How much water should you drink in a day?
There isn’t a simple answer to this question that applies for everyone. Individual needs vary.
You need more water depending on your constitution (people of pitta prakruti tend to feel hotter, sweat more, and feel thirstier); season (summer); location (hot, dry, windy); diet (dry foods); disease conditions (diabetes); and medications (diuretics). So it is best to listen to your body’s signals and respond to them promptly.
Don’t ignore thirst
The body gives you a clear signal of thirst. If that is ignored, the throat and mouth get parched, and you feel weak, dizzy, or disoriented. Further, it may even result in hearing loss or heart dysfunction. Similarly, other natural urges and signals of the body should not be suppressed and ignored. These are hunger; the urge to pass flatus, urine or stool; coughing, sneezing, burping, vomiting, or yawning; shedding tears; sleep; heavy breathing after exercise; or the sexual urge. Suppression of natural urges throws the doshas out of balance, particularly vata dosha.
So, be mindful of thirst, and keep yourself hydrated throughout the day.
In the morning
Start your day by drinking one or two glasses of warm water. Don’t force it down to fulfill a quota for the day. Instead, pay attention to the signals from your body and drink as much as feels right. Then during the day keep a thermos or kettle of warm water handy, and drink when you feel the need to quench your thirst. At first you may not like the taste of warm water, but in a week or so it will start feeling good.
Try drinking warm water, and observe how you feel. Note any changes in your appetite, the time it takes to digest meals, body weight, and urination and bowel habits. If you had problems of constipation, flatulence, breathing difficulties, body ache, stiffness, lethargy, cough, sore throat, or runny nose before, do you notice any changes?
Some people may not be able to down warm water at all. They may have a pitta constitution or may be suffering from a pitta ailment, in which case cool water (at room temperature) is better for them. If the weather is hot, cool water helps to quench thirst better. It is also better for relieving dizziness or exhaustion after physical exertion.
Water, no ice
Ice-cold water, on the other hand, douses agni. That means that it slows down digestion and all other metabolic processes. This has an adverse effect on body weight and immune strength. So in ayurveda when cool water is advised, it means water at room temperature—“water, no ice.”
When is it too much?
Water is the best drink, but you can have too much of a good thing. Drinking too much water diminishes the digestive agni, and causes indigestion. Undigested food produces ama, a heavy sticky substance that blocks channels in the body, and combines with the doshas to cause various illnesses.
Also, water and all fluid consumption should be restricted in certain conditions like loss of appetite, sluggish digestion, edema, the common cold, and recent fever.
Around meal times
Water affects our appetite. After drinking warm water it may be almost an hour before we feel hungry. Cool water delays hunger even more. So don’t drink water (or nibble on any food) for at least an hour before a meal. Otherwise, it will kill your appetite and delay digestion of the meal.
Instead, sip a little warm water with your meal. This improves digestion. How much to sip depends on the liquid content of the meal. If you’re consuming a thin soup, dal, or rasam you don’t need to supplement it with water; but if your meal consists mainly of dry items like bread, salad, vegetables, or chapatis, then sip about half a glass of water. According to Charaka Samhita, at the end of the meal, one part of your stomach should be filled with solid food, one part with liquid, and a third left empty.
Tune in to yourself
If you pay attention to how you feel after a meal you will instinctively know how much water is best for you. If your food gets properly digested, you will feel light and energetic, and will be hungry in time for your next meal. If you get sour burps, or a burning sensation in your chest, throat, or mouth an hour or two after a meal, it may be because the food was pitta-provoking, or you drank too much water. Too little water also slows down digestion and causes constipation.
Water and body weight
When you drink water also affects body weight. According to Susruta Samhita, an ancient treatise of ayurveda, if you habitually drink water before a meal, it decreases body weight; sipped with a meal, it maintains the same body weight; if you drink water after a meal, it increases body weight. So to lose weight you may drink a moderate amount of warm water, herbal tea, or soup followed by a light meal. Exercise caution if your agni is already weak, which may be inferred from lack of appetite and slow digestion. In that case it is best to skip a meal or wait until you feel hungry.
Drinking the optimum amount of water at the right time throughout the day helps to keep agni in balance and aids in digesting the food you eat. A balanced agni wards off illness, and is key to a long healthy life.
This article was first published in April 2016 and is being republished in April 2018.
Ashok Jethanandani, B.A.M.S. and Silvia Müller, B.A.M.S. are graduates of Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar. Jethanandani now practices ayurveda in San Jose. Illustrations are original works by Silvia Müller. The concepts presented here are based on the classical texts of ayurveda. www.classical-ayurveda.com.