A friendly user guide while taking dietary supplements


This article was previously published on January 17, 2018 and has been updated with new information.

2021 poll1 shows that 80% of Americans use supplements – a drastic increase from 52% reported in the 2012 JAMA report.2 statistics that have remained stable since 1999. While multivitamin use declined somewhat at the time, from 37 to 31 percent, new research shows that 75% of supplement users now use multivitamins. The use of vitamin D and omega-3 supplements has continued to grow throughout all these years.

In 2012, vitamin D consumption jumped from just over 5% to 19%, and fish oil supplements rose from just over 1% to 12%. However, in 2021, an incredible 52% of Americans were taking vitamin D, and zinc and vitamin C are also popular, with 22% and 40% respectively.

Some of the other more popular supplements are probiotics, omega-3s, multivitamins, vitamin C, turmeric, calcium and magnesium.3 In total, Americans spent about $ 21 billion in 2015 on dietary supplements.4 By 2019, that number had doubled to $ 42.6 billion.5

While dietary supplements are generally safe, when and how you take them – for example with or without food, or before or after exercise6 – can make a difference in terms of safety and efficiency. Certain supplements may also be contraindicated for certain medical conditions or if you are taking certain medications. Next you will find useful instructions on using common dietary supplements.

A quick guide while taking supplements

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About the timing of vitamin and mineral intake

Because multivitamins contain a number of water- and fat-soluble vitamins, and in some cases minerals, it is generally recommended that you take half the daily dose in the morning with breakfast and the other half with the main meal (dinner for most people or lunch if you fast occasionally). While you may not notice any harmful effects if you take it on an empty stomach, taking a multivitamin with food is generally a safer bet.7

Both B vitamins and non-liposomal vitamin C can cause stomach upset and nausea when taken on an empty stomach, for example, and fat-soluble vitamins will not help you unless you take them with a small amount of fat, such as an egg or half an avocado. . However, avoid overdoing it with fats, as too much fat can interfere with the absorption of water-based vitamins.

When you take individual vitamins and minerals, you may need to pay attention not only to the time of their intake, but also to their combination with other supplements you take, and their ideal ratios. For example:

Fat-soluble vitamin K2 is best taken with the largest meal that contains fat. This can be during the day or during the evening meal. Calcium can be taken during the day, but magnesium is best taken at night, without food.

Unfortunately, the ideal ratio of vitamins K2 and D has not yet been determined, so there are no hard and fast rules here. Some experts suggest that 200 micrograms of vitamin K2 a day will meet the needs of the “average” healthy person, but if you are taking high doses of vitamin D, you will need something more.8

While K2 is non-toxic, people taking vitamin K antagonists, ie drugs that reduce blood clotting by reducing the effects of vitamin K, are advised to avoid vitamin K2 supplements (MK-7).

Zinc, on the other hand, should not be taken with calcium and / or iron supplements, as they can interfere with the absorption of zinc in the body.

Similarly, avoid taking calcium or vitamin E with iron, as these nutrients interfere with iron absorption. Iron is also best taken on an empty stomach, either in the middle of the morning or in the afternoon.9

Magnesium, which is one of the most important minerals to replenish, as most of us are deficient, helps your body relax, it is best to take it in the evening, and you can take it with or without food. If you are also taking calcium, take these two together.

If you exercise regularly, consider taking calcium and magnesium in a ratio of one part calcium to two parts magnesium with a pre-workout meal.10 Although the ideal ratio of magnesium to calcium is considered to be 1 to 1, most people get far more calcium from their diet than magnesium; therefore your need for extra magnesium may be two to three times greater than calcium.

Oral B12, which tends to be poorly absorbed no matter what, is best taken on an empty stomach to optimize absorption. This is a minor problem if you use sublingual form B12. B12 can interact with various drugs,11 including those for bone loss, cancer, gout, high blood pressure, and indigestion such as H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors, so check for any contraindications before you start taking them regularly.

Time of intake of fats and fiber supplements

Fiber can inhibit the body’s absorption of fat, so most fiber supplements, including “green” supplements such as spirulina powder and kelp, are best taken separately from any fatty acid supplements you may be taking. If you exercise, remember that fiber supplements will slow down the movement of food through your stomach and intestines.

