Chrononutrition and Nutritional Supplements: The Best Timing for Your Health

Have you ever taken a nutritional supplement like Vitamin B and thought it did not work well one day, then you took it at a different time another day and it helped? You felt more energized and ready for the day! Your body functions in the form of patterns known as circadian rhythms to promote sleep, eating, and other activities. It makes sense to time our nutrients based on our body’s needs and activities like a food clock. So when should I take them? Read on to find out how you can meet your nutritional needs and maximize your health in a timely manner!

What are nutritional supplements?1,2

The nutritional supplement market is expected to be worth over $151.85 billion by the end of 2021 and reach $272.44 billion by 2028. They really are popular among patients! Nutritional or dietary supplements are taken to supplement the diet of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients like amino acids and enzymes. They are not meant to replace your diet. Some are used to help you meet your dietary needs and manage health conditions while others promote weight loss or refuel you from sports. People with food allergies, vegetarians, pregnant women, and elderly may need supplements to make sure they reach their daily dietary goals. Nutritional supplements are commonly used in bone, heart, kidney, and cancer diseases. They come in a variety of forms from tablets to powders to drinks and bars. 

How are they different from prescription and over-the-counter drugs?3

Both over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements are available without a prescription and can be found along the aisles of your local drug store, unlike prescription drugs. Both have to follow good manufacturing practices (GMPs) to make sure their products are pure. Yet, they do not undergo the same regulations as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. They are still regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but they do not have to be shown to be safe and effective before entering the market. Therefore, they are not drugs like prescription and over-the-counter drugs. All drugs have to be approved by the FDA prior to being sold at your local drug store and are used to treat diseases. Nutritional supplements are not meant to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any diseases. However, they can make health claims like “supports heart health,” but they can not state “treats hypertension.”

What is chrononutrition and when should I take them?4-6

Your body and its functions like sleeping, eating, body temperature, and immune regulations are completed like clockwork or circadian rhythms. Therefore, it makes sense to optimize these patterns by timing our diet too. This circadian diet or chrononutrition includes not only what you eat, but when you eat. You should eat when it aligns with your body’s activities like when you are more active or during the day instead of at night before you sleep. Your body functions better if you eat more earlier in the day than later, even though many people do the reverse. Research has shown that eating out of sync with your body can lead to weight gain, chronic diseases, and premature aging. This may be due to your body better responding to insulin or your hormone that promotes the uptake of sugar and carbohydrates to your tissues during the morning. If more food is consumed later in the day, it is harder for your body to take up the sugars which can lead to insulin insensitivity. This is associated with Type 2 diabetes. This can best be combated by eating based on your food clock!

This approach also works for when you should take your nutritional supplements since they may work better when providing you with more nutrients during a certain time of day. There are specific times when they should be taken to support your sleep and energy patterns. The key to using nutritional supplements is to be consistent and take them when it is convenient for you. This is a better approach than taking them at different times each day which could affect your activity level.

Which dietary supplements are right for me?4,5,7

There are a variety of dietary supplements available and the best ones for you depend on your needs and health conditions. Talk to your provider or pharmacist to determine which supplements may best benefit your health. Listed below are some common supplements for health conditions and the best time to take them based on chrononutrition. 

Fish Oil – Fish oil is a source of omega 3 fatty acids that are needed for your body’s muscles and cell growth. It contains two omega 3 acids called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) that are commonly found in oysters, salmon, and trout. Fish oil is helpful in reducing inflammation for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and high cholesterol while promoting heart health. The most common side effects include burping and nausea, but it can best be managed by following the circadian diet. Taking it with food twice a day decreases these effects.

Vitamin D – Vitamin D supports your bones, muscles, heart, calcium absorption, and immune system. It is even obtained naturally from sunlight exposure. It can be obtained from dairy products, orange juice, mushrooms, and fish. Since it can be obtained from sunlight, it is best to take it in the morning with breakfast to mirror sunlight exposure. 

Calcium – Calcium is commonly used to support strong bones, nerve function, and reduce the risks of cancers like breast and prostate cancer. Dietary sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yogurt, okra, and kale. If it is taken with Vitamin D, it enhances the ability of calcium to be absorbed in your body while being taken with iron decreases its absorption.

Magnesium – Magnesium is important for muscle and nerve function, blood sugar regulation, and bone health. Food sources include whole grains, nuts, beans, and spinach. When taken at night, it promotes a more peaceful sleep by stimulating neurotransmitters that relax your body at night. A common side effect is an upset stomach, so it is best to take with food. 

