“Timing is everything.” You’ve heard that saying all your life, but is it always true? What about when taking supplements like probiotics? Does timing really make much of a difference? And if so, should you take your probiotics with food? Or, should you take them on an empty stomach? Is it better to take them in the morning, afternoon, evening, or before bed? How about with liquids—coffee, tea, or protein supplements? And what if you’re prescribed antibiotics…should you even bother taking probiotics? And if so, should you take them at the same time or keep them very separate from the antibiotics? These are all great questions, which can be boiled down to the all-important question: When is the best time to take probiotics? Let’s find out!
What are probiotics?
According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, probiotics are the 4th most popular category of dietary supplements, besides vitamins and minerals, ranking right up there with protein and omega-3 supplements. So, they’re obviously popular. But what are they?
Experts define probiotics as “Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” An easier definition is, “friendly, living microbes that help us stay healthy.” They’re found throughout the body, especially in the gut, mouth, reproductive organs, and on the skin, and they help support a healthy digestive tract and immune system. Their numerous benefits include boosting mood, reducing stress and anxiety, improving brain functioning, helping weight management, enhancing recovery from sports, and much more.
Keep in mind that, by definition, probiotics are living microorganisms, and along those lines, most of them (particularly those from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families) are affected by temperature, the stomach environment, and even the foods you eat.
Should you take probiotics with or without foods?
This is a great question. For starters, probiotics are typically packaged in foods, such as yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables, so it makes sense to take probiotic supplements with food. And despite what you may have heard, the stomach is more acidic when it’s empty, and this is a problem because most probiotics are very sensitive to stomach acid. In fact, on average, 75 – 90% of probiotics are killed off by stomach acid and never reach the gut, which is where they need to be (alive) in order to exert their probiotic benefits.
Yet, if the stomach is full, the probiotics are also likely to hang out in the stomach longer, and that means they may be exposed to (and tolerate) stomach acid, bile salts, and digestive enzymes (such as proteases) for longer periods.
What’s the best solution? While more studies are warranted, it appears the best time to take probiotics is with a light meal or snack. This would allow the probiotics to pass into the intestines with less damage from the harsh stomach environment. Arguably, the best evidence comes from a research study published in the journal Beneficial Microbes, which compared the effects of taking a probiotic supplement 30 minutes before a meal, with a meal, and 30 minutes after eating. The researchers found that probiotics survived best when taken with a meal or 30 minutes before a meal. On the other hand, probiotics taken 30 minutes after the meal did not survive in high numbers, and they also found that fat-containing meals seemed to increase survival. The researchers concluded, “Ideally, [non-coated/protected] bacterial probiotic products should be taken with or just prior to a meal containing some fat.”
So, supplement with probiotics up to 30 minutes before a fat-containing meal or snack rather than on an empty stomach or overly full stomach (i.e., after a meal).
Can you take your probiotics with a protein shake?
Absolutely. In fact, it’s recommended as your probiotics may also help enhance protein absorption. Just make sure to include a small amount of fat, and you’ll check all of the boxes for the best time to take probiotics.
Can you take a probiotic every day?
Because your gut microbiome is affected by what you eat and drink, the stress you’re enduring, and the contaminants we come into contact with — which all change day by day — a daily probiotic supplement is a good insurance policy to keep the gut healthy and the immune system strong.
Does WHY you’re taking a probiotic impact the best time to take probiotics?
Another great question, and yes, it does appear to make a difference. For example, if you are supplementing with probiotics to address digestive issues (such a bloating, constipation, or diarrhea), it might help to take your probiotic with every meal until your system is more regular. Likewise, if you’re just starting a probiotic supplement — whether it’s for the first time, after taking a break, or using a new brand/supplement — then it may also be a good idea to double the dose for 2 – 4 weeks to help increase the rate of colonization (i.e., how quickly the beneficial microbes inhabit your gut).
Also, certain probiotics can help with the digestion of proteins (including gluten) and carbohydrates. So, taking your probiotic with multiple meals — especially those containing “suspect” foods — may be a good idea to optimize digestion. If you want to increase the absorption of your protein supplement, you can take your probiotic with your shake.
Having trouble sleeping and want to quiet the gut before rest? Take your probiotic right before bed with a light snack. And if everyone else around you seems to be suffering from the common cold, consuming or supplementing with probiotics daily may help promote a healthy immune system, as 80% of our immunity resides in our healthy gut flora.
Can I take probiotics with my antibiotics, herbal supplements, or prescription drugs?
Well, you can, but it’s probably not the best time to take probiotics. You see, many herbs and various drugs, especially antibiotics, may damage the probiotics before they make the journey to your intestine. It’s better to wait at least two hours after taking herbal supplements or prescription drugs before you supplement with or consume probiotics.
While you may not want to take your probiotics with antibiotics, taking a probiotic while you’re using antibiotics has been shown to prevent and relieve antibiotic-induced diarrhea by up to 50%. And higher dosages of probiotics (up to 100 billion) have been shown to be up to two times more effective than lower dosages.
Can you drink coffee (or tea) with your probiotic?
You likely do not want to pour your probiotic into your hot coffee or tea and drink it down as heat can damage the living microbes. However, if you consume your probiotic with a meal or snack, consuming a hot beverage shortly before or after will probably have no effects—positive or negative. In addition, most high-quality probiotics have an enteric coating, which allows the probiotic to safely travel through the stomach and into the intestine successfully. Pro-X10™ from BioTrust takes it even further by using a patented, scientifically-validated Microencapsulation Technology™ to protect the fragile probiotics from heat, acids, and bile.
Can you take probiotics before bed?
You bet. This is included in the best time to take probiotics list. Especially if you have not been sleeping well, you might want to consider using a probiotic right before bed or at least with your last meal of the day. This may help support the gut’s ability to produce serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that supports wellbeing, and melatonin, the hormone that helps you relax and sleep.
What’s more important? Prebiotics or probiotics?
This article has been focused on probiotics, but prebiotics, which are components (like some fibers and polyphenols) found in certain foods we eat, are just as important—if not more so. You see, the microbes in our gut thrive on prebiotics, and eating a diet rich in plenty of colorful and fibrous fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods not only helps the microbial population by feeding it but may also supply additional probiotics as fruits and vegetables have been found to be covered with bacteria, including those strains we supplement with. Because both probiotics and prebiotics play a significant role in immune function, mental health, and more, ensuring you have both is the best possible scenario.
So, along with your probiotics, make sure you’re regularly eating plenty of prebiotics, including fibers like oligosaccharides, beta-glucans, and resistant starches, which can be found in foods like asparagus, chicory root (i.e., inulin), Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, raw oats, green bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes, and more.
The Best Time to Take Probiotics: A Recap
Virtually all experts recommend supplementing with a probiotic daily, as gut health is so important. And while you may be able to optimize the effects of probiotics with proper timing, taking them any time is likely better than not taking them at all — even if it’s “not the right time.” Yet, by following the ideas above—including knowing why you’re supplementing with your probiotics—you can find the best time to take probiotics to optimize your health.