Ask The Trainer #121 – Using Supplements Properly


Hello. I had a question regarding how to take my supplements. Does it matter if I mix vitamins, herbs, protein, and amino acids together? Also, should I taken them with food or not? I’ve heard some people say that supplements should be taken on an empty stomach and other people have told me that everything should be taken with food. What are your thoughts?



Hi, Carl. There are a few guidelines to follow to get the maximum benefits from each supplement you take. In the case of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, like fish oil, take all of these supplements with food. These supplements are virtually useless without food.

You see, their primary function is to facilitate various physiological chemical reactions so our bodies properly utilize food. In fact, certain vitamins, such as B vitamins, actually cause damage to the lining of the stomach over time if they aren’t taken with food.

Additionally, the body cannot absorb or metabolize fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin E, D, A, K, and ascorbyl palmitate (a fat-soluble vitamin C) without the presence of fat. So, take these particular supplements with a well-balanced meal, and you will be good!

Using Herbs

You need to adhere to a different set of rules when taking herbal supplements. Take certain herbs, like ginger and peppermint, to improve digestion. Take them with water 10 to 15 minutes before a meal.

Most other herbal supplements are better to take further away from meal times or between meals. This is due to the fact the fiber in some foods will impede their absorption.

When you take a supplement that contains both vitamins and herbs, and the majority is herbs, take them between meals. However, if the majority of the ingredients are vitamins and minerals, take them with food.

Amino Acids

Take free-form amino acids the same way as herbal supplements. The body must break down the amino acids in protein during digestion. So when you take free-form amino acids with food, they compete with protein for absorption.

This is one of the reasons I cringe when people dump their powdered branched-chain amino acids into their protein shakes.

Branched-chain amino acids are wonderful for boosting protein synthesis, providing energy, and maintaining favorable growth hormone levels during training. But, when you eat protein with them, it reduces their benefits.

Other common free-form amino acids include lysine for cold sores, tryptophan to promote sleep, cysteine to help thin mucus, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a special form of cysteine to boost internal antioxidant production and neutralize toxins.

Another is arginine. It helps support blood circulation and blood pressure regulation by increasing nitric oxide production. I could go on and on, but these are just a few examples.

Hopefully, this answers your question. I wish you all the best with your health and fitness goals!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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