T Nation

Empty stomach supplements

Is there a general way to tell what supps should be best taken on an empty stomach and what should be taken with food? For example, herbs with food and minerals on empty stomach?


More specifically, would sleep aids like melatonin and kava kava work better on an empty stomach as I always have a meal right before bed?

Excellent question, I would like to know much of the same. I know a couple.
Yohimbe, most fat burners and ZMA should be on empty stomach. ZMA should not be taken with calcium even though some brands have calcium added.

I think others really wouldn’t matter except that it might be easier on your stomach and don’t get those nasty herb smoke burps.

I would like to know more details as well.

Hi, BS. As a general rule, vitamins and minerals are best taken with food. Vitamins and minerals are co-factors in a number of physiological processes. And with CoQ10, Vitamins A, E, D and K (the fat soluble vitamins) and maybe even phosphatidyld serine are best taken with fat-containing meals, which facilitates uptake.



Amino acids, though, are best taken by themselves. There are probably four competing pathways by which amino acids are taken up. If you take them with protein, you take the chance of a muted or non response.



Regarding herbs, you’ll find people recommending that they be taken with food or before food, both. Depends on the practitioner and the effect they’re looking for. Taken with food, one could expect more of a sustained-release type of effect. Taken before a meal, one could expect a faster, more powerful (though of shorter duration) type of effect.



Having said that, I like to take my melatonin on an empty stomach so that I get the quickest possible response. (grin)

Thanks for the comprehensive reply TT. I always take my ZMA 30 mins before my last meal (usu a casein shake) and my multis with breakfast.

I was just wondering if herbs in general are better absorbed with food.

You mentioned BCAAs. If they are taken on an empty stomach, wouldn’t they be burned for fuel?

BS, my understanding is that there are two bioenergetic pathways. Arerobic exercise (with oxygen) taps into fat stores. Anaerobic exercise (without oxygen) utilizes ATP/CP and glycolysis. ATP is the fundamental energy unit for all living things and is stored with glycogen and creatine phosphate in the muscles. it provides about 10 seconds of maximal muscular effort, at which point ATP & CP become depleted, glycogen becomes the dominant fuel source and ADP is “phosphorylated” into ADT.



So you need not worry that the BCAAs you take are being used for energy or fuel. In non-technical terms, glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and fat provide the fuel or energy to lift weights in the gym.



BCAAs are taken for different reasons. BCAAs
are essential amino acids, “essential” meaning they’re required by the body. BCAAs cannot by synthesized by the body, so you must get them through diet or supplementation.



BCAAs are both anti-catabolic (preventing muscle breakdown) and anabolic (promoting muscle synthesis).



Regarding your herbs, you can take them with food if you like, they’re absorbed either way. If you want the time released effect, take them with food. If you want a faster, more powerful response, take them 20 minutes before a meal.

Hey TT. Thanks again for your comprehensive reply. I read some of your other recent posts and I must say you are one of the most helpful guys here at the forum. I also think your post to that guy on the ephedrine/depression topic was very informative and helpful.

I not sure I completely understand your last post here but my understanding was your body will burn what you ingest first and turn to muscle/fat stores if your stomach is empty.

That's part of the reason I'm trying to figure out a "general rule" on which supps work better on an empty stomach (those with no "food" value like ZMA, PowerDrive, etc.) and some better with food (those with "food" value like fish oil) so it doesn't get burned for fuel. That's why I'm confused about herbs.

But than again absorbancy/competition is another issue.

A couple of additional points:


If you take something like aspirin or ibuprofin, you can take it either with or without food, but you’ll feel the effect a lot faster if you take it without. So there’s a distinction to be made between how well something is absorbed and how fast something is absorbed. If you want to get rid of a headache, I’d imagine that you’d want the quickest response possible in the case of the above.


As TT pointed out, you’ll get different effects out of a given supp depending on when you take it. Example: wobenzyme. When taken with food it helps digest the protein contained in the meal. When taken on an empty stomach, it will “search” the body for protein and thus can help to alleviate tendonitis and other conditions. (Somebody correct me if I’m wrong on the specifics here.)


In the case of fish oils, there was a good discussion not too long ago and it was pointed out by Joel and Heb that they are probably most effectively taken in one lump right before bed so as to avoid having them get used for fuel (= better absorption). Simply taking them with food won’t really prevent them from being used as fuel - especially if you’re on a low-carb diet.


Finally, let’s look at Tribex. When it first came out the recommendation was to take it with food. If you’ve ever taken Tribex, you know why - it helps eliminate the famous Tribex Burps. But then about a year ago suddenly Biotest started saying that you should take Tribex on an empty stomach.


Why? Well, I’ve asked this question several times and haven’t received a real answer, but here’s what I think. The testing that is done on most supps has to be done on an empty stomach in order to isolate the effect of the supp from whatever else you’re eating. So when a company then says, “We got X results”, it then more or less has to recommend that the supp be taken on an empty stomach so that the conditions for taking the supp match those under which the original results were obtained. Doesn’t necessarily mean that the supp HAS to be taken on an empty stomach in order to work - only that the company has to SAY that it should be taken that way (probably in order to protect itself from lawsuits).


I know that in Tribex’ case, it works just fine if you take it with food, and that’s how I’m going to continue to take mine.


Hope this helps.

Thanks for the kind words, BS. We all have different areas of expertise and contribute in the areas where we’re strongest or have personal experience.



Anyway, sorry about the second post. I got a little carried away with the physiology. It was an overly technical answer to a very simple, straight-forward question.



What’s important, though, is that you’re doing great taking your multi-vitamins with your food. Myself, I’d take ZMA with food also. ZMA is a combination of zinc and magnesium, two minerals. Minerals and vitamins are best taken with food.



If you’re taking herbs for sleep, yes, take it about 30 minutes BEFORE your last meal of the evening. Powerdrive has some amino acids in it and is best taken on an empty stomach, about a half hour before you work out, if you’re able to time your meals that way. So in other words, eat a meal about 2.5 to 3 hours before you work out and take PowerDrive about a half hour before you work out.



Re the fish oil, I agree with Char-Dawg (and Joel & Heb). Try taking them with protein at the end of the day, before bed, when you’re winding down. More of the fish oil will be used for the good work it does. Some people have reported a stimulatory affect; i.e., they’ve had trouble sleeping when taking their fish oil at night. If that’s the case, you’ll probably have to find another time of day to take it.



Hopefully that answer was more straight forward. If you have any questions about specific supplements you’re taking, feel free to post it here.

It’s a no brainer for me - if I take pills on an empty stomach I throw them up. Most of the time I can’t even just take them with a ‘light’ liquid like water, it has to be milk or a protein shake. Does anyone else have this problem?