Vitamins and Supplements

*This* Is the Best Time to Take Probiotics for Your Gut Health, According to a Gastroenterologist

Photo: Getty Images/BraunS
When it comes to the best time to take probiotics, it's truly different for everyone. I know if I take my probiotics when I wake up, on an empty stomach, I promptly regret it. My tummy gets rumbly and I just generally don't feel great. For a while, I wondered if it was because of something going on in my body, but then I experimented with different times of the day and found that late afternoon was good for me. That got me wondering if certain supplements work best at certain times—for example, taking magnesium at night is rumored to help you sleep. (This is because, according to the Sleep Foundation, magnesium helps the body relax.)

Back to my original point: I started to get curious if there was a best time of day to take my probiotics to reap the optimal benefits of probiotics for gut health. Typically, a lot of folks’ digestive systems get up and running when you wake up, and that includes mine, so was it best to take it then? I had experts break down exactly when and how to get probiotic supplements’ full benefits.

"Probiotics are bacteria that live in your body and provide a variety of health benefits," says Sarah Greenfield, RD, education director at HUM Nutrition. "They play a role in mood, digestive health, and they [help] make certain vitamins," such as synthesizing vitamin B12, she says. Gastroenterologist and internist Niket Sonpal, MD, adds that probiotics are "beneficial bacteria that help your gut digest food, break down nutrients, and level out harmful bacteria." (As with any supplement, though, definitely talk to your doctor before trying probiotics.)

It turns out that when you take your probiotics does really make a difference, according to Greenfield.

The best time to take probiotics

So... when should you pop your probiotic capsule? "Research shows that the best time to take probiotics is just before a meal or as you begin your meal," says Lisa Richards, CNC, nutritionist, and creator of The Candida diet. "This is the time when your stomach environment is at its least acidic because your body has not yet begun to produce stomach acid in large quantities to digest your food. Taking your probiotics at this time will make their passage to your gut a little easier and ensure you get the most from those beneficial bacteria."

However, Richards says the when-to-take aspect of probiotics depends on what type you opt for. "If your probiotic is enteric-coated or uses delayed-release capsules, it is more likely to survive stomach acid and so the exact timing is less important," she says. If you're taking a live strain probiotic supplement, "ideally you want to take them 20 minutes after you eat, first thing in the morning or right before bedtime," Greenfield says. "This allows more of the probiotics to get into the large intestines where they will have the most benefits. If you are taking a soil-based probiotic, you can take them with food for the most impact."

Not sure what kind you have? Dr. Sonpal says brands put that info on the packaging.

Why timing matters

"In order to get the highest amount of probiotics from your capsule, taking them at the right time is important," she adds. Your stomach is full of exceptionally acidic acid which is super helpful for digestion. However, too much of this acid can also kill this helpful bacteria before it can get into your system.

"Probiotics have to survive your gut acids in order to establish themselves in the GI tract," says Dr. Sonpal. "If the capsule or encasement doesn't offer proper protection from stomach acids, it may not be effective." And that would defeat the whole purpose of taking them. (Studies back this up.)

What you eat affects your gut, too. Watch the video to learn more:

Portioning out your probiotic versus having it all at once

You can even split up your probiotics dose to rev up its impact on your gut if you really want to. "If you’re splitting up your dose, it might make sense to take one half in the morning and one half in the evening to maximize the beneficial effect on your gut flora," says Richards. Dr. Sonpal agrees, noting that taking probiotics this way won't overwhelm your gut, and "it'll help you assess your system's reaction to the probiotic in increments instead of all at once," he says. "It also gives your system the opportunity to adjust to the effect of probiotics at smaller doses."

So, since the time itself doesn't exactly matter—you don't have to take them in the a.m. or p.m. precisely, just plan it around your meal times—Greenfield says the only downside to not taking them at one of these optimal times is that there would be a decrease in potency. But you really don't want that, so stick with what the pros say for the sake of your healthiest gut ever.

All in all, it's important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. If a supplement isn't making you feel great, offers a lot of side effects, or doesn't seem to do anything— you can always talk to a provider about potential strategies to counteract this. Supplements are meant to support optimal health and well-being, so here's to finding the right time for the most potency, and the least stomach rumbles.

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