The in vivo effects of administering free and microencapsulated Lactobacillus plantarum LIP-1 cells (2·0×109 colony-forming units/d) were evaluated in high-fat-diet-induced hyperlipidaemic rats. Results from real-time quantitative PCR targeting to LIP-1 cells showed a higher colon colonisation count of LIP-1 in the rats receiving microencapsulated cells compared with free cells (P<0·05). Moreover, the microencapsulated LIP-1 treatment resulted in a more obvious lipid-lowering effect (P<0·05). Meanwhile, their faecal samples had significantly less lipopolysaccharide-producing bacteria (especially Bilophila, Sutterella and Oscillibacter) and mucosa-damaging bacteria (Bilophila and Akkermansia muciniphila), whereas significantly more SCFA-producing bacteria (P<0·05) (namely Lactobacillus, Alloprevotella, Coprococcus, Eubacterium and Ruminococcus) and bacteria that potentially possessed bile salt hydrolase activity (Bacteroides, Clostridium, Eubacterium and Lactobacillus), and other beneficial bacteria (Alistipes and Turicibacter). Further, Spearman’s correlation analysis showed significant correlations between some of the modulated gut bacteria and the serum lipid levels. These results together confirm that microcapsulation enhanced the colon colonisation of LIP-1 cells, which subsequently exhibited more pronounced effects in improving the gut microbiota composition of hyperlipidaemic rats and lipid reduction.