Can Stretching Help Nutrient Intake?

If you are like me, you work hard to (try) to get in all your servings of fruits and veggies each day, but did you know that if your body can’t absorb the nutrients, all that work could be for nothing? Fear not! Stretching – yes, stretching – can actually help with nutrient absorption in the body and help you maximize your nutrition.  Stretching can be painful and annoying. The general rule of thumb is to stretch and foam role one minute for every two minutes of exercise.

But why? When you stretch your muscles, you increase blood flow and circulation to those areas, which can help deliver nutrients to the muscles more efficiently. Stretching can also help improve the function of the digestive system by stimulating the muscles of the digestive tract and promoting more effective digestion and nutrient absorption.

How muscles affect nutrient absorption

When a muscle is stretched, it triggers a response in the body called the myogenic response. This response causes the muscle to relax and the blood vessels within the muscle to dilate, or widen. This widening of the blood vessels increases blood flow to the muscle and surrounding tissues, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the area and removing waste products.

Stretching can also activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response. This activation causes the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones that increase blood flow to the muscles and other tissues. This increased blood flow helps improve performance, reduce the risk of injury, and again, transport nutrients more efficiently to muscles and tissues.

Additionally, regular stretching and exercise can stimulate the production of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a naturally produced chemical that’s primary role is vasodilation, or relaxing of the inner muscles’ blood vessels so they dilate. By increasing nitric oxide production through stretching, you can help improve blood flow to the muscles and other tissues, improving overall nutrient uptake.

Regular stretching and physical activity have also been shown to increase the number of nutrient transporters on the surface of muscle cells. These are responsible for transporting nutrients such as glucose and amino acids into the muscle cells, where they can be used for energy or muscle repair and growth.

Stretching before resistance exercise enhanced the anabolic signaling pathway (or otherwise known as the pathways that our body uses to communicate to our muscles what they need to grow) in skeletal muscle, which could improve muscle protein synthesis and nutrient uptake according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The International Journal of Sports Medicine study echoed these findings, concluding that dynamic stretching before exercise improved the delivery of nutrients to muscles and enhanced post-exercise muscle recovery.

Your fascia, the connected tissue is now also found to shape your health. Think of fascia as a layer of saran wrap that protects and keeps your muscles and organs in place.  New research has shown that it is now considered its own organ with sensory nerves throughout the body.

Muscles need good nutrition!

We just reviewed how muscles absorb the nutrients you eat. But it is important to eat the RIGHT nutrients. If you are eating processed food with lots of sugar, there will be no healthy micronutrients for your muscles to absorb. Therefore, they will more easily injure and heal slower with more inflammation.

Kelly and Juliet Starrett, experts on athletics and mobility, are authors of the recent book, Built to Move.  They stress the importance of how ‘your daily nutrient intake affects all the components that allow you to move, including your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other tissues as well as your cartilage and bones.’  They are not stickler’s about a certain diet, but instead focus on getting enough protein and micronutrients.

Rich Roll’s podcast with Kelly and Juliet, on ‘Becoming a Durable Human’ mentions how important it is just to eat your fruits and vegetables. Each night at dinner they have three vegetables with their protein.  If you are athletic, then eating one gram of protein per one pound of body weight is recommended.  If you are not as active then you can eat less but eat at least 70%.

While you are stretching at night and wondering why an injury has not healed – maybe think about what you ate that day.

Hormone-regulating effects

Stretching can also help improve the body’s cells to better regulate the hormone, insulin. Insulin plays a key role in nutrient uptake by facilitating the transport of glucose and amino acids into the muscle cells. Improving insulin sensitivity can help improve the efficiency of nutrient uptake by the muscles.

The European Journal of Applied Physiology study also looked at the relationship of stretching to insulin sensitivity and found that static stretching after exercise increased insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake in skeletal muscles. Other research that highlights the importance of glucose in nutrient uptake is the study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. This study found that pre-exercise stretching may enhance glucose uptake and utilization during exercise, which could improve energy availability for prolonged exercise.

Watch this video about glucose uptake:

Let’s talk digestion

Not only does stretching have benefits for nutrient transport and absorption, but it can also have a positive impact on your gastrointestinal tract, a critical component of digestion. Nutrients are absorbed into the body through the digestive system.

