What is the Best Time to Take Probiotics?

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Your Guide to the Best Times to Take Probiotics

Today we’re going to answer a question that many of you are surely wondering – when is the best time to take probiotics? After all, you ultimately want them to be as effective as possible, so timing can be important. 

What Is A Probiotic Supplement?

A probiotic is a supplement that you would take in addition to your regular diet in order to get more healthy intestinal tract bacteria into your digestive tract.

Your body has both good and bad bacteria, so with a probiotic you are trying to encourage more good bacteria to populate your gut.

It’s especially important when there are so many external factors that can influence how much good bacteria is in your gut, including stress, chemicals in food and water, radiation, pollution, processed food – you name it.

With a probiotic dietary supplement you can balance the bacteria in your gut so you can lead a healthier lifestyle.

There are a wide variety of different probiotic supplements out there, and how to take them will depend on the product you choose.

With such a vast number of products on the market, it can often be difficult to know the best way to take your supplement to get the results that you are looking for. 

You are going to get the best results from your probiotics if you take them before you have eaten, when your stomach is empty.

This will allow the bacteria to get to the intestines quickly. It’s usually best to take it when you begin your day before eating your first meal, or before you go to sleep at night, several hours after your last meal of the day.

Do I Need To Care About Timing?

When it comes to taking certain medications, timing really isn’t all that important. This is not the case with a probiotic supplement.

You need to make sure that you are taking your supplement on a regular basis around the same time – ideally on a daily basis. If you have a good routine in place then you will find it a lot easier to remember to take it.

The bacteria in your probiotic will want to get to your small and large intestines. Here is where they do all of their best work, including improving your immune system, digestion and even doing things like making your skin look better! 

They also have to travel through the stomach, and that environment is very acidic.  The acidity helps break down food and helps kill harmful viruses and bacteria that may manage to get into your body when you are eating or drinking.

This isn’t the ideal situation for the bacteria in your probiotics.  If they hang out in the stomach acid for too long, it can completely destroy them. 

The best thing to do is to ensure that you can get the probiotics past your stomach acid in a speedy manner.

Taking the probiotics on an empty stomach is thus the recommended course of action. Ideally it should be around 2 to 3 hours after you have last eaten and around 30 minutes before you intend to eat again.

This will allow the probiotics to make their way into your intestines in the fastest way possible.

Making a Meal of It

What you eat is also important. Essentially, whatever you eat is going to linger around in the stomach for a while as your stomach releases stomach acid and enzymes for digestion.

If the meal is heavy and you eat more food, then it means that it’s going to take much longer for the food to get through the stomach and into the small intestine.

Because of this, most manufacturers will recommend that their probiotics are taken when you have an empty stomach, allowing them to get through the stomach as quickly as possible so they aren’t exposed to stomach acid for too long.

There are some probiotics that are available in stomach acid resistant capsules, but even these will work much better if they can get through the stomach faster. It would not be good if the capsule ended up opening before it could actually get to the large intestine.

The vast majority of people tend to find that they have more success when taking probiotics if they take them before breakfast.

If you do end up eating before or even after you have taken the probiotic supplements, you should try to ensure that the quantity of food is fairly small and it can be digested easily. A snack is usually your best choice.

How Stomach Acid Affects Probiotics

Stomach acid is a good thing – it has a huge role in your digestion process.

The acid in your stomach is there to help break down proteins and carbohydrates, and it can also destroy any harmful germs that may get into your body through your food.

Your stomach has a pH between 1.7 and 2.0. In your intestines, however, the pH value creeps up to a value of 7.0, and is highest in your large intestine.

The good bacteria in your body usually lives in your small and large intestine because the pH value is higher.

If the bacteria spends too much time in the stomach acid then it can be killed since it can’t survive in the harsh conditions.

Types of Strains

It’s important to note that there are some strains of bacteria that are much better equipped to deal with your stomach acid than others are.

Thanks to this, they usually tend to survive much better when they are on the journey to your intestines. You can improve the survival rate of the strain by altering the delivery method that you use when taking the probiotic.

Of course, it’s also important to note that there are certain kinds of pathogenic bacteria that are pretty dangerous that can survive in your stomach acid, like H. Pylori and E.coli.

You usually get food poisoning or stomach flu because there’s an excess of this bacteria coming through your stomach and getting into your intestines, so your body tries to get rid of them as soon as possible which is why you may experience vomiting or diarrhea.

Don’t worry, probiotics don’t contain these harmful strains of bacteria!

Probiology Probiotics

Quality Concerns

One of the main things that you should be thinking about is the quality of the probiotic.

If the probiotic has been well-made, then it will likely be resistant to gastric acid, and it will be specifically designed to survive the tumultuous journey through the stomach acid.

A lot of probiotic bacteria is freeze dried and it will then be put into capsules. The freeze drying is important as it helps to keep the probiotic bacteria in good shape.

The big problem with freeze dried bacteria is that it can sometimes soak up any and all liquid that crosses its path in order to revitalize itself.

Sometimes the probiotic may first come across the stomach acid, and this is bad news since it means that the probiotic bacteria can die because it has so much stomach acid in it.

