Aim To evaluate the ability of specific carbohydrates, including commercially available products, to support the growth of representatives of two well-known groups of gut commensals, namely lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Methods and Results Sixty-eight bacterial strains, representing 29 human-derived lactobacilli and 39 bifidobacteria (both human- and animal-derived), were tested for their ability to metabolize 10 different carbohydrates. Analysis of growth and metabolic activity was performed using a combination of diagnostic parameters, such as final OD600, final pH, fermentation end products and growth rate. Conclusions The data assembled in this study provide significant complementary and comparative information on the growth-promoting properties of a range of carbohydrates, while also investigating interspecies differences between lactobacilli and/or bifidobacteria with regard to their carbohydrate utilization abilities. Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and lactulose were shown to support the most favourable growth characteristics, whereas relatively poor growth of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria was observed on inulin, maltodextrin and polydextrose. GOS/inulin (9:1) and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)/inulin mixtures supported mostly similar growth abilities to those obtained for GOS and FOS, respectively. Microbial consumption of GOS, as determined by high-performance anion-exchange chromatography with pulsed amperometric detection, was evident for both lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Significance and Impact of the Study These results may allow for the rational prediction of lactobacilli and/or bifidobacteria to be used in conjunction with prebiotics, such as GOS, as synbiotics.