How to Optimize Your Supplement Intake

What’s the best way to take your supplements? We get this question a lot here at Life Extension, and the best short answer we can offer is “it depends.”

You see, most multivitamin or multinutrient formulas combine vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients together, and they can be conveniently taken in just one or a few doses a day.

If you’re going this route exclusively, things are pretty simple.

However, many nutritional “purists” prefer to buy their nutrients individually and take them on specifically tailored schedules in order to help maximize their absorption. This, of course, can be a bit more complicated.

So if you’re a “die hard” nutrient seeker looking for pointers on what to take when and why, here are some guidelines to help you get the most out of the supplements you take. Enjoy!

Take Fat-Soluble Nutrients with Fatty Meals

Before we begin, here’s a list of some common fat-soluble nutrients:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols)
  • Vitamin K
  • Beta-carotene
  • Coenzyme Q10
Simply put, fat-soluble nutrients are best taken with fatty meals. Now, we’re not suggesting increasing the fat content of your meals; rather, we’re suggesting you figure out which of your meals contains the most fat, and take these nutrients during or after that meal.

If you’re taking supplements that actually contain fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, you can take fat-soluble nutrients along with them. However, some people can’t tolerate this, since taking fish oil supplements on an empty stomach irritates their stomach. If this sounds like you, be sure to take your fat-soluble nutrients with a meal.

Finally, although there’s no harm in dividing doses, fat-soluble nutrients can be taken together once a day.

Take Water-Soluble Nutrients With or Without Food

Water-soluble nutrients dissolve in water and don’t need to be taken with fat or food, unless it upsets your stomach. This group includes vitamin C.

Because members of the B vitamin complex work together, it’s best to take them together and not individually. Recommended doses vary. For example, 3,000 milligrams (mg) of niacin has been recommended for high cholesterol levels. And although niacin is a water-soluble vitamin, many people take it with meals to minimize the niacin-flush, which is a typical reaction that includes reddening of the skin, itching, and tingling.

Minerals are not fat soluble, so there is no reason to take them with food unless they’re irritating to your stomach. Zinc and copper, which are notorious for causing nausea when taken on an empty stomach, are an exception.

Calcium (particularly when sold as calcium carbonate, such as TUMS® and other products) is good at neutralizing stomach acid. However, the normally acidic environment of the stomach is ideal for digestion and protects against unwanted bacteria. For this reason, take calcium on an empty stomach for optimal digestion.

Take Amino Acids Separately

Amino acid supplements can be taken with or without food unless you’re targeting the blood brain barrier (or if they’re antagonistic toward each other). Those used for brain health include L-arginine, L-ornithine, L-lysine, L-phenylalanine, and L-tyrosine.

L-lysine, for example, competes for cell receptors with L-arginine, so they’re best used separately. Other antagonistic amino acids are tryptophan and phenylalanine or tyrosine, taurine and glutamic acid or aspartic acid, carnitine and tyrosine, and cysteine and lysine.

If you’re using a protein supplement that contains a full spectrum of amino acids (or eating foods that do), don't worry about amino acid competition. Protein supplements are generally used to support muscle rather than target an individual condition, which is the case with single amino acids.

The Bottom Line

It’s almost impossible to regulate your nutrient intake so that everything is optimized at all times, but this should at least help those of you who are trying. Did it? Let us know in the comments below!

Note that even though the information above is good to know, many people prefer to just take a multinutrient supplement along with a good diet, and leave the fine-tuning to the experts.

So, please don't worry if you can't always take your nutrients at their “ideal” times. By simply consuming a little more than the average diet provides, you should be in pretty good shape anyway!


Anonymous said...

When is a good time to take your Vit. B12 supplement?

Sandy Arby said...

Multi vitamins should always be taken with food for optimal absorption. Probiotics best taken on an empty stomach as well as L-Glutamine which also passes the blood brain barrier that the above article forgot to mention.

Susan Courtney said...

B12 is water soluble, so doesn't need to be taken with food. As the article above says, however, it makes sense to take it along with other B vitamins.

Health Supplements said...

I trust health supplements. However, for most people like me, it's just not possible to be cautious about their food and eating habits due to strict work schedules or lack of knowledge. That's where health supplements step in. When taking Health Supplements, it is important to understand that you must follow a Diet that complements the supplements. Supplements alone can't do wonders. A must read for everyone who is confused regarding supplements and how to use them correctly.

rcw8888 said...

avoid taking calcium and strontium within 2 hours of each other as they compete for the same receptors. strontium actually builds bones.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Arby said above that Probiotics are best taken on an empty stomach - I've always heard they should be taken with food because otherwise the stomach's acid would kill the probiotics before they reached the intestine. Just what I've been taught.

Life Extension said...

Susan Courtney - You're right! B12 doesn't have to be taken with food. But some people just have sensitive stomachs and feel better when they do. :-)

Life Extension said...

rcw8888 - Good tip! Thanks for sharing. :-)

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - It really depends on the probiotic you're taking. Some can be taken on an empty stomach because they are designed with substances that protect the bacteria.But overall, it doesn't hurt to take it with food. Food may actually act as a natural barrier to protect the bacteria.

Life Extension said...

Stephe in Florida - A compound in turmeric, particularly curcumin has impressive anti-cancer properties. Here's more info, in case you're interested:

Priyanka said...

The nutritional supplements are paramount for conferring the vital nutrients in the diet. You can thus prevent a number of diseases from entering your body with the aid of these nutritional supplements.

George William said...

Nowadays, the food that we are consuming on a daily basis, they are not able to provide us
with the necessary nutrients. But, today there are various supplements that can
prove helpful in fulfilling the nutritional deficiency that we all know the signify...

Ankush Thakur said...

I total agree, Amino Supplements are presumed to be beneficial for your dietary need. It plays as an essential role in actual building of the tissues of your body and maintain your body balance.

Life Extension said...

George William - Right! That's why we emphasize the importance of multivitamins.

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