When is the Best Time to Take Supplements?

When It Comes To Supplements, Timing Is Everything 

If you truly understand nutrition or have a biochemical or physiology background, you already know and accept that nutritional supplements are necessary to achieve optimal nutrient intake. Foods alone, due to processing, storing, and cooking have much of their nutrient content denatured or outright destroyed and are therefore make poor choices for ample amounts of essential vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. And that’s not to mention the fact that nutrient density in foods is typically low compared to supplements. Want 1000 mg of Vitamin C? Try eating 19 oranges!

The next step after investing your hard-earned dollars in supplements is to maximizing their absorption by the body – and that comes down largely to timing! What time of day is best to take supplements? Should I take them on an empty stomach? Can I take supplements at night? What supplements should I take pre or post workouts? The answer to these questions is “it all depends” on which particular supplement we’re talking about.


As always, it’s best to begin with general rules and guidelines which provide the basis for understanding behind supplement intake timing. In general, supplements are absorbed best when digestive enzymes, digestive activity, and digestive absorption are heightened, such as when eating a meal or snack. Therefore supplements, in general, are typically absorbed better when taken with meals. It is also better to take vitamin, mineral, and trace element supplements with breakfast or earlier in the day to supply the body with the nutrients, which can serve as the chemical sparkplugs, or catalysts, it needs when it needs them. Another reason for taking vitamins and minerals with food is to avoid any digestive discomfort that can happen, especially with minerals like zinc and magnesium, if taken alone.


There are some water-soluble nutrients (meaning that they aren’t stored well or for long) that are best taken multiple times throughout the day. Vitamin C is a perfect example. The body is more efficient at absorbing and using smaller doses rather than one large dose which can spill over and not be absorbed, resulting in expensive urine. 500 to 1000 mg is considered the highest single dose, so multiple doses would be best if more than that is being taken per day.


Some supplements should best be avoided at night because they may interfere with the various sleep cycles, all of which play an important part in maximizing recuperation and restoring energy levels. The B vitamin family, and especially B complex vitamins fall into this category, sometimes causing people to feel more energized than they would prefer when trying to get into sleep mode. Other supplements associated with relaxation and or sleep should be taken in the evening or before bed. Examples include melatonin, GABA, 5 HTP, and valerian root.


Obviously, this includes supplements to be taken before a workout. These include carbohydrate supplements, branched-chain amino acids, glutamine, protein drinks, and supplements designed to stimulate the metabolism for a great workout. The branched-chain amino acids and glutamine are taken to help minimize the muscle breakdown that can occur during intense training. In most cases, allowing 30-45 minutes for absorption before your workout will yield the best results.


Conversely, post-workout supplements are intended to be timed after the workout; however, some of these supplements may be used during the workout as well––assuming they are in drink form and can be diluted for quick absorption. This is particularly relevant with carb and or protein supplements to begin the replenishment process during the workout itself. Post-workout supplements have the main purpose of replenishing energy levels and glycogen stores for recovery and providing amino acids and proteins for muscle repair and growth. After intense training, the body’s physiology “opens” the window for recovery by accelerating carbohydrate uptake by muscle cells most noticeably for the first 30 minutes after training. Then the body shifts, opening an increased protein absorption window for approximately 60-90 minutes after training. Taking advantage of satisfying the nutrient/supplement demands in these unique windows can make a significant difference in your training results.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.