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The Best Time of Day to take Supplements (and a few bonus facts!)

There is so much more that goes into health than simply popping pills. I never like to focus on supplements, because supplements are simply things to add alongside something else (hint, a healthy diet), in order to enhance it. In fact, in clinic they are the very last thing I prescribe with patients, often not getting to them for a few sessions because there is so much that can be done with diet alone. In any case, we must always ask ourselves why we need to supplement… Is our intake of food/nutrients not enough? Our absorption compromised? Do we have something else going on that is influencing this particular nutrient? And have we had pathology testing to confirm our deficiency or requirement for a top up?

There is actually quite a bit that needs to be considered when taking supplements for both safety and efficacy There is the form, the dosage, interactions with drugs, other supplements and food, and the time of day to yield optimal results. The form and dosage is very condition/symptom specific and should definitely be discussed with a qualified natural health profession. However the time of day, is something I can provide you with more general guidance on (of course, still checking in with your healthcare practitioner to ensure you aren’t on a specifically timed protocol). For the first year of practice, I was constantly having to refresh myself on these, amongst many things! As well as educate my patients. So I thought I would shed some light on some of the most common oral supplements, to ensure you get the most from those sometimes necessary little pills.

 

B Vitamins (including B12, B complex and multivitamins)

B vitamins are best taken in the morning, as they tend to provide energy. Whilst they’re well-absorbed on an empty stomach, you’ll likely need to take them with a meal due to potential nausea. Try them with breakfast and see how you go. Note, if you take a multi or prenatal with B’s in it, and are taking additional B’s, best to separate the dose i.e. one with breakfast, one with morning tea or lunch (before 12:30pm ideally), as B’s are water-soluble and only so much can be absorbed at once. If using a multivitamin for Bs, try to move your coffee or caffeinated tea away from supplementation (an hour before or two hours after), as caffeine can interfere with most minerals included in your multi.

 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C can really be taken at any time of day, or throughout the day. As it is also a water-soluble vitamin, splitting the doses here is quite important if supplementing a large amount (1,000 milligrams +). High doses all at once can definitely cause gastrointestinal symptoms. Try to take it away from B12 if possible, as it interferes with absorption. Whilst many people encourage you to take it with iron supplements for increased absorption of iron, be cautious if you suffer from inflammatory conditions e.g. gastrointestinal or autoimmune. Whilst it improves iron absorption, it also enhances the oxidative effects of iron (iron is a pro-oxitant, opposite of an antioxidant) which can be destructive in the presence of inflammation.

 

Iron

Iron is best taken on an empty stomach, preferable first thing in the morning. Fasting for over 24 hours decreases hepcidin three fold (key iron regulator), which naturally rises around 11am. It comes back down in the evening. The lower hepcidin, the better iron absorption. Therefore iron should never be taken in the middle of the day. The role of hepcidin is particularly important in women, as testosterone in men has a suppressive effect on natural hepcidin elevation! Some research shows that taking iron every other day further lowers hepcidin and thus iron uptake. Do not exceed 40mg at a time, as it won’t be absorbed (discuss with practitioner). 

If you notice stomach sensitivity/nausea when taking iron on an empty stomach, try it with a light breakfast or move it to the evening when hepcidin lowers again and there is a bit more food in your belly. Avoid coffee, dairy and calcium supplementation an hour before and 2 hours after supplementation.

As mentioned above, whilst vitamin C is helpful to increase iron absorption, it can also increase toxicity in cases where inflammation is rampant. Therefore these types of considerations need to be made by a professional who knows your full case and is up-to-date with the research.

 

Zinc

Research shows that zinc is best taken on an empty stomach, but I am yet to meet anyone who can tolerate it (nausea). Therefore, I recommend taking it at the end of the day, perhaps before bed. This way it is away from food (2 hours or so) but your stomach is well-lined. See how you go and adjust accordingly. Ensure you take away from iron and calcium supplementation.

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and is therefore best taken with a meal that contains healthy fats. This is also why for natural vitamin D from the sun, it is best to expose our “fatty bits” (bum, chest, belly), where uptake is better. Avoid supplementing at night as it may disrupt the body’s production of melatonin which interferes with sleep. Try it before 4pm, with a handful of nuts as a snack or alongside your lunch salad if it has avocado, olives, seeds or olive oil. Note, many vitamin D’s are made from lanolin (sheep-sweat-derived) so source a vegan spray (usually mushroom-derived, sounds better right?!).

 

Magnesium

Our nighttime mineral! Magnesium promotes calmness, sound sleep and recovery. I recommend taking it about 30 mins prior to bedtime. Take away from calcium supplementation. If taking very high doses, you might split it up for maximum absorption and to avoid loose bowel movements (you’ll know if you’ve taken too much!). In this case, taking a serving morning and again at night, so long as it doesn’t make you feel drowsy during the day (can change the form perhaps for morning dose if this is the case. Again, you will need to discuss with your healthcare professional).

