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Best Time to Take Probiotics and 5 Crucial Tips for Success

Best Time to Take Probiotics and 5 Crucial Tips for Success

While many of us have heard there are countless benefits of probiotics, most are not even sure what a probiotic is or how one can maximize these benefits.  Furthermore, to experience the maximum benefit when is the best time to take probiotics and should they be taken with a meal?

It seems as though probiotics have exploded onto the health scene in recent years.  Various forms of fermented teas and yogurts have popped up along with a rise in other fermented foods such as delicious sauerkraut. It’s exciting to think that as a society, we are starting to place greater emphasis on gut health.

However, as exciting as it is to see the world start to pay attention to health, it is overwhelming to attempt to navigate through the massive number of products and sneaky marketing to determine the best product for each of our individual needs.

In this post, we review the benefits of probiotics then dive deep into the best time of day to take probiotics.

What are the Benefits of Probiotics?

First and foremost, the most beneficial aspect of probiotics is that they act as “biomodulators”. Biomodulators are things that modify the biological (aka your body’s) response to something.

In the case of most people, probiotics most often act as biomodulators by helping improve the processes and composition of the intestinal microbiota AKA your “gut”. By improving the composition and processes in the gut, improved intestinal health and immune system homeostasis (ability to dynamically adjust as needed to maintain a consistently healthy environment) are accomplished.[1,2]

To put it more simply, most experts agree that the greatest benefit of probiotics is their ability to create a healthier gut environment.[2]

How is a healthier gut environment created?

Two core concepts are commonly considered:

  1. Probiotics help support the digestive tract

A healthy digestive tract is accomplished by that fact that probiotics improve the mechanical physiology and health of the digestive tract. In other words, when taken, the digestive tract is able to do a better job in breaking down food.

  1. Probiotics support a healthy immune system

Probiotics help support the immune system through a wide range of ways they help with biomodulation. Some specific ways probiotics enhance the immune system include decreasing inflammation, reducing infection, and preventing allergic disease.[2]

In addition to supporting a healthier gut environment, the benefits of probiotics have been postulated in various other areas with substantial research underway.  A few areas currently being explored include the following: probiotics may benefit us by improving the health of the oral cavity, lungs, skin, reproductive tract, skin, as well as the gut-brain axis and mental health issues.

Do All Probiotics Work the Same?

Nope, not at all. Just as there are many different strains of probiotics which may help us, there are a variety of different mechanisms in which they may help us. Often, the way a probiotic works and the way it affects us is completely specific to the individual strain consumed.  

As already discussed, the most frequent mechanism in which probiotics help us is through the colonization and normalization of irritated intestinal microbes.  Other less common ways probiotics work to help us include:[3]

  • Competitive exclusion of pathogens (protecting the gut by limiting colonization of harmful bacteria and pathogens)
  • Bacteriocin production (antimocriboial peptides produced by bacteria)[4]
  • Modulation of fecal enzymatic activity
    • Improving metabolization of biliary salts
    • Inactivation of carcinogens and xeonobiotics
  • Production of healthy fatty acids       
  • Improving communication between the gut-brain axis through enhancing endocrine and neurological function

While it is exciting to see the many ways probiotics benefit us, it is important to ask, “How often do probiotics benefit us in these various ways?”

Here is the breakdown from most effective to the least effective ways probiotics benefit us.[5]

Most Common Effect of Most Probiotics  

The most frequent way probiotics help us is with the regulation of the intestinal transit, reducing pathogens, increasing the turnover of enterocytes (cells in the intestinal lining), normalizing irritated gut microbiota, and resisting colonization of harmful bacteria.  

Frequent Effect of Some Probiotics

Some strains of probiotics have been shown to help with vitamin synthesis, enhancement of the gut barrier, assist with bile salt metabolism, improve enzymatic activity (AKA help the body perform specific biochemical reactions), and neutralization of carcinogens. Living in a world where cancer surrounds us, we find the last benefit quite enticing!

Less Frequent Effects of Probiotics

While few in number and less researched, some strains of probiotics have been found to aid neurological function, immunological function, and endocrine function (our system which produces hormones).

As you can see, there are numerous ways probiotics help us and its important to know that we may need different strains to get different results since not all help our body in the same way.  

While much research still needs to be done, the identification of specific strains which support us in very specific ways is being done. A few examples of how a specific strain may help us include:

  • Lactobacillus delbruekii bulgaricus and Streptococcus salivarius thermophilus aid in lactose digestion
  • Lactobacillius rhamnosus GG (one of the most studied probiotics) strengthens intestinal mucosal cells and the production of lactic acid   

When is the Best Time of Day to Take Probiotics?

Picture of the suggested use directions for taking a probiotic

While it is useful to know the many ways probiotics work, its equally important to know the best way to take your probiotics to receive the maximum benefit.  Remember, these little microbes we’re digesting are living things and taking them the wrong way will lead to lack of their survival and decreased benefit to the host taking them (aka you!).