When we eat food, it is broken down in the mouth, stomach, and small intestine into smaller molecules such as glucose, amino acids, and fatty acids. These molecules are then absorbed into the bloodstream through the lining of the small intestine, where it then transports the nutrients to various organs and tissues to provide energy and support growth and repair.

The blood carries simple sugars like glucose, amino acids used for building proteins, and certain vitamins and salts to your liver. The liver then decides what it needs to store, and what can be sent to other areas that require nutrients.

What does all this have to do with stretching? Ever been in a yoga class or on a walk for example and suddenly had the urge to go to the bathroom, and we are not talking number one. Well, that sensation has likely been triggered by the stretching of your GI tract to help food move through and be absorbed more efficiently, thus speeding up your digestion. An efficient digestive system means less energy is used in the body, and more nutrients are absorbed.

Here’s what stretches help most…

While there is no specific type of stretching guaranteed to increase nutrient absorption, a few stretching exercises can help improve blood flow and digestion, contributing to better nutrient absorption.

Dr. Andrew Huberman explains on his Dr. Huberman Lab podcast how to have an effective stretching routine. For static stretching, all you need are 2-4 sets of 30 second holds per muscle group, 5 days per week. It is better to stretch a little bit every day than wait and do it all at once.

Huberman recommends four types of stretching: dynamic, ballistic, active-static and passive-static. Dynamic stretching requires less momentum towards the end range of motion; ballistic stretching involves swinging limbs through a full range of motion; and static stretching where you stretch through end range of motion. Active static stretching is a dedicated effort to put force behind stretch to extend the range of motion, and passive static stretching is relaxing into the furthest range of motion.

Stretching examples

Cat-Cow Stretch

Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Inhale as you arch your back, dropping your belly towards the floor and lifting your head and tailbone. Then exhale as you round your spine, tucking your chin into your chest and drawing your belly towards your spine. Repeat this movement for several breaths.

Sun Salutation

These are well-rounded body movements that help you connect your breathing with your body through a series of 12 flow sequences linked together. This sequence is inclusive of almost all of the recommended stretches.


Forward Fold

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and then fold forward, reaching your hands towards your feet. Hold for 30 seconds.


Downward Facing Dog

Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Then lift your hips up and back, straightening your arms and legs to form an inverted V-shape. Hold for several breaths.

Butterfly Stretch

Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together and your knees bent out to the sides. Hold onto your feet and gently pull your heels towards your body, while pressing your knees towards the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.

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Return of El Niño Sends Up Red Flags

It’s an old cliché that whenever two or more farmers get together, it takes no more than three minutes before the subject of the weather comes up. But with El Niño’s return, we probably can cut that three minutes at least in half.

What’s El Niño?

There are two weather systems off the coast of South America that dramatically affect the winter and summer weather in the United States: El Niño and La Niña. Both of these are a result of the Pacific Ocean surface temperatures causing tropical rainfall that then changes the weather patterns around the globe. Each event typically occurs approximately every three to five years. They both tend to develop in March through June, peak substantially sometime between December to April, and then weaken from May through July.

The ENSO blog, written by experts who forecast El Niño and La Niña, tell us we’re in the very early stages of another El Niño – the climatic phenomenon that results when waters in key parts of the Pacific Ocean start to warm up abnormally, changing normal atmospheric flows and potentially triggering all sorts of weather extremes.

El Niños are nothing new. We’ve seen them periodically for decades, including some notoriously severe El Niños in 1985, 1997 and 2015.  The effects of El Niño extend around the world, with often dramatic – sometimes catastrophic – changes in weather patterns. The worst was the 1982-1983 El Niño that dramatically affected Australia, North & South America, Africa, and Indonesia. For instance, Peru had 11 feet of rain when it normally has 6 inches.

But this time around, the experts are particularly concerned.

The venerable British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) cites weather scientists are “warning there is a good chance that it could be a particularly strong El Niño this year.”

Such strong language may reflect our pre-occupation with global warming and overall climate change. Both have emerged as perennial – maybe “perpetual” is a better word – cause for global concern.

