When taking supplements, timing is everything for maximum benefit

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THERE is truth to the popular adage: “timing is everything.”

That’s true even when it comes to taking nutritional supplements. Many Filipinos have become fond of consuming multivitamin at breakfast as part of our daily routine.

That’s literally one pill, once a day.

Today, with many individuals becoming more health conscious, especially in the middle of a raging pandemic, it is not uncommon for people to line up their daily range of supplements and down them all with their morning juice or shake.

As a medical doctor and founder of UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, Dr. David HeberM.D., Ph.D., and Chairman of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute, he has dedicated his career to educating health professionals and consumers about the importance of supplements. While there are endless articles about which vitamins to take, very few understand that it is not just what you take but also when you take these supplements that matters.

In short, it is all about timing.

A recent Changing Health Priorities survey of 13,000 respondents from 24 countries conducted by the Herbalife Nutrition and the Council for Responsible Nutrition, found that 89 percent of respondents are currently taking steps to improve their health, including incorporating vitamins and supplements into their routine. Even so, 77 percent of respondents reported wanting to know the different health benefits.

Why before when

Dr. Heber said that, first, it’s important to understand that supplements complement a healthy diet but don’t make up for an unhealthy diet. Sometimes, he said people can fool themselves that even though they are eating poorly, they feel they are making up for lost nutritional ground by taking many vitamins. “Proper nutrition is core to good health, and vitamins and supplements are valuable in assuring that you get all the nutrients your body needs which enhance, but do not replace, a good program of a daily intake of nutritious foods including the right amount of protein and colorful fruits and vegetables,” Dr. Heber explained.

Before you load up on vitamins, it is vital to discuss with your doctor any specific goals and recommendations and to determine compatibility of your supplements with any existing medicines that you take, Dr. Heber noted. He said doctors will factor into their recommendations the person’s age, overall health, and other medical considerations.

Follow label directions. Many supplements should be taken with food

He pointed out that people should always take supplements according to the label directions. Starting with a few essential facts, Dr. Heber said many vitamins and other supplements can be taken with food and a large glass of water. He said eating begins the process of digestion which helps people break down supplements. For some, Dr. Heber said taking supplements on an empty stomach can make them feel nauseous– some key culprits are known to irritate the digestive tract, including iron, magnesium, and fish oil. “Because of these digestive side effects when taking supplements on an empty stomach, some people stop taking supplements and do not get the vital nutrition they need. Many people report feeling better when they take vitamins with food,” Dr. Heber emphasized.

Start your day 

Dr. Heber explained that supplements provide what is missing from the diet or what food can only provide in small amounts. Protein is often deficient at breakfast and lunch and excessive amounts are eaten at dinner, he narrated. He said a great way to start the day is with a protein supplement in the form of a healthy shake. Not only does protein supply the body with the energy it needs, he said, but it is also crucial for a healthy immune system. Protein-rich shakes and bars can help people get the protein they need at every meal and after exercise. 

Add a multivitamin to the morning ritual, he added, pointing out that multivitamins tend to do best when taken earlier in the day or consumed in smaller doses throughout the day. He intimated that B vitamins stimulate metabolism and brain function and can be too much for a relaxing evening or before bed. He recommends taking vitamin B in the morning to boost energy at the beginning of the day. Check labels to see if there is caffeine in any of the supplements and if so, it can give a valuable energy boost – but never take those supplements within six hours of going to bed.

People who are low in Vitamin D, Dr. Heber added, may be at a higher risk of brittle bones, some types of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. “Vitamin D’s best-known role is to keep bones healthy by increasing the intestinal absorption of calcium. Low levels of vitamin D lead to low bone calcium stores, increasing the risk of fractures. A nutrient dynamic duo you may add to your arsenal is vitamin D to boost calcium absorption and vitamin C to boost iron absorption.”

Snacks, lunch and dinner

An excellent nutrient to take at lunch, before or during any workout, Dr. Heber said, is Leucine, which helps preserve lean muscle by stopping muscle breakdown. Speaking of healthy bones, calcium is essential for bone health, where the two most used calcium products are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate supplements dissolve better in an acid environment and ideally are consumed with a meal. People can take calcium citrate supplements at any time, he said, because they do not need acid to dissolve. 

Rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil from ocean-caught fish and fish oil supplements can reduce excessive inflammation by increasing omega-3 fatty acids in body, which benefits heart, eye, and brain health. “Take your fish oil supplements right before a meal to reduce the chance for indigestion,” Dr. Heber suggested.

Fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E and K are also better absorbed when they are consumed with a meal or snack that contains at least a teaspoon of fat (about 5 grams of fat). The same goes for the multivitamin, which will typically include these fat-soluble vitamins, he added.

Vitamins A and C, as well as phytonutrients, are also key players in immune system health, Dr. Heber explained. As one of the biggest immune system boosters, vitamin C encourages the body to produce antibodies that protect people from infections. Maintaining a daily vitamin C intake is essential as the body does not create or store it. Vitamin A, on the other hand, supports vision, skin health, and tissues of the digestive tract and respiratory system.

End your day with relaxation and good sleep

According to the Changing Health Priorities survey, not getting enough sleep was the third most common unhealthy habit respondents were trying to break to improve their health. “Part of good sleep health is adding supplements that relax your mind and body. Its recommended to take magnesium before bed since it can make you sleepy, supports strong bones, and aids in muscle pain relief.”

Some studies indicated that it could also ease anxiety, which can also help soothe tired bodies and minds to achieve a deeper sleep. For a good night’s sleep, melatonin is an effective supplement to take to help ease people into sleep. Studies have shown that people who took melatonin supplements fell asleep seven minutes faster and improved overall sleep quality.

Good health involves a routine, Dr. Heber again emphasized. He said that remember to eat right, get enough sleep, and do plenty of exercise as part of any daily schedule. “So too, should be taking supplements and creating a plan of what and when to take them. While it may seem daunting to take all your tablets and capsules simultaneously, learning to space them out enhances absorption, can help you sleep better at night and support your nutritional goals for a healthy life,” Dr. Heber concluded.

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