Taking supplements may seem as simple as popping a pill and reaping the benefits, but that’s not quite the case. In fact, many people miss out on the full benefits of supplements by taking them improperly.
“My clients often begin independently taking a nutrition supplement with the best intentions, but don’t always think it through,” says dietitian Ansley Hill, R.D.N, L.D., nutrition contributor at Clean Green Simple. Since supplements are easy to buy, Hill finds that many people aren’t doing their homework on when and how to consume them.
There are many common supplement mistakes people make—and they can certainly impact the benefits you do (or do not) experience. Here are eight to avoid.
1. Not taking fat-soluble vitamins with a source of fat
This is an issue Hill frequently runs into in her practice. “Fat-soluble nutrients—such as vitamins A, D, E, and K—ought to be taken with a source of fat,” she says. “Fat-soluble” means “dissolves in fat,” so taking these vitamins sans fat seriously impacts their absorption.
“Recently, more supplement manufacturers are adding fats like coconut oil to their supplements to boost absorption,” Hill continues. However, that’s not a given across-the-board.
Read More: 7 Signs You Have A Vitamin D Deficiency
“Many take vitamin D first thing in the morning with their coffee,” notes Monisha Bhanote, M.D., a quadruple board-certified integrative physician. To better absorb vitamin D (or any other fat-soluble vitamin), Bhanote recommends taking it with a handful of nuts, avocado, or almond butter toast.
2. Thinking a multivitamin will always cover all your bases
While many people can benefit from taking a multivitamin, you can’t always expect it to be the only insurance policy you need.
You see, when Hill assesses her clients’ nutrient intakes, she usually discovers one or two nutrients notably lower than the others. “And about 90 percent of the time their chosen multivitamin doesn’t have an appropriate dose of the nutrients I would recommend,” she explains.
In these cases, the person would benefit from taking extra-high doses of individual nutrients than relying solely on a multi.
3. Choosing the wrong kind of magnesium for your needs
Magnesium is a hot supplement right now because of its many benefits. However, different forms have different impacts in the body, which people may overlook when purchasing the essential mineral, says nutritionist Caitlin Self, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N.
Here’s the basic breakdown: “Magnesium oxide and citrate are osmotic laxatives and can help with constipation, but are poorly absorbed and can’t help with a magnesium deficiency,” she explains. “Magnesium glycinate and threonate, meanwhile, are well absorbed and do not have laxative effects, so they won’t do anything for constipation.”
Check out this guide to all of the different magnesium supplements to find the option that best suits your needs.
4. Taking supplements at the wrong time of day
Did you know: Different supplements should be taken at different times of day.
One common mistake: Taking your multi in the evening because you forget during the day. “Oftentimes, the multivitamin contains B vitamins, which may disrupt sleep and keep you awake,” Bhanote says.
Another example? Taking minerals that compete for absorption together, says Hill. “Many women supplement with calcium and iron during various periods of their lives, including pregnancy and perimenopause,” shares Hill. “But calcium and iron compete for absorption, thus, it’s important to take them at different times of day in order to obtain maximum benefit.”
For the best time of day to take seven popular supplements, check out this handy guide.
5. Getting Your Dosage Wrong
Yes, you can go overboard—and even underboard—with supplements.
For instance, “It’s fairly common knowledge that vitamin D supplements are a good idea, but what people don’t understand is that taking a maintenance dose of vitamin D might not do anything to improve your circulating vitamin D levels if you’re starting from a very low level,” says Hill. That’s why she suggests getting your vitamin D levels checked before supplementing. For a typical maintenance dose, Hill recommends between 1,000 and 4,000 IU daily.
6. Taking probiotics without prebiotics
“One of the frequent supplement mistakes I see people make is that they take their probiotic supplement without also prioritizing prebiotic-rich foods,” says dietitian Annamaria Louloudis, M.S., R.D.N. Probiotic bacteria feed on prebiotics, so the two work synergistically to support gut health.
”Taking a probiotic that also contains prebiotics, or taking it with a prebiotic-rich meal, may improve its efficacy,” she advises. Prebiotic-rich foods run the gamut from oats and wheat bran to apples, chickpeas, and cashews. Vegetables like asparagus, onions, and green peas also contain prebiotics, so you’ve got plenty of options
7. Consuming mega-doses of vitamin C at once
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a key player in our immune system, helping to keep our immunity high and our body functioning at its best. However, many mess up the dosage when supplementing with the popular nutrient.
“Our bodies can only absorb about 1,000 milligrams a day, so when you take too much it will just be excreted in your urine and it’s a waste of money,” says Ivanir. “Plus, for optimal absorption, it’s also best to take multiple doses a day instead of that 1,000 milligrams at once.
Get the full breakdown on why vitamin C matters and the right way to take it here.
8. Ignoring Quality
Of course, if the actual supplement you purchase is low-quality, adjusting how you take it won’t do you any favors. “Always opt for supplements that are third-party tested for purity and potency,” comments Hill. “This helps keep you safe from consuming harmful contaminants. It also prevents you from wasting money.”
Always check packaging for a third party-testing or quality seal before buying a product. (FYI: The Vitamin Shoppe puts all of its own brand supplements through 320 rigorous quality-assurance steps. It also verifies ingredient purity and potency through independent, third-party labs. Check for that quality seal on every label!)