The supplement world is vast and, at times, overwhelming as you attempt to work through which vitamins and minerals your body actually needs to thrive in a sea of options. However, one supplement that we could all benefit from giving a little more attention is a B vitamin complex. After all, the family of essential B vitamins is wide ranging (there are eight in total: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, biotin, folate, and vitamin B12). And especially if you follow a plant-based diet, it may be difficult to meet your B needs for the day.
From when you should be taking your B vitamin complex to reap the benefits, to the particularities of how you should be taking this vitamin, here’s everything you need to know.
The best time to take a B vitamin complex.
The best time to take your vitamins is whatever time you’ll actually stick to moving forward. After all, consistency is key when it comes to an impactful supplement routine. “We have daily micronutrient requirements, not weekly or monthly, for an entire array of essential vitamins and minerals, including those all-important B vitamins,” nutrition scientist Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN explains.
Some vitamins are water soluble, while others are fat soluble (i.e., vitamins A, D, E, and K). B vitamins are water soluble by nature. So you might assume that you’ll reap the most benefits taking your B complex on an empty stomach with a wonderfully hydrating glass of water, right?
While that might be a fine practice (perhaps even first thing in the morning for ease of routine), Ferira says it’s a nutrition misnomer that water-soluble vitamins require an empty stomach and water.
“Yes, B vitamins are soluble in water, that’s their biochemical design. Thankfully, the body and its cells and organs are made up of lots of water. That’s why daily hydration goals are so important,” she says.
“In fact, B vitamins’ water-soluble nature means they dissolve with ease, absorb with ease, and excrete with ease (i.e., when our body has gotten its fair share). It also means they don’t store in our adipose tissue, aka body fat, so you have to be even more cognizant of replenishing them daily,” Ferira says. “You can take B vitamins on an empty or full stomach, with water or any beverage that delights you.”
Another nutrition expert we chatted with prefers to incorporate “B complex supplements an hour before or two hours after a meal, though it can be taken with a meal if you experience queasiness taking it without food,” notes registered dietitian Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN.
And if you take medication, always check with your doctor before integrating a B vitamin complex. As Cording notes, B vitamins may impact your ability to absorb certain medications, and therefore, should be spaced away from them sufficiently. That’s where personalized nutrition and supplement timing comes in.
Speaking of supplement timing, it’s important to differentiate between an exclusive B complex (i.e., only Bs), versus a multi-nutrient complex that also features some B vitamins. “If the supplement you are taking only has B vitamins in it, then there is no specific indication to take with or without a meal,” echoes registered dietitian Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, R.D. and founder of BZ Nutrition. If, however, your B complex also contains zinc, you’ll definitely want to pair this supplement with a meal, as zinc may cause queasiness on an empty stomach.
Indeed, some people are more sensitive to supplements than others. While B vitamins are generally known to be gentle on the stomach, everyone is unique. “If your B vitamin complex is actually woven into a comprehensive multivitamin/mineral supplement, aka a multi, then it’s actually way more likely that some of the minerals might contribute to stomach unease if taken on an empty stomach first thing in the morning,” shares Ferira.
If that’s the case, you would be better served by pairing your B complex-infused multivitamin with a meal. “In fact, the limiting factor of a multivitamin for optimal absorption are the fat-soluble vitamins anyway, so most people would benefit from taking their multi with or soon after a meal or snack,” Ferira adds.
Other water-soluble vitamins.
Both B vitamins and vitamin C are water-soluble vitamins, meaning they’re not stored within the body, and are instead used up and urinated out. As a result, it’s important to regularly consume them. “We need to take them—and eat foods high in B vitamins and vitamin C—on a daily basis to give our bodies enough,” says Zeitlin.
In addition to its famous role as a powerhouse antioxidant, vitamin C is critical for supporting immunity within the body, as well as required for collagen production (our body’s most abundant protein, mind you). “If you’re focused on hair/nails/skin health, don’t think of biotin alone (a B vitamin). Add in vitamin C, as well,”* she explains. And again, the morning may be best.
When to take fat-soluble vitamins.
As for those fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D, K), these are what the body is able to store within fat cells, assuming we’re regularly consuming them in adequate amounts. As the name implies, “these are best taken with something that provides a source of fat to enhance absorption,” says Cording.
In case of certain nutrient interactions, again, always check with your doctor before proceeding with any new vitamin or herbal supplement regimen (especially if you take medications).
What about a multivitamin?
Although you can gather B vitamins from the foods you’re eating (and you should certainly try to, as well!), complementing your diet with high-quality supplements is a surefire way to ensure you’re getting the quantity of these essential vitamins your body needs every single day.
Taking a multivitamin such as mbg’s ultimate multivitamin+ that offers a complete built-in B vitamin complex (yep, all eight B vitamins in their bioactive forms, including methylation technology) is a smart way to supply your body with what it needs on the B vitamin front. “From cellular energy to red blood cell health, heart health, DNA synthesis, and loads more, these B vitamins are genuine multitaskers when it comes to our cellular and whole-body health,”* explains Ferira.
“If you are taking a multivitamin, which is something I recommend to all of my clients regardless of how many veggies you eat daily, it will have both the fat- and water-soluble vitamins as well as minerals like calcium—but wraps everything up in a nice little bow,” notes Zeitlin. Both gentle and bioavailable, if you’re looking for an easy way to nourish your body, this is your chance.*
Depending on the vitamin, timing may be important in order to provide your body with the maximum benefits. In the case of a B vitamin complex, it’s a versatile family of water-soluble vitamins that you can choose to incorporate morning, noon, or night.
While a glass of water and an empty stomach is a fine option when taking a stand-alone B complex, you can also reap the benefits of the B vitamin family with a meal, too. In fact, when your B complex is incorporated into a broader supplement (i.e., containing fat-soluble vitamins and minerals), you’ll want some food around to optimize the entire array of micronutrients. As always, listen to your body and doctor’s guidance.