According to NOAA, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and the National Air and Space Administration (NASA), the world remains locked in an undeniable pattern of warmer temperatures. The eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2014, with 2016 the warmest year ever and 2022 clocking in as either the fifth or sixth warmest. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the last El Niño began in 2015.)

What’s more, experts note that these record global temps occurred during an “La Niña” event dating back to 2020. For three years, the Pacific waters have been cooler than normal, leading some observers to question just how bad the temperature levels would have been absent the generally cooling effect of a La Niña on atmospheric patterns.

In simple terms, there’s ample cause to question just how bad the effect of our latest El Niño could be on our planet – and especially our agricultural system.

What exactly does an El Niño do?

In June, NOAA announced evidence that the next El Niño already has begun. As in a typical El Niño event, water temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean have been rising, and some experts also note that the area of warmer waters actually has begun expanding to the west.

The phenomenon usually first appears in the waters off Peru and Ecuador, occurring on average every two to five years and typically lasting nine to 12 months, and sometimes longer. This time around, the agency projects an 84 percent likelihood of a “moderate” El Niño and a 56 percent likelihood of a “strong” event. As the BBC report suggests, other experts offer more pessimistic assessments.

The warmer waters change the normal circular patterns governing movement of the upper atmosphere. Warmer waters “push” the overlying air northward faster than normal, altering the jet stream that guides weather systems around the globe. Normal east to west trade winds diminish and sometimes actually cease altogether, with resultant effect on normal cloud cover. Traditional weather patterns change.

The resulting problems come in many forms:

  • changed precipitation patterns, and greater risk of either drought or flood;
  • extreme temperatures; and
  • more dramatic weather events.

But the front lines of the fight against El Niño ’s pernicious effects lie with global agriculture. Farmers and ranchers face yet more uncertainty and enormous complications in managing their crops, flocks and herds.

Experts, however, caution that the complications created by global warming and climate change make such generalizations problematic. One NOAA official observed, “we’re in unprecedented territory.” As an example of the complexity or making predictions, note that hurricane experts acknowledge El Niño ’s dampening effect on the number and severity of hurricanes but nonetheless project a “near-average” hurricane season.

What’s at stake for agriculture?

True optimists hope producers in northern areas will be spared the worst from El Niño, while increased rainfall in other parts of the country might help deal with the lingering effects of drought in some key producing areas. But optimists have been hard to identify since weather agencies made their El Niño pronouncements in early June.

Weather extremes obviously can be devastating for both crop and animal producers. Heat and dry conditions stress crops and animals alike, increasing the need for water and often nutritional and veterinary support. Water supplies and shelter facilities must be managed and maintained more closely than ever. Monitoring of herds and flocks must be stepped up to identify and deal with threats to animal health and well-being generated by the extreme conditions.

Nor are the threats posed by temperature extremes limited to excessive heat and resulting dry conditions. The phenomenon fuels both higher high and lower low temperatures. Risk of damaging frosts and the need to shelter and protect animals from the cold and chill also increase.

More broadly, the added elements of unpredictability generated by El Niño mean farmers and ranchers have to place even more time, money and energy into planning for worst-cased weather scenarios.

Where are the biggest risk areas?

No one who has dealt with previous El Niño s will attempt to predict specifically how the emerging El Niño will play out in each and every agricultural region or situation. But experience and sound science can identify some of the areas most likely to be affected as El Niño continues over the coming months.

Among the areas to watch closely:

United States

El Niño is most likely to trigger drier, warmer weather in the northern United States and Canada, and more and heavier precipitation in the southern United States.

Some optimists argue El Niño could generate more rainfall for key areas of California – a trend that normally would be seen as a positive. But this year’s abundant snowpack and melt might further complicate the water-management challenge for the state. Some observers express similar hopes for the pockets of midwestern drought – but acknowledge the equal risk of seeing dry conditions become even drier.


Australia sits firmly in the historic El Niño bullseye. The 2015-16 event proved especially troublesome for a country that plays a central role in global trade of commodities and diverse food products. Australia’s efforts to step into global markets with abundant wheat and barley crops, for example, played a major role in helping mute the adverse effects of last year’s devastating loss of grain and oilseed supplies from the Black Sea corridor.

Australia exports 80 percent of its wheat, half of its barley and