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As the title says, I would like to know what is the best time to drink water, is it before, during, or after having a meal?

Also suppose the answer was during, what quantity is recommended?

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+1 as my father had to stick to a very regimented diet after Gastric Bypass Surgery where he couldn't drink water 30 min before a meal and 20 min after. I've always wondered why. –  KronoS Mar 11 '11 at 20:08
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Are you trying to lose weight, gain muscle, etc? This question needs a lot more clarification –  Joe Philllips Mar 11 '11 at 22:17
    
I need to reduce my belly body –  Prince Antony G Jun 26 '12 at 5:29
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8 Answers

If I can answer your question with a single word, it would be "yes". Water is necessary for the proper digestion of food. Add to that the fact that many people are dehydrated from not enough fluid intake and you could conclud that people should drink water all the time, whether they are eating or not.

During a meal, I would suggest drinking a glass of water. Overall, I would just make sure I don't drink too much: How much water is too much?

When it doubt, drink more water.

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Do you have anything to backup that drinking water at anytime during the meal has no difference? –  KronoS Mar 11 '11 at 20:10
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Also, since the body is ~70% water, and most food is largely water, what evidence indicates that all this wetness is still not sufficient for proper digestion and needs to be augmented by more water intake? –  J. Winchester Mar 11 '11 at 21:55
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I think you should drink whenever you feel like it. My grandma always forbade my mom to drink during meals (for whatever reason) but I don't see the point of that and think that it was a 1940s fashion. As other questions pointed out already, it is usually not a good idea to drink a large amount at one point of the day. It is best to spread your water/liquid intake throughout the day.

I like to eat my meals with a drink but I tend to drink little or nothing immediately before I go running because I feel sick otherwise. Although I drink about 20-30 minutes before my run because I think it is good to be hydrated properly for the time of the workout. I was never concerned about being dehydrated and running around with a water bottle all day is ridiculous in my humble opinion:) I do 10-15h of sport a week and never crashed because of water deprivation. So, listen to your body and you will be fine.

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This provides no detail or reference to your hypothesis, and therefore is just that. This should probably be a comment, more than an answer. –  KronoS Mar 11 '11 at 20:09
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The answer is there is no time you have to drink! This is for sure an answer. You should drink whenever you feel thirsty. what else is there to say –  Martin H Mar 11 '11 at 20:40
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Parents don't like to have their kids drinking during meals because they will get full faster and not finish their meals. I give my kids enough to drink to not choke then they can have more after they finish their meal. Otherwise, they wont eat. –  DustinDavis Mar 11 '11 at 21:46
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Agree, for two reasons. Common sense reason: no animal needs to be forced to drink water, they drink whenever they feel like it. There is ZERO evidence that somehow we humans are unique among evolved creatures in the world, and have a defective sense of thirst. Physiological reason: your stomach needs to be acidic to digest food. Water dilutes the acid. Drink some other time. –  J. Winchester Mar 11 '11 at 21:52
    
Can you add some references to prove that this is more than just a personal opinion? Not that I agree or disagree with your opinion, but great answers on SE value good references and hard fact well above opinion and theory. –  Nathan Wheeler Apr 19 '12 at 14:53
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A link from Mayo Clinic. "In fact, drinking water during or after a meal can actually improve digestion." There are proponents on all sides of this question, and at this point I can't find enough definitive information that could cause me (or cause anyone to worry about it very much) to drink or not drink during a meal.

I can find no mention of whether to drink water before, during or after meals in 2 references so far. One is Understanding Nutrition, 10th Ed., Whitney/Rolfes a college nutrition text. Nor in the Ace Personal Trainer Manual, 3rd Ed., American Council on Exercise. Both texts suggest the typical daily 8 glasses, but not necessarily as glasses of water, since a considerable amount of one's daily needs come with food.

There was some research reported in a number of popular news media outlets at the end of 2010 that suggests drinking water before meals can be conducive to losing weight. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/health/16really.html

And according to exrx.net, "There is no magic number in prescribing the amount of water to consume throughout the day. The optimal amount varies according to body size, activity level, enviornmental factors, and diet."

Anecdotally, I watched my grandparents live well (healthily) into their 90's drinking either coffee, water, or sweet iced tea with every meal. I actually never even thought about this question, but tend to drink beverages with meals dependent on whether the food is moist or dry and whether I'm thirsty or not.

