Person Holding Cup Dessert

It’s mid-afternoon when you notice it. An odd bitterness encroaching on the back of your tongue. A distinctly…fishy taste? You haven’t chowed down anything resembling halibut in weeks. No tuna, no char, no salmon. Then it clicks—you took your supplements a half-hour ago on an empty stomach. It doesn’t take a nutritional scientist to know why many labels recommend taking fish oil tablets with food—it’s a mistake you only make once.

Most supplements give you instructions—the best time of day to take it, with food or on an empty stomach, how many tablets per serving. But what’s the best way to add probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods to your menu?

Breaking Down Your Body’s Biome

Your gut is a fascinating place. It’s a functional forest full of friendly bacteria and other microorganisms commonly referred to as your gut microbiome. Don’t get too creeped out at the thought of all those uninvited guests—gut bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with your cells, and both enjoy the health benefits of nourishing your body with the right nutrients.

Good bacteria inhabiting your body are known as probiotics. The term “probiotic” was coined in the early 1950s by German scientist Werner Kollath. It combines Latin and Greek to literally mean “for life.” Probiotic-rich foods are a popular way to add millions—even billions—of live microorganisms directly to the cultures already populating your belly and beyond. (Just tell yourself this is all less creepy, more fascinating.)

In more recent decades, the popularity of probiotic-rich foods has expanded exponentially. A quick tour of your local grocery store’s dairy aisle reveals everything you need to know: it’s hard to find a yogurt or dairy drink without “probiotic” on the label. You can also find plenty of these microorganisms in pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kombucha, and other fermented foods.

The Best Time to Take Probiotics

One tidbit of information your favorite bottle of sauerkraut won’t tell you is the best time to maximize the benefits of probiotic-rich foods. It’s not so much about the time of day—what really matters is what other solids and liquids are also occupying your digestive system. Ideally, you will see the most benefit when you consume probiotics on an empty stomach: either before eating; at least 30 minutes after a snack; or one hour after a larger meal. This advice is contrary to many supplements—like the fishy example above—which encourage you to take them alongside food.

Sorry Oktoberfest fans. Loading up on sauerkraut won’t bring the same benefits when paired with a hearty brat. When you eat, your stomach produces acids to help break down food into usable nutrients. An empty stomach contains less acid, increasing the chance that the probiotics’ good bacteria will survive. Interestingly, survival rates are shown to be higher 30 minutes after consuming 1% milk, compared to apple juice or spring water. Fat content makes a difference, so enjoy plenty of healthy fats in any meal before or after your probiotic-rich foods or supplements.

Now you know the best time for probiotics—here are ways to fit them into your day-to-day routine.

A.M. is Best for Many

Unless you find yourself eating while sleepwalking, your stomach should be primed and ready to enjoy either simple powdered probiotics or probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, any time after you crawl off our bed. Choose a low-sugar yogurt to feel satisfied and revel in steady energy from the healthy fats and protein. Plus, you’ll enjoy a balanced belly full of beneficial bacteria. It’s a win-win way to start your day.

Avoid acidic drinks and any other foods for at least 30 minutes afterward to ensure smooth sailing for all those friendly bacteria.

P.M. is Good for Some

Maybe you start your day with a pre-workout energy drink, or your intermittent fasting schedule just won’t allow for calories before noon. You can also reap the benefits of probiotic-rich foods in the afternoon or evening. Consider your usual day. Is there a typical time when you don’t eat for at least an hour on either side? Set a reminder on your smartphone to savor a probiotic-filled snack.

For the night owls, simply add probiotics into your nighttime routine. Whether you journal, meditate, tune in to your favorite TV show, or imbibe in soothing skincare, wind down with probiotics. By the time you head off to bed, the microorganisms should be past any stomach acids and on their way to support systems across your body.

Find What Works for You

Ultimately, creating an easy routine to enjoy probiotic-rich foods is the goal. Here are a couple of ideas to get all that belly-balancing goodness:

  • Utilize your tech. Every smartphone comes with an alarm or reminder app. Set a recurring daily alert for the times you want to take your nutrition. Many apps have a “delay one-hour” option—in case you’re having one of those days.
  • Pair with other habits. Although many people find the best time for probiotics is first thing in the morning or while winding down at night, it’s easy to center it around other good habits you’ve already established, like meditation, exercise, or reading a book.
  • Try, try again. If you miss a day, a week, a month—it’s fine. Many nutrients can take several weeks to reveal all their benefits. But, like exercise, missing out now and again isn’t nearly as bad as giving up entirely.

Bring on the Benefits

Figuring out the best time in your day to take make the most of probiotic-rich foods is a lot to consider. But take the time to know what you need—and when—and you’ll be well on your way to a flourishing microbiome. Fascinating!