When To Take Vitamins For Maximum Benefit

A woman holds a glass of water and a vitamin while looking out the window.

Vitamins can play an important role in improving and maintaining your health. Maximize their benefits by taking them at the best possible time and in the best possible way!

Vitamins often play an important role in maintaining our health. And let’s face it, if we’re spending our hard earned cash on nutritional supplements, we want to take them at the best possible time and in the best possible way to maximize their benefits! 


This article provides insight on when to take both water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins, as well as minerals and multivitamins, to ensure maximum absorption and efficacy and to minimize adverse effects.

13 Essential Vitamins

There are 13 essential vitamins - vitamins A, C, D, E, & K and the B vitamins, which consist of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B 6 , B 12 , and folate (1). Vitamins can be divided into fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins. 

Water-Soluble Vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins are the B-complex group and vitamin C , and they play an important role in various bodily functions, including energy metabolism and immune system support. These vitamins are not stored in the body and therefore require regular replenishment (2).


B vitamins are involved in several processes that are needed to maintain healthy energy levels (3), and clinical experience shows that for many people, the water-soluble class of vitamins may have a mild energizing effect. As such, the optimal time to take these vitamins is in the morning as part of or alongside breakfast. This timing aligns with their role in energy production, possibly providing a subtle boost at the start of the day. 

Why B Vitamins Are Best Taken With Food

When B vitamins are taken with food, their absorption may be enhanced due to several aspects of the body's digestive process. First, the act of eating stimulates the production of digestive juices, including stomach acid and enzymes (4). This enhanced digestive environment may aid in the breakdown and dissolution of B vitamins, making them more available for absorption (5).


Additionally, eating food can slow down the movement of vitamins through the gastrointestinal tract. This slower transit time allows for a longer period during which the vitamins can be absorbed through the walls of the intestine. In contrast, taking B vitamins on an empty stomach could result in them passing through the digestive system too quickly, leading to less efficient vitamin absorption.

A handful of supplements surrounded by healthy foods.

Do I Need To Take Vitamin C With Food?

Unlike the B vitamins that may require an acidic environment in the stomach for optimal absorption, vitamin C can usually be efficiently absorbed with or without food as it is not significantly impacted by the presence of stomach acid (6). However, while taking vitamin C with food does not necessarily enhance its absorption, it may help reduce the risk of stomach discomfort. It is worth noting that taking too much vitamin C at a time leads to the excess being excreted in the urine. As such, if your goal is to take more than 200-300g of vitamin C, it's recommended to spread your intake throughout the day for maximum absorption (6). 

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins, including A , D , E, and K , rely on dietary fat for absorption (7). Therefore, it's best to take these vitamins with a meal containing fats. This is because they are lipophilic (8), meaning they dissolve in fats. When you consume a meal that contains fats, these vitamins dissolve in the fat present in the gastrointestinal tract, making them more readily absorbed into the bloodstream. Sources of healthy fats include: olive oil, nuts, avocados, egg yolks, full fat dairy, and fatty fish - like salmon and sardines.

When To Take Fat-Soluble Vitamins

While time of day doesn’t matter much when it comes to taking fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin D is a possible outlier that may be best taken specifically during the first half of the day. Vitamin D is unique in that it can be obtained through the diet or synthesized through sun exposure. It's generally recommended to take vitamin D supplements earlier in the day to align with the body's natural rhythm of vitamin D production. Furthermore, some studies show the involvement of vitamin D in the production pathways of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating human circadian rhythms and promoting healthy sleep (9).

Minerals

Minerals - like zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron - are not technically vitamins, but they are beneficial for health and often supplemented as part of a multivitamin.

1. Zinc: Helps the immune system and metabolism function (10); may be best taken with meals to avoid stomach upset but should be taken separately from iron and copper to prevent absorption interference (11).


2. Magnesium: Beneficial for relaxation and sleep (12); ideally consumed in the evening or before bedtime.


3. Calcium: Needed for strong bones and teeth. Beneficial for effective blood clotting, muscle contraction, nerve function and heart function (13). Absorption may be enhanced when spread throughout the day (14).


4. Iron: Most efficiently absorbed on an empty stomach (14); if it causes stomach discomfort, can be taken with a small amount of food that would ideally include a source of vitamin C . However, Iron should ideally not be taken with calcium-rich foods or supplements, as calcium can inhibit iron absorption (15).

When Are Multivitamins Best Taken?

Multivitamins usually encompass a mix of both water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins and often include minerals and occasionally probiotics. They are best taken with a meal. Taking multivitamins with a meal containing fat enhances the absorption of fat-soluble components while mitigating potential stomach discomfort that some people may experience when taking vitamins on an empty stomach. For those taking multiple pills per day, splitting the dose – one with breakfast and one with lunch – may aid in better nutrient absorption and utilization.

When Should I Take My Prenatal Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are essential for women before and during conception and pregnancy as well as throughout the postpartum and lactation periods. While it's generally ideal to take multivitamins like prenatals in the morning because of the potential mildly energizing effect that they may have due to their B vitamin content, pregnancy often causes increased stomach sensitivity in the morning, making it a difficult time to take supplements. 


Some women experiencing morning sickness prefer to take their prenatals right before bed with a snack, which allows them to sleep through any mild nausea or reflux. The goal is to consistently take your vitamins (and keep them down), and that matters more than taking them at the ‘ideal’ time. 

Foods that are good sources of Omega-3s: fish and seeds.