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Here's an excerpt from a blog post I did a while back addressing this question:

The “plug” in the bottom of your stomach is a stoma not a valve. It can be pushed open, so when you drink during a meal the liquid can push the food out of your stomach pouch and down into your intestines. There are two reasons you should care:

This frees up extra room in your stomach pouch so you’ll eat more during that meal. You’ll feel hungry again sooner.

A recommendation that I’ve stumbled across is the 15/30 rule. Don’t drink anything from 15 minutes before a meal until 30 minutes after a meal. This isn’t a license to under-hydrate, just a guideline on when to drink.


Update: The comment thread has indicated a desire for "proof" (pedants! :-) ), so here is some reference information and some reasoning built on top of that in support of the above hypothesis.

First, the amount of fluid in the stomach is positively correlated with the rate of gastric emptying. It so happens that 30 minutes is an approximate inflection point in the gastric emptying of both a solid and liquid meal, per the chart below (same source).

Gastric emptying rate of solid and fluid meals

I'll assert that drinking water will render the net contents of the stomach more fluid, moving the gastric emptying rate from the blue curve towards the red curve.

This seems to confirm the conclusion that avoiding liquid during the meal will help stave off the next bout of hunger because a more solid meal will take longer to empty. The 15 minutes before also seems to fit, as roughly half of liquid consumed 15 minutes beforehand will have been emptied before the meal starts.

If one further considers the dynamics, drinking water immediately before a meal will help fill up the stomach and reduce immediate hunger but will cause that meal to be digested faster, so I hypothesize that you will be hungrier sooner with this approach.

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Unfortunately I didn't track sources - and I think they were all second-hand anyway. Regardless, here's an opinion with explanation... –  Greg Mar 11 '11 at 21:59
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Too bad you don't have any references... –  KronoS Mar 11 '11 at 22:35
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@KronoS I swear they were from people who had talked to other people who had talked to actual doctors! :-) –  Greg Mar 11 '11 at 22:37
    
I read your blog post, but most of my experiences in dining with Japanese and Chinese includes a pot of hot tea with meals. –  wdypdx22 Mar 12 '11 at 0:17
    
@wdypdx22 Difficult to compare a lifetime of dining experiences here... tea is served, but sipped sparingly from small cups (you can't gulp down a 16oz glass of hot tea) and often not really touched during the meal. –  Greg Mar 12 '11 at 1:25
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This New York Times article claims you should drink water before eating.

In the most recent [study], a randomized trial published in the journal Obesity in February, scientists at Virginia Tech followed a group of overweight subjects age 55 and up on low-calorie diets for about three months. Half the people were told to drink two cups of water before every meal. At the end of the study, the water group had lost an average of 15.5 pounds, compared with 11 pounds in the other group.

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Wrong. The NYT article does not make any claim about what "you" should do. It discusses the quoted study and others related to old overweight people on low-calorie diets, observed over a short time frame. The difference between groups of 4.5 lb after three months may be statistically significant, but is not much of a difference physiologically, and cannot necessarily be extrapolated to different categories of people. –  J. Winchester Mar 12 '11 at 0:42
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I have read about this on-line in medical forums and had several doctors tell me this. I tried it myself as have several relatives and it works. As "J. Winchester" commented above: the stomach needs acid to digest foods properly. When water is presented to your system during a meal, it fools the system into thinking that the liquid is acid and therefore shuts off production thereof. Yes, you will have wet food going down and it will eventually digest but not as efficiently as the the body's natural way. Consider that if the body still produced acid during the meal, The water would dilute the acid and make it less effective. Therefore, no liquid during food intake works for me and mine very well.

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Hi @CliffWood, did you mean to post this as a comment? Which comment by J. Winchester are you referring to? –  Matt Chan Dec 21 '11 at 3:15
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I'm a fan of Dr. Thomas Levy. I've read his books. In short:

If your last food has digested then you may drink as much water as you can, even a second before next meals. Non-veg food takes around 3 hours to digest and vegetarian ones 1-2 hrs, fruits 30-40 minutes etc.

Don't drink when food is in your stomach as it dilutes the enzymes. Take least amount of water during this time. However sometimes some water is required when you eat dry items.

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Despite my background in science, I'm going to suggest that you use a little trial and error here to see what works best for your digestion and satiety. We can hypothesize and rationalize for weeks, but this is one circumstance where you can run the experiment for yourself several times over a few days. Just do it.

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