins in your multi and B-complex will help to convert food to cellular energy, which can help you start your day off right.
The only exception is when your multivitamin also contains iron and you also take a calcium supplement: calcium prevents proper uptake of iron, so keep those apart. In order to improve iron absorption, combine it with vitamin C and/or citrus juice.

Taking supplements on an empty stomach

Not all supplements need to be taken with a meal. Some are best taken on an empty stomach before or in between meals.  SAM-e is one such supplement which specifically advised to be taken half an hour before consuming food.
Because most good B12-vitamins come as a lozenge that is to be dissolved under the tongue, taking one first thing in the morning (and leave it on your night stand) is a good idea in order not to forget taking them.

Probiotics can be taken either on an empty stomach or with a meal. Whenever you are taking antibiotics at the same time, it is best to take probiotics as far away from your antibiotics as possible. And of course, to continue taking probiotics for several weeks after finishing a course of antibiotics.

Protein shakes

Whey protein is one of the most popular sports supplements out there, both for people, who want to put on muscle as well as for those who want to lose weight.
While soy protein used to be the only vegetable protein available in the past, by now there is a plethora of other vegetable proteins, such as rice, pea, pumpkin and even quinoa!
To those, who aren't vegans but can't tolerate too much dairy, we recommend to take a look at egg protein, which is a very complete protein and is tolerated very well by most people. Digestion is a bit more slowly than of whey protein, so you may need to take it earlier when you plan to use it prior to a workout. 

For losing weight, the best approach is to not just eat fewer calories in a given meal, but also decrease the amount of meals.
The best time to supplement a regular meal with a protein shake is when you often find yourself getting the 'munchies' and be less compliant with your calorie-restricted diet. For most that would be either around 4-5pm or late at night.
Taking a protein shake, preferrably combined with fibers to make it more filling and frozen fruit with not too much extra liquid to make it thicker in between meals can help with food cravings.
Vice versa, some people simply have a hard time to put on muscle as they forget to eat their meals, or simply feel full easily. For them, whey can also help, but now the whey should be taken after a meal and not be too thick so that they lose appetite for their next meal.
Of course, it is a good habit to take a (whey) protein shake some time before your training as an extra source of protein. When you have little time left, we recommend you to take BCAA, leucine or hydrolyzed whey instead.
Micellar casein, egg protein or combined protein powders (casein, whey and/or egg) are as a whole, slowly digesting proteins, that are best consumed when you have a long period of fasting ahead, which for most will be their last meal of the day just before going to bed. 

Sports supplements

While some sports supplements such as citrulline and caffeine are mainly meant to be taken prior to or during a training session, some others should also be used on rest days as well, such as creatine, beta-alanine, HMB as well as  BCAA.

Night-time supplements

Obviously, night-time is the best time to take supplements that will cause you to relax and/or become sleepy. Specific sleep supplements will come with instructions when to take them, e.g. melatonin. 
Other less obvious supplements to take at night are calcium supplements, especially when you are taking iron supplements too. 
Magnesium is another mineral best taken at night, also because it helps to relax and sleep better. Magnesium along with taurine also prevent you getting nightly muscle cramps.
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