For this reason, fiber is best taken at least three or four hours before exercise or competition. Alternatively, take it before the end of the day. Whole-shell psyllium, which is an excellent fiber supplement, is ideally taken two hours after a meal with a full glass of water.

As for omega-3 supplements such as fish or krill oil, they can potentially cause indigestion if taken just before a workout, so consider taking them with breakfast, along with any multivitamins you may be taking. Also keep in mind that krill oil supplements are contraindicated for those who are allergic to shellfish, and neither fish nor krill oil should be taken if you have a blood clotting disorder or are taking anticoagulants.

Time of enzyme and probiotic intake

Enzymes such as bromelain, papain, trypsin and others are used not only to aid digestion, but also to speed up muscle recovery and reduce inflammation. Depending on your goal, you will need to change the time. When taken with a meal, it will improve your digestion. For muscle strengthening and / or anti-inflammatory effect, you will want to take them on an empty stomach after a workout, either in the morning or afternoon.

Probiotics help improve the gut microbiome by supplying beneficial bacteria. It is best to take them on an empty stomach, two to three hours before the first meal or after the last meal of the day. Also remember that in order to take advantage of a probiotic supplement, you need to reduce your intake of processed foods and sugar. Otherwise, you’re basically just wasting your money.

About the time of antioxidants

As a general rule, antioxidants such as resveratrol, astaxanthin, vitamin E, and ubiquinol (reduced version of coenzyme Q10) are fat-soluble and are best taken with a fatty meal. Ubiquinol is best taken in divided doses with a fatty meal, while vitamin E and astaxanthin can be taken once daily with a fatty meal to increase absorption. Supplements containing resveratrol can be taken on an empty stomach.

If you are an athlete or exercise regularly, several studies have shown that taking antioxidant supplements just before exercise has a strange effect of reducing insulin sensitivity. It also interferes with your body’s ability to defend itself against oxidative damage. As nutritionist and fitness trainer Ben Greenfield noted:12

“By eliminating the body’s need for natural antioxidant action to help adapt to stress and respond to exercise, consuming antioxidants in high doses of an isolated antioxidant (such as vitamin C or vitamin E) could potentially diminish the benefits of exercise.

For this reason, antioxidant drinks and capsules should be A) full spectrum… and B) consumed only in moderation and not as a consistent part of the diet protocol before or during training. Message to take: Take antioxidants with a meal before the race, and only before very hard workouts. Otherwise, limit your antioxidants to just a small to moderate intake and try to consume them as far away from exercise as possible. “

Do you really need all the supplements you take?

In general, the better and healthier your diet, the less supplements you will need. Consuming the right foods, ideally organically grown to avoid exposure to pesticides, is really the most appropriate way to ensure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs.

Vegetarians and vegans, who may think they are eating the best possible diet, may be among the few who actually need to pay attention to their nutritional needs, as many important nutrients are found only in animal foods.

Omega-3 fats of animal origin DHA and EPA are just one example. B12 is another very important one that vegans give up, which can damage your health. Over time, chronic B12 deficiency can lead to serious, irreversible conditions, including depression, dementia, neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions, fertility problems, heart disease and cancer – all of which a vegan diet is thought to prevent.

In addition, dietary supplements can be very helpful if you know or suspect that you may have a specific deficiency and / or if you are trying to solve a specific health problem. Just keep in mind that the more supplements you take, the more complicated it is to correct. Do you take each of them at the most appropriate time and in the right combination – and in the right ratio – with the other nutrients?

A whole food diet avoids most of these problems because your body knows exactly what to do with the nutrients it gets from food, regardless of the hour or combination (although this may be the case for both food combinations and ideal meal times). If you’re taking a handful of supplements, but you’re still eating mostly processed foods, let this be the year you start making changes.

In addition, to make sure you get the most out of the supplements you take, make a list and check the best time and combination of each. Although I have given you a few examples above, you will find more examples in the infographics at the beginning of this article and below.

taking supplements guide for users day and night

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Download the printable version

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