A ‘Cheat Sheet’ For Increased Absorption

Some vitamins work better when paired with other nutrients, while some nutrients hinder the absorption of others. If you regularly take multiple supplements, it can be helpful to know which pair well together (and which don’t):

1. Vitamin C & Iron: Vitamin C is known to enhance the absorption of iron , particularly the non-heme iron found in plant-based foods (16). Taking vitamin C rich foods, or a vitamin C supplement alongside iron-rich foods or supplements, can significantly increase iron absorption.


2. Calcium & Vitamin D: These two nutrients work synergistically. Vitamin D enhances calcium absorption in the intestines (17).


3. Avoid Calcium with Iron : Calcium can interfere with the absorption of iron (15). Therefore, it's advisable to take calcium and iron supplements at different times of the day to prevent potential absorption issues.


4. Magnesium & Vitamin D: Magnesium plays a role in the activation of vitamin D in the body (18). For individuals taking vitamin D supplements, pairing them with magnesium may enhance the effectiveness of vitamin D.


5. B Complex Vitamins: B vitamins often work best when taken together (19) as they are involved in many of the same metabolic processes. A B-complex supplement can provide a balanced intake of these vitamins.


6. Zinc & Copper Balance: Zinc can interfere with copper absorption and vice versa (20). If you are regularly supplementing with high doses of zinc, it may be necessary to also include a copper supplement, but at a different time of day to ensure both are absorbed effectively.


7. Pair Fat-Soluble Vitamins with Dietary Fats: Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are best absorbed when taken with dietary fats (7). Incorporating healthy fats, like olive oil, nuts, or avocados, into a meal can greatly enhance the absorption of these vitamins. If you are taking an Omega-3 supplement, you may wish to take it along with your fat-soluble vitamins for this reason.


Note: There are many ways to take supplements, and the best way is going to be the way that allows you to be consistent. 

Summary

To get the most out of your vitamins, it's helpful to understand the optimal time for their consumption. Water-soluble vitamins, like the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C, are best taken in the morning due to their mild energizing effects. Fat-soluble vitamins - such as A, D, E, and K - require dietary fats for optimal absorption and can be taken at any time of the day with a meal containing healthy fats. Though it may be best to take vitamin D earlier in the day due to its role in supporting the body's natural rhythm. 


Prenatal vitamins, while ideally taken in the morning, can be consumed before bed to alleviate morning sensitivity issues in pregnant women. Some vitamins and minerals pair well together, while others, like zinc and copper are antagonistic and should not be taken close together as they compete for absorption. Understanding these guidelines can help you derive maximum health benefits from your supplements.

References:

  1. Vitamins and Minerals for Older Adults. (n.d.). National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/vitamins-and-supplements/vitamins-and-minerals-older-adults

  2. Lykstad J, Sharma S. Biochemistry, Water Soluble Vitamins. [Updated 2023 Mar 6]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538510/

  3. Tardy, A. L., Pouteau, E., Marquez, D., Yilmaz, C., & Scholey, A. (2020). Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence. Nutrients, 12(1), 228. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12010228

  4. ‌National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2023, May 11). Your Digestive System & How It Works. NIDDK. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works

  5. Heidelbaugh J. J. (2013). Proton pump inhibitors and risk of vitamin and mineral deficiency: evidence and clinical implications. Therapeutic advances in drug safety, 4(3), 125–133. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042098613482484

  6. Higdon, J. (2000). Vitamin C. Linus Pauling Institute. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C

  7. National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 11, Fat-Soluble Vitamins. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218749/

  8. Fat Soluble Vitamins - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Www.sciencedirect.com. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/fat-soluble-vitamins

  9. ‌Radlberger, R. F., & Kunz, A. B. (2023). Vitamin D deficiency promoting non-24 h sleep-wake disorder: a case report. Frontiers in neurology, 14, 1141835. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2023.1141835

  10. National Institutes of Health. (2022, September 28). Zinc. Nih.gov; National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/

  11. Zinc Information | Mount Sinai - New York. (n.d.). Mount Sinai Health System. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/zinc

  12. ‌Abbasi, B., Kimiagar, M., Sadeghniiat, K., Shirazi, M. M., Hedayati, M., & Rashidkhani, B. (2012). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 17(12), 1161–1169.

  13. Harvard School of Public Health. (2020, October 19). Calcium. The Nutrition Source; Harvard. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium/

  14. Office of Dietary Supplements - Calcium. (n.d.). Ods.od.nih.gov. Retrieved January 12, 2024, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/

  15. Iron Supplement (Oral Route, Parenteral Route) Proper Use - Mayo Clinic. (2019). Mayoclinic.org. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/iron-supplement-oral-route-parenteral-route/proper-use/drg-20070148

  16. Lynch, S. R., & Cook, J. D. (1980). Interaction of vitamin C and iron. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 355, 32–44. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.1980.tb21325.x

  17. Christakos, S., Dhawan, P., Porta, A., Mady, L. J., & Seth, T. (2011). Vitamin D and intestinal calcium absorption. Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 347(1-2), 25–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mce.2011.05.038

  18. Uwitonze, A. M., & Razzaque, M. S. (2018). Role of Magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 118(3), 181–189. https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2018.037

  19. Kennedy D. O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy--A Review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8020068

  20. Fischer, P. W., Giroux, A., & L'Abbé, M. R. (1981). The effect of dietary zinc on intestinal copper absorption. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 34(9), 1670–1675. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/34.9.1670

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