Vitamin B complex – Vitamin B complex includes the following eight types of vitamin B: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12). Vitamin B is found in a variety of foods like poultry, fish, eggs, broccoli, bananas, and whole grains. It supports your overall energy, mood, appetite, digestion, growth of red blood cells, eye sight, nerve function, hormone production, and muscle tone. It is also used by pregnant women to reduce the risk of birth defects and preeclampsia. Since it helps energize you, it may be better to take it earlier in the day to avoid sleeping issues. It is best taken with food to increase absorption.

Probiotics – Probiotics contain the good bacteria that line your digestive tract to promote digestion and immune functions. They can be used to decrease inflammation, improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and protect against an upset stomach. They are commonly taken when you have an infection and are prescribed an antibiotic. Antibiotics can cause an upset stomach because they harm your good and bad bacteria, so probiotics replenish the good bacteria. They should be taken 30 minutes before or during a meal to maximize the ability of the probiotics to reach the gut quickly. They also interact with antibiotics since antibiotics can decrease the concentration of probiotics, so they should be spaced out by at least two hours.

Are there any dangers with nutritional supplements?3

Remember, just because a product says “natural,” it does not mean that it is safe. Its safety can be affected by how much you take and how it works. Nutritional supplements can interact with prescription or over-the-counter medications you are taking. Before taking nutritional supplements, talk with your provider or pharmacist to make sure they are right for your nutritional needs or health conditions.


  1.  Nutritional supplements market report, 2021-2028. Grandview research website. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  2. The truth behind the top 10 dietary supplements. WebMD website. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  3. What you need to know. NIH website. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  4. Chrononutrition: Is there a “best time” to take nutritional supplements? Metagenics website. Accessed September 12, 2021. 
  5. Chrono-nutrition: Personalizing which supplements to take and when. Nutri-facts website. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  6. How to guide chrono-nutrition. Humanos website. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  7. Why is vitamin B complex important, and where do I get it? Healthline website. Accessed September 12, 2021.

How to Purposefully Meal Prep

Ahh yes, meal prep. The often touted #hashtag of fitness enthusiasts all over Instagram. At first, this might seem like a simple concept. You make food at the beginning of the week; you eat it throughout the week. Yes, at a macro level (oh, the irony) this is what is happening. But a GOOD meal prep takes understanding, consistency, and an ability to eat leftovers and not feel like you are missing out on the finer things in life (for many this is an acquired skill). But seriously, a properly executed meal prep will set you up for nutritional success every day of the week, and that is exactly what we are looking for!

            In order to see the results you are looking for, whether it be losing body fat, gaining muscle, training for sport, etc., consistency is key, and your nutrition HAS to be consistently leading you towards your goals. If it isn’t, you are wasting your efforts over the long term, it will take you longer to reach your goals, and the process will become frustrating. Consistently following whatever nutritional protocol you have aligned yourself with is what will allow you to reap the benefits of said nutritional plan.

            What better way in this busy world to stay consistent than to have all your meals made, put away, and ready to be eaten whenever you decide – especially when you know those meals are helping you get to where you want to be with your health/fitness?

Enter: meal prep.

Nutritionally, your meals should do the following, in general priority of importance:

  • Provide sustenance for you to survive
  • Not cause GI/health issues
  • Help you reach your health/fitness goals in a sustainable manner
  • Make you satiated until the next time you eat
  • Be accessible when you are ready to eat
  • Taste good

            Notice taste good is at the bottom of the list. Now, what you need to understand is that your food CAN and SHOULD taste good. However, if you are looking to achieve any sort of fitness goal, you need to shift your thinking about eating away from it being a short-term comfort or a social activity, and towards it being a means to an end.

Your food is what is getting you to where you want to be. Once you have achieved your goals, or are a healthy, fit individual, you can have the luxury of eating out with friends more frequently or being a bit less strict with what you eat in general. However, if you are just getting started with a nutritional protocol, or are on the path towards a fitness goal that will take time, whatever it may be, I have news for you: you have to have discipline, and often times it is not going to be easy. When people tell you it is, they are lying. Reaching your goals can be hard, and that is what makes it worth it in the end.

