Woman taking a supplement

How to Optimize Your Supplement Intake

Published: September 2021 | Updated: September 2021

What's the best way to take your supplements? The short answer is, it depends.

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 the multivitamin route exclusively, things are pretty simple.

But what if you prefer to take each nutrient individually, following a specifically tailored schedule to help maximize their absorption? Now, you're getting more complicated.

Here are some tips to make sure your body is fully absorbing each supplement you take.

Take these supplements with food that contains fat

A fatty meal rich in fat-soluble nutrients

Some of the most popular vitamins are fat-soluble, and should be taken while you're eating a meal that has some fat in it to maximize absorption. These include:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols)
  • Vitamin K
  • Beta-carotene
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

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—whether that's your morning eggs or your salmon at dinner—and take these nutrients during or right after those meals.

If you're taking supplements that actually contain fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, you can take fat-soluble nutrients along with them instead of with a meal. But you may want to consider holding off on taking fish oil supplements on an empty stomach if your stomach is sensitive—if this sounds like you, just take your fat-soluble vitamins when you eat.

There's no harm in dividing doses—or, fat-soluble nutrients can be taken together once a day. Do what works best for your stomach!

These are the supplements you can take on an empty stomach

Man drinking water-soluble nutrients which don’t need to be taken with food

Some supplements are water-soluble, meaning they dissolve in water, so you don't need to take them with fat or food. One of the most popular vitamins that's often water soluble is vitamin C.

Minerals also are water soluble, so there is no need to take them with food unless your stomach is sensitive. Among the most popular minerals is calcium–particularly when sold as calcium carbonate—which is especially good at neutralizing stomach acid. Swallow or chew your calcium before you've eaten for best results. The minerals zinc and copper, though, are notorious for reactions when taken on an empty stomach—so eat something before you take either of these.

Take these supplements together

Woman holding multiple supplements in her hand

Because members of the B vitamin complex work together, it's best to take them together and not individually. Recommended doses vary. For example, 3000 milligrams (mg) of niacin has been recommended for those wanting to support already-healthy 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.

Take these supplements separately from your other nutrients

Man adding amino acid supplements which can be taken with or without food to his shake

Amino acid supplements are usually recommended to take on an empty stomach. The most important thing is not to take more than one amino acid at the same time.

Common amino acids used for brain health include L-arginine, L-ornithine, L-lysine, L-phenylalanine, and L-tyrosine. These are all great nutrients to optimize your cognitive function—just be sure you're not taking them at the same time.

L-lysine, for example, competes for cell receptors with L-arginine, so they're best used separately. Other amino acids that shouldn't be combined 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 lean muscle mass rather than to target an individual health need, which is the case with single amino acids.

Timing your daily supplements

It's almost impossible to regulate your nutrient intake so that everything is optimized at all times, but with some strategic planning, you can get the most out of your diet and supplements.

If all of this timing feels stressful or overwhelming to you, remember, a high-quality multivitamin will bridge dietary gaps—and it's a lot easier to get the timing right!

References

By: Dayna Dye, Certified Medical Assistant

Dayna Dye is a certified medical assistant and the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades about health, nutrition, aging and longevity. She has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension's Education Department.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD