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Supplement Timing: When to Take What

January 19th, 2009

Get the most of of each supplement in your regimen by taking it at the ideal time.

Get the most of of each supplement in your regimen by taking it at the ideal time.

They say timing is everything. That’s especially true when it comes to certain nutritional supplements.  Taking a supplement at the wrong time can make a big difference in terms of the results you’ll get.  Or, it can make no difference at all.  You’ll know which is which when you’ve checked out our guide to supplement timing.

Many of our customers’ questions about supplements pertain to the timing of each dose; when should I take it? These questions are becoming more common as the line between drugs and nutritional supplements grows ever more blurry.

When it comes to the Suggested Use section of a supplement label, the directions are frequently very vague with respect to time-of-day, or may even say nothing about it. Does that mean timing doesn’t matter? It may or may not, that all depends on the supplement (see below).

Customers are wise to ask: drug dosing, after all, very  often has a specific time-of-day requirement, so wouldn’t that apply to supplements too?  Look at all the other similarities between drugs and supplements. Both drugs and supplements come in nearly-identical capsules and tablets. Both supplements and drugs are used to address a specific health problem or deliver a specific benefit.  Both drugs and supplements are typically taken in specific amounts.  So since there’s a usually a specific time-of-day requirement for drugs, why wouldn’t there usually be one for supplements, as well?

In truth it often does matter, but for a variety of reasons it may be unwise or impractical for a manufacturer to get very specific about when to take their supplement.  Most supplements can be used in a wide range of doses, for a wide range of purposes; timing may be important for some of these and not others.  Brands may not want to get too specific lest they ‘alienate’ a group or groups of potential users/customers each with a unique health concern.  Brands may not want to create conflict between their Suggested Use and the recommendations of a customer’s doctor with respect to that supplement.  Finally, there’s only so much space on a supplement label. There’s rarely room for non-essential copy or copy that only speaks to a narrow group of users.

So the moral of the story is, just because the label doesn’t mention timing or time-of-day, that’s not to say these things don’t matter. As we said earlier, it all depends on the supplement and the application.

Here are several common types of supplements and how they relate to timing and time-of-day.

Multivitamins: Most people take a multi in the morning, but time of day doesn’t matter with a multi.  There’s something else that’s far more important and that’s taking your multi with solid food, preferably the largest solid food meal of the day, regardless of whether that’s breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Calcium and bone formulas: Timing doesn’t matter, except you want to make sure you take one dose before bed.  With calcium and bone formulas, as with most minerals, what’s important are smaller, divided doses (as opposed to large single doses) and again taking them with solid food. Some exceptions are minerals like zinc lozenges, which are frequently recommended every so many hours, and ZMA which is intended to be taken before bed.

Fish oil and omega 3 supplements: Time of day does not matter, although it’s best to divide the dose if you’re taking more than 1000 mg combined DHA/EPA per day.

Brain Support Formulas: Best taken in the morning, unless directions specify otherwise.

Sleep Formulas: Unless the product label directs otherwise, best taken well-before bedtime (30-60 minutes) as opposed to just before getting into bed.

Preworkout formulas: Don’t take a preworkout formula when you’re just walking into the gym.  Even the fastest-acting need 15-30 minutes kick in. So time your dose so that you’re taking it 15-30 minutes before you expect to be in the gym warming up and starting your session.

Postworkout formulas: These are best taken immediately after your workout, the sooner the better. It’s not a bad idea bring to the gym a ready-to-drink product or a shaker bottle preloaded with your postworkout powder. That way you can use it at the optimal time – right after your session ends, or even during your final cooldown.

Amino acids: This all depends on the amino acids in question. Amino acids used for focus and mental support are taken early in the morning, the earlier the better. Those used for recovery like glutamine, HMB, leucine or BCAA’s can be taken during or after a workout, or before bed.

Protein shakes: Timing is not important. Great as a breakfast on the go or post workout. 

Vitamin C: Timing is not important, just be sure to divide the doses as evenly as possible throughout the course of the day.

Cod Liver Oil: Timing is not important, best taken with food.

Digestive enzymes: Always 15-30 minutes before, or with the first bite of food, never after a meal.

Systemic enzymes: Time of day isn’t important unless directed by your doctor or the label.

D-ribose: Upon arising or in the midmorning.

SAMe: Upon arising or in the midmorning. Try to take a multi or B-complex 8 hours before you take SAMe

Carb Blockers: 15-30 minutes before your carb-rich meal, not as you’re taking your first bite.

Joint formulas: Early morning and before bed.

CoQ-10: Time of day isn’t important. Taking it with some kind of fat or oil is.

MSM: Time of day isn’t important, but take at least one dose before bed.

Creatine: One dose a few hours before a workout, second dose immediately after the workout.

Probiotics: Time of day isn’t important.

Laxatives: Best taken early in the day; if it’s a product you’ve never used before, wait until the weekend to try it.

Apple Cider Vinegar: Best taken after a meal

Fiber: Anytime except after a meal.

4 Responses to “Supplement Timing: When to Take What”

  1. March 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm, SuppRatings.com said:

    Have you thought about considering a more complete list of supplements?

  2. March 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm, Paul_Baeyens said:

    That’s a good idea for a future blog post. What other supplements would you like to see on the list?

  3. April 16, 2011 at 6:06 am, xmascarole said:

    Would love to see more supplements listed, too. I take a lot, and am not sure how to space them throughout the day. Oftentimes, if I take too many in the morning, it gives me digestive issues.

  4. April 19, 2011 at 2:17 pm, Paul_Baeyens said:

    Make sure you take the supplements as indicated on the product label. Some supplements, such as multivitamins, can create upset stomachs when taken on an empty stomach.

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