            However, don’t get that confused with people thinking your nutrition should be a punishment, or that the harder you are on yourself the more results you will see. This is not the case. The name of the game is sustainability. Your nutrition protocol should be set up to get you in the best shape of your life in a sustainable manner, while not sacrificing any of your mental well being (which oftentimes is an unfortunate byproduct of many fad diets).

            And this is exactly why people meal prep. It is an easy way to make sure they have access to healthy food that will help them reach their fitness goals. Step one is to consider what your nutrition plan is, and what food you need to have access to at specific times throughout the day when you plan on eating. Then, you have to plan if you will have time to make your meal when you will eat it, or prep it before hand. So, for most people, breakfast can be made in the AM (or prepped if you are strapped for time) lunch should be prepped, and dinner is up in the air depending on your schedule.

    Personally, I LOVE the egg meal I make in the morning. I sauté onions, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, a small portion of meat, and sometimes nuts, then add my eggs/egg whites. I get up earlier than I have to each day so I can make and eat this meal fresh. It is my favorite start to my day, it doesn’t interfere with the start of my morning, it is a meal that is helping me reach my fitness goals, and I enjoy it enough to eat consistently seven days a week. Knowing this, I only have to prep lunch and dinner. Before I do this, I consider the following (and encourage you to do the same!):

Will these meals provide with me with the micronutrients and macronutrients I need to maintain proper bodily function and lead me to my health/fitness goals (vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbs, fats, etc.)? Will they help me achieve all the checkpoints on the priority list above?

If not, what needs to change?

If I can’t change anything, what can I supplement to make sure I am staying healthy? (For me, the answer is vitamin D and fish oil. I encourage everyone to have blood work done to check for any deficiencies.)

Will these meals keep fresh throughout the time I plan on eating them?

For me, this is 6 days, and I home cook all meals on Sundays because I have the time and I love spending the day with my little family.
If not, then you should consider doing two meal preps throughout the week: One on Sunday, and one on Wednesday/Thursday depending on your preference in food and your time available. Nobody wants to eat 6-day-old fish.

Will I get sick of eating these meals throughout the week?

I’m a creature of habit, so the answer for me is no.
If the answer is yes, consider the following:

Meal prep for Sunday-Wednesday, and Wednesday-Saturday to spice things up
Cook more than one option of each food source when you meal prep
Cook a base item, like chicken, and then add various seasonings or toppings throughout the week. You could have chicken and veggies with salsa, with hummus, with hot sauce, and with curry all using the same meal prepped chicken.

Will I have access to a refrigerator at work/during my travels to keep these meals fresh throughout the week?

If not, then get a lunch box (like you had in third grade before it was cool to take paper bags), get an ice pack or three, and bring this with you wherever you go. When I finish my morning training sessions, I go home, write programs and articles, and then pack my cooler for the afternoon/evening I spend at the gym.

            Boom boom boom and boom. Once you have all of these questions answered, it’s time to start your actual meal prep. Knowing exactly what you need is step one, and step two is making it! For most people, you will want to base your meals around protein and vegetables, and you can add in starch from there if it’s necessary depending on your goals. So, for lunch and dinner, your best bet is to do the following:

Pick at least two proteins that keep well (chicken, beef, turkey, and all their variations are a good bet)
Pick at least two vegetables that you enjoy eating with your proteins (broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and spinach are some of my favorites)
Cook them. It’s very easy to bake chicken, oven-roast vegetables, and cook ground turkey/beef on the stove all under an hour.
Put them in your tupper ware containers, portioned out by meal. And you are set! You have your protein and veggies for lunch, and you have a different protein and veggies for dinner. Need a starch? Chef up some rice and you are ready to rock!

            Just like that, you are part of the #fitfam that meal preps. You are ready to CRUSH your week of eating, training, and getting to whatever fitness goal you are chasing! As always, don’t focus so much on the little things, like:

“What spices should I use?”
“Should I put my meals in one big container or little ones at the beginning of the week?”
“How many preps should I do in a week? 1? 2? 3?”

            The answer to most of the questions is as follows: Pick your foods, prep them, and see how it goes. Don’t like pre-portioning your meals and you would rather keep them in one big container and portion them as you go? Remember that for the next week. Find yourself enjoying chicken every week? Keep making it. The answer is to see what works for you, and keep doing that. As always, don’t worry about being perfect, worry about getting started, and from there, perfect your meal prep as you go!

Yours in health,

-Max Gordon, CSCS, FNS, Nutrition Coach, Fitness Instructor & Coach