When analyzing many of the products available, its easy to see why many are confused as to the best time of day to take probiotics.  I’ve had a lot of confusion myself reading the labels on the products in our home as well as with asking a variety of healthcare practitioners of their opinion.

Suggested use description on a box of probiotic sachets.

In examining a few of the probiotics that we own, the recommendations were quite vague.  Here are a few of the suggestions:

  • “1 capsule daily with food or as directed by a healthcare professional”
  • “Take one packet daily with unheated food or beverage”

Looking for more guidance, I asked a few respected healthcare experts for their opinions.  Their answers included:

  • Take every day first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, about 30 minutes before a meal to give time to partially digest the probiotic before food is administered.
  • Take before bed when you’re less active which gives the probiotics time to thrive in a less hostile environment such as when we’re stressed and the stomach pH drops.
  • Take any time, the timing is highly debated,  just be consistent.

So, I still don’t have a crystal clear idea of the BEST way to take a probiotic for optimal benefit, so I dug into the research.

The Best Time to Take Probiotics is…

Simply put, the best time to take probiotics is with a meal, any time of day where consistent dosage is maintained. Consistency is required to receive probiotic benefits. Current research suggests administering probiotics during or up to 30 minutes before a meal to achieve the optimal survival of the probiotic microorganisms.[6]

If You had to Pick a Meal, Which Meal Time is the Best?

Research on the impact of food on probiotic survival is limited.  One study found when subjects consumed a probiotic containing 4 different microorganisms (two lactobacilli strains, Bifidobacterium longum, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii), 3 of the four demonstrated higher survival when consumed during or up to 30 minutes after a meal.  When taken 30 after a meal survival numbers decreased. Furthermore, three of the four had increased survival when consumed with a meal containing fat.[6]

Many experts suggest taking probiotics first thing in the morning with food to establish a routine and guarantee consistent dosage.  This is not a bad idea since cumulation of the microorganisms is necessary to experience their greatest benefits.

On the other end of the spectrum, taking probiotics with dinner is often suggested since the evening meal is usually larger and is more likely to include some form of fat.  Thus, consuming a probiotic with the evening meal may provide 3 advantages over the morning meal:

  1. More food to feed healthy microorganisms  
  2. A less acidic environment (Due to food diluting the acid in the stomach)  
  3. More fat (Meals with higher fat content improve microorganism survival)

So, the main objectives when choosing a meal to accompany your probiotic are as follows: choose one which you will consistently remember to take, make sure the meal is substantial enough to dilute the stomach acid, and it must include fat.  If you’re someone who enjoys having a meal such as half an avocado and a couple of eggs for breakfast then breakfast would be a great option, especially, if you always take your supplements in the morning. However, taking a probiotic while sprinting out the door with nothing but a cup of coffee?  Not a good idea for anyone, and a terrible idea if looking to improve health with a probiotic.

Lastly, while sparse in the research, it also frequently mentioned to avoid taking probiotics with a hot beverage as it may reduce the chance of microorganism survival.  So, once again, I apologize in advance to all my coffee lovers but having probiotics and coffee alone is not a great morning routine.

Infographic showing top 5 tips for optimal probiotic surval: consistent dosage, take probiotics with a meal, include healthy fats in the meal, take them at larger meal times, and avoid having probiotics with hot food or liquid

Can I Just Eat Fermented Foods Instead of Taking a Probiotic?

Eating a diet which regularly includes probiotic foods is one of the best habits you can have to consistently maintain a healthy gut environment.  In fact, we have previously discussed the astounding benefits of eating fermented foods for active individuals as well as the best fermented foods for athletes here on our FWDfuel blog.    

However, even with frequent consumption of amazing fermented foods, it is hard to consume the number of probiotics necessary to see many of the health effects.  This takes us back to the original definition of a probiotic which includes the words “…when administered in adequate amounts…”  So, should you regularly consume fermented foods? Absolutely. Should you regularly consume a probiotic as well? Yep.

Now, that you know the benefits of probiotics and the best time of day to take probiotics, its time to learn exactly which probiotics you should be taking.  

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29214927
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6162611/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30721959
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5089130/
  5. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrgastro.2014.66
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22146689
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4143209/pdf/1414-431X-bjmbr-47-09-00804.pdf
  8. https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/abs/10.1123/ijsnem.17.4.352https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22146689

About The Author

Michael Bogden

Michael is a residency and fellowship trained sports physical therapist. A life long advocate for exercise and nutrition, he unexpectedly ran into issues with fatigue and recovery which significantly hindered his training. After working closely with his wife, Kylene, a dietitian trained in functional nutrition, he learned an entirely new approach to eating and living a more holistic lifestyle. This dramatic life change lead to remarkable improvement in his overall energy and performance. In 2017, with the help of a Functional Sports Nutrition approach, he improved his half marathon PR by 5 minutes. These improvements inspired him to create the FWDfuel blog with Kylene in order to spread the word so that others could experience the same success.

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