You may have heard many opinions about the time of the day you should eat — have breakfast first thing in the morning, don't eat at night, eat every four hours, the list goes on. But what about supplements, and is there really a best time to take multivitamins?
Video of the Day
The decision to start taking a supplement could be a smart one on your part, depending on your nutritional needs. With the guidance of a doctor or dietitian, you'll want to start taking your multivitamin at a time and in a way that will be most effective.
There's no specific time of day that's best to take multivitamins, but certain nutrients are best absorbed when they're taken with a meal, in multiple doses throughout the day or at a different time from another nutrient.
When Is the Best Time to Take a Multivitamin?
If the directions on the supplement container don't give you any specific details about when to take the multi, you are probably left wondering about the best time to take vitamins. There's no one-size-fits-all answer.
"I usually advise my clients to take their supplements at a time they will remember, so they can remain consistent," says Nijya Noble, RDN, and founder of NK Fitness and Nutrition.
In general, timing isn't important in terms of the hour of the day — your body will absorb nutrients the same way whether it's the morning or evening, according to the UT Southwestern Medical Center.
But there are a few factors with regard to timing you might want to consider, like whether you're taking supplements with a meal, spacing your doses out or taking your supplements in conjunction with one another.
Should You Take Vitamins Before or After a Meal?
Although there's no definitive best time to take vitamins, the Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding taking your supplements first thing in the morning before you eat anything. This can potentially upset your digestive tract.
Taking supplements right before exercising might not be the best idea either. Doing so could cause your stomach to produce gastric acid, contributing to heartburn or reflux.
"It's important to pay attention to how your body is feeling after taking a multivitamin. If it's upsetting your stomach because it's the first thing you consume after waking up, try having it after eating food," Noble says.
Whether you should take supplements with or without a meal also depends on their absorption, per UT Southwestern Medical Center. Some nutrients are absorbed better on an empty stomach, and some nutrients can affect the way other nutrients are absorbed.
Iron and calcium are two examples of nutrients that affect each other's absorption, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you taking supplements for both of these minerals, be sure to take your calcium and iron at separate times of the day. In addition to iron, calcium can affect the way the body absorbs magnesium and zinc.
What Happens When You Start Taking a Multivitamin?
The purpose of a multivitamin is to ensure someone is getting their daily nutritional needs, says Jonathan Golberg, MD, a New York-based general practitioner.
But most of those needs can be met through a nutritious diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. "If you have a well-balanced diet, then the multivitamin will likely excrete through the urine and not necessarily help you," Dr. Golberg says.
There are times when taking a supplement — either a multivitamin or a single supplement of a specific vitamin or mineral — could be beneficial.
For example, some people might be eating less because they have a lack of appetite or trouble eating. A supplement can help them get all the vitamins and minerals they need if they aren't eating enough food.
"The timing of the day for those medications shouldn't matter, as long as they're being taken," Dr. Golberg says.
Reasons to Take a Multivitamin
Certain people, such as older adults or pregnant people, have increased needs for certain nutrients. There are also groups of people who can't eat certain foods due to lifestyle choices, intolerances or illness. For example, vegans, vegetarians, people with celiac disease or lactose intolerance all have specific dietary restrictions.
Adults ages 50 and older are encouraged to get a recommended amount of vitamin B12, from fortified foods or dietary supplements, per the National Institutes of Health. In this age group, the ability to absorb these nutrients tends to decline, which is why supplements may be necessary.
"Determining what supplements are right for you, if any, should be discussed with a professional, like a registered dietitian or doctor," says Noble.
Some people will supplement certain vitamins and minerals for specific purposes, such as calcium or vitamin D for bone health, or omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil to support heart health. But keep in mind that having too much of a nutrient won’t necessarily make you "ultra-healthy" — in fact, in some cases, that high amount could be unnecessary or even potentially dangerous.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements: Do You Need to Take Them?”
- University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health: “Fish Oil”
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Using Dietary Supplements Wisely”
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Melatonin for Sleep: Does It Work?”
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Multivitamin/mineral Supplements"