When is the best time to take vitamins?

by Hannah de Gruchy January 02, 2023

When is the best time to take vitamins?

A healthy, varied, and balanced diet provides a wide range of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. There are times however, that we may benefit from taking a multivitamin or a vitamin/mineral supplement. This may be due to eating a restricted diet such as a vegetarian or vegan diet, when we’re stressed, unwell or if we’re recovering from an illness.

With so many different nutritional tablets, capsules, powders, and drinks available, it can become difficult to know when is best to take them and whether they can be taken on an empty stomach or are best consumed with food.

Taking vitamin supplements: fast facts

  • Vitamins and minerals are known as the micronutrients and are required in small amounts to support numerous processes in the human body.
  • Eating a healthy diet will supply a wide variety of micronutrients but there are times when a nutritional supplement can be beneficial.
  • B vitamins and vitamin C are the water-soluble vitamins that the body cannot store and can be taken on an empty stomach.
  • Vitamins A, D, E and K are the fat-soluble vitamins that can be stored in the fatty tissues and liver. They’re best taken with foods that contain healthy fats to maximise absorption.
  • Nutritional supplements are best taken at a regular time each day that suits your lifestyle.

What are vitamins and minerals? 

Fresh fruit

Vitamins and minerals are known as the micronutrients as we need to consume them in tiny amounts on a daily or a regular basis. Unlike the macronutrients - proteins, carbohydrates, and fats – vitamins and minerals provide zero calories and therefore no energy.

However, this makes them no less important. Each vitamin and mineral have a specific role in the human body, from helping to turn our food into energy and strengthening the immune system, to supporting strong bones and muscles and promoting good mental health.

Some micronutrients work on their own, whilst others share important roles within the body. Either way, if we’re deficient in one or more vitamins or minerals, we may experience symptoms such as tiredness and lethargy, becoming more susceptible to infections and muscle weakness. 

Therefore, it’s important that we consume a healthy, varied diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, wholegrains, and healthy fats to get enough of each micronutrient.

What vitamins should not be taken together?

All vitamins can be taken together, but it’s a good idea to be mindful of not taking too many different supplements at one time.

A multivitamin will contain relatively small amounts of each nutrient and is therefore a good “catch all” that can be taken in one daily tablet. 

Individual vitamins tend to deliver a higher level of each nutrient. Anecdotally, taking multiple high dose vitamins all at once may cause digestive upset, so aim to separate them throughout the day. If you’re taking them with food, for example take one at breakfast, and one at lunchtime.

Should I take vitamins supplements before or after eating?

Healthy family lunch meal

There are two groups of vitamins – fat soluble and water soluble. Vitamins A, D, E and K are the fat-soluble vitamins, that are absorbed along with dietary fat and stored in the liver and fatty tissues. They’re best absorbed when taken alongside a food that’s rich in good fats, such as oily fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds. If we take them on an empty stomach, they may not be absorbed well enough to make any difference.

The B vitamins and vitamin C are water-soluble vitamins. They dissolve in water and travel around the body to where they’re needed without being stored. They can therefore be taken without food, on an empty stomach. If we consume an excess of water-soluble vitamins, what we don’t use is passed out of the body via the urine.

It’s a good idea to also be mindful of caffeine. The caffeine in tea and coffee may interfere with the absorption of some vitamins and minerals, so it’s best to take them an hour or so after drinking a caffeinated drink.

Caffeine also acts as a diuretic that increases urine production. So, we may end up passing water soluble vitamins in our urine before they’ve had a chance to be absorbed.

The best time to take vitamin supplements

There is no right or wrong time to take a vitamin tablet – the best time is when it suits you. Many people chose to take them with a meal to aid absorption, and this is often in the morning. However, if your breakfast tends to be low in fat, it may be better to take them with your lunch or evening meal. The key is to gey into a routine that will mean you find it easy to remember to take your supplement.

Multivitamins

If you’re taking a multivitamin, it’s best to take it with food, as they usually contain the fat-soluble vitamins that are better absorbed with food. A multivitamin can be taken any time of day.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, so it can be taken any time of day, with or without food, especially its buffered or non-acidic form. However, high-dose vitamin C supplements in the ascorbic acid form are acidic and best taken with food to reduce the overload on your digestive system.

B vitamins

The B vitamins are all water soluble, so if you’re taking an individual B vitamin or a vitamin B complex, you can choose to take it any time of day, with food or on an empty stomach. These vitamins do however help to release energy from food, so you may benefit more by taking them earlier in the day. Also, niacin can cause flushing when taken on an empty stomach, so B vitamins are generally recommended with a meal, preferably breakfast.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and as such is best taken with a meal that contains healthy fats or oils. It can be taken any time of day.

Vitamin K

Like vitamin D, vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin best taken with food to help with its absorption. It too can be taken any time of day.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin that can be taken in the morning, afternoon or evening with a meal that contains healthy fats such as olive oil, oily fish, nuts or seeds.

Taking nutritional supplements at a time that suits you 

Essentially, most vitamins and mineral supplements can be taken at any time of day. But to gain maximum benefit, you may like to consider taking them with a meal that contains fats and at a regular time that you can stick to every day. It may take up to three months of daily use before you notice any significant benefits.

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Hannah de Gruchy
Hannah de Gruchy

Author

Health and wellness author and biologist specialised in sustainability, nutrition and eco-living.


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