Metabolic flexibility may be generally defined as "the capacity for the organism to adapt fuel oxidation to fuel availability". The metabolic diversification strategies used by individual bacteria vary greatly from the use of novel or acquired enzymes to the use of plasmid-localised genes and transporters. In this review, we describe the ability of lactobacilli to utilise a variety of carbon sources from their current or new environments in order to grow and survive. The genus Lactobacillus now includes more than 150 species, many with adaptive capabilities, broad metabolic capacity and species/strain variance. They are therefore, an informative example of a cell factory capable of adapting to new niches with differing nutritional landscapes. Indeed, lactobacilli naturally colonise and grow in a wide variety of environmental niches which include the roots and foliage of plants, silage, various fermented foods and beverages, the human vagina and the mammalian gastrointestinal tract (GIT; including the mouth, stomach, small intestine and large intestine). Here we primarily describe the metabolic flexibility of some lactobacilli isolated from the mammalian gastrointestinal tract, and we also describe some of the food-associated species with a proven ability to adapt to the GIT. As examples this review concentrates on the following species - Lb. plantarum, Lb. acidophilus, Lb. ruminis, Lb. salivarius, Lb. reuteri and Lb. sakei, to highlight the diversity and inter-relationships between the catabolic nature of species within the genus.