As such, it’s usually best to look for a type of probiotic that has been made in a powder form and then is mixed with some water before the person swallows them.

This is important as it means that any freeze dried bacteria can get into the body and will be revitalized rather than be killed in the stomach acid. It can also be good if you find a probiotic that has had prebiotic foods added to the powder to help the probiotic to survive.

It will ensure that the bacteria has been well activated and is hydrated in order to get through the stomach acid without too much of a problem.

Don’t Take Your Probiotics With Heavy Meals

Rule number one of taking probiotics – don’t take them with heavy meals! Your body is pretty clever, and your stomach will take longer to empty a heavier meal.

If you eat more food, then it means that your body will produce more enzymes and stomach acid in order to ensure that it gets through the body efficiently.

Not only that, but it will also take longer for your meal to get through the stomach if you eat more of it. Fatty food and high fiber food tend to empty from the stomach more slowly.

This is bad news for your probiotic. If you try to take the supplement just before or after you have had a heavy meal then your probiotic is going to have to deal with the stomach acid for longer, which can kill it off.

Side Effects of Taking a Probiotic Later in the Day

Sometimes, it can actually be a good idea to take your probiotic during the later hours of the day. It’s especially beneficial if you eat your evening meal earlier in the evening.

In most cases, it is best to take a probiotic supplement when you have an empty stomach as it means that they can get through the stomach very quickly, helping to keep them alive.

Your stomach is significantly more likely to be empty during the hours of the early morning or towards the day’s end before you go to bed.

Of course, the emptiness of your stomach before bed will largely depend on both when you last ate food and how much you had. 

In most cases, it’s generally best to take your probiotic around 2 to 3 hours after you have eaten.

This can vary depending on the probiotic, so it’s a good idea to have a look at the instructions to check that you are taking your particular supplement in the correct manner.

Getting the Most Out Of Your Probiotics

There are a few things that you can do in order to ensure that you are getting the best possible results from your probiotics. First, make sure that you check the instructions listed on the product. You need to ensure that you are taking it in the correct manner, after all!

Make sure that you are storing it correctly too.

There are some kinds of probiotics that have to be put in the refrigerator. If they are exposed to excessive amounts of heat over a certain amount of time then the probiotic will be rendered useless as the bacteria will be killed. 

Make sure that you are taking the probiotic at the right time. You need to be taking most probiotics when you have an empty stomach, so roughly 2-3 hours after you have last had a meal and 30 minutes before you take your next meal.

Make sure that the probiotic you buy is a high quality one. It’s best to get one that is multispecies and multistrain if you want to reap the full benefits.

You should get a probiotic that is a good fit for your particular health needs too, as different probiotics can often do different things. Some probiotics are helpful for the gut and IBS, while others are used for things like yeast infections or recurrent urinary tract infections.

Probiotics will work together too, so if you have the right combination then you can have even better results. Look for a probiotic that has been backed up by science.

If you do this then you can feel more confident that the product has been well studied, and you know that you are getting good value for your money.

Selecting the Correct Probiotic For You

All probiotics are different – they can consist of different strains and species, so they are going to do different things to the body.

Every single strain is going to perform in different ways depending on what you want it to do. 

Ultimately, you need a high quality supplement that has been backed by science to fit the results that you are looking for. Make sure that you do plenty of research before investing in a probiotic supplement. 

Why Use a Probiotic?

Probiotic literally translates to ‘for life’ in Latin. It’s a pretty good description of what they do. They help to stabilize your digestive system’s lining, and they help to make sure that the flora in your intestines can work as it should.

Probiotics are the kind of bacteria that you want to have in your intestine, and they are usually generated naturally by the body.

There are all sorts of bacteria, both good and bad, inside our bodies and they all do different things. Some of them help you to absorb nutrients, some help to digest food, and others help to reduce toxins.

If the bacterial populations in your gut are disrupted and become unbalanced, then there’s a chance that it can cause some problems for your GI tract. Taking a probiotic supplement can often help to get your body back on the right track.

Side Effects

There are some people that struggle with certain side effects. For instance, they may experience flatulence, a bit of bloating and more frequent bowel movements when they first start to take a probiotic.

This is because your body is getting used to the supplement and it’s trying to get rid of all of the harmful pathogens that may currently be residing in your gut.

You should stop taking it and speak to a medical professional if the side effects occur beyond a week or 2.  It may be helpful to try a different probiotic.  There is no one size fits all in the realm of probiotics.

Here are other probiotic guides:

Written and Medically Reviewed By

  • Chelsea Cleary, RDN

    Chelsea is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) specializing in holistic treatment for chronic digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), SIBO, and Crohn’s disease. She educates patients on how they can heal themselves from their conditions by modifying lifestyle and dietary habits.

  • Julie Guider, M.D.

    Dr. Julie Guider earned her medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine. She completed residency in internal medicine at the University of Virginia. She completed her general gastroenterology and advanced endoscopy fellowships at University of Texas-Houston. She is a member of several national GI societies including the AGA, ACG, and ASGE as well as state and local medical societies.