 

Probiotics

It depends on the probiotic, but for the most part, much of the evidence suggests probiotics be taken WITH food. This is very controversial, as we once thought probiotics needed to be taken away from food. Research now shows improved probiotic bacterial survival when taken with a decent-sized meal (especially including starch), due to favourable changes in stomach acidity in the presence of food, as well as the availability of food for the bacteria to feed on. Think about it logically, all wild animals eating food from the earth, are naturally consuming bacteria simultaneously (from the dirt, where we used to get it from before cleanliness became a priority). Throughout time, primates have eaten probiotics with their meals! Take them with any main meal.

 

Psyllium husk

An excellent fibre source and constipation-remedy/preventative, psyllium is ideally taken two hours after a meal with a full glass of water. High-dose fibre may inhibit your body’s absorption of fat and specific minerals, therefore it is best taken away from food and supplementation. The water is very important for effectiveness.

 

My Morning Routine & How Loosing The “All or Nothing” Mentality Improved My Health

I used to think of a day as a good day, or a bad day.

I had an all or nothing approach. Contrary to some people – if I went for a run or ate a healthy breakfast, I didn’t want to “sabotage” that day with a treat or a reward. Instead, I would be super “healthy” that day – which really wasn’t that healthy at all. I would over-exercise, under-eat and feed my ego with twisted compliments about my “dedication” to my health.

The truth is, I would be depriving myself and ignoring my bodies messages, purely to fit within the confines of what I believed would deem that day a “good” day.

On the flip side – if I ate too much at breakfast or slept in and didn’t go for that workout, you could pretty much guarantee that the rest of the day was going to be full of grazing, binging, and lethargy.

All or nothing.

Once I became aware of how damaging this was I educated myself on productive health-oriented ways to begin my day. There are a variety of options out there to start your day right, with everyone recommending different tips that work for them. I, the perfectionist I am, decided to combine ALL of the advice and recommendations I had ever heard of into the “perfect” morning routine, which looked a little something like this…

Wake up. 20 deep belly breaths. Drink a warm lemon water with turmeric. Journal – set intentions for the day, focus on a positive affirmation and write out several things I am grateful for. Complete 20 minutes of yoga followed by 10-15 minutes of meditation. 45 minutes of exercise. Drink around 1L water. Have chlorophyll in another glass of water with some aloe vera juice. Dry body brush and shower. Shot 1 tbsp ACV. Prepare and eat breakfast…

To say that it was difficult to complete this excessive list regularly would be an understatement. It was near impossible! And even if I did 9 out of those 15 things I would focus on the 6 I didn’t do. These were intended to be feel-good, relaxing ways to wake up and care for myself, yet here I was making them arduous tasks and chores. They had become a to-do list of how to cope with my to-do list! I was even more exhausted then I was not doing them, and I was no closer to feeling good about myself.

Now, I take a gentler approach. I make sure to start my day on a good note, but if I don’t, I don’t let it define and dictate my day. I do my very best, and acknowledge that that is enough.

Here is what my more relaxed morning routine looks like:

I get up after 8 hours sleep around 6:20am.

I center myself on my yoga mat or on the couch by taking 10-20 deep belly breaths (I find this particularly useful if I wake up anxious, but even if I don’t it just makes me pause before rushing to start my workout)

I then sip on warm lemon water, preferably outdoors for some fresh air. Here, I simply think of things I am grateful for or reiterate a positive thought for the day. If I want to, I will write this down, but 7/10 times I won’t.

Then, I move my body for 30-60 minutes – a strong walk, vinyasa yoga, HIIT, soft sands, or a big stretch using my foam roller.

At 8am I prepare a wholesome breakfast and eat it slowly and mindfully. If I take a snap of it, I will then put my phone away and enjoy my meal, BEFORE I upload to IG 😉

I’m usually at my desk by 9am sharp and the first thing I do is put pen to paper and write a list of “to-do’s”. From that list, I circle the 3 priorities for my day. I also write down one or two SFM’s – “Something For Me’s” – which might be practice yoga, meditation or a 20 minute relax, some reading, a catch up with a friend, a date night or something yummy.

If I didn’t get one or two of these things done, I just do them at 11am, or 4pm, or 8pm. Because I have learned that you can start fresh at any point in the day. And that the time is NOW to make today count- not tomorrow, not next week, not next month.

I hope this helps anyone struggling with waking up anxious or trying to find their own groove with a morning routine. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it might look different day-to-day. So long as you are enjoying it and are calm, you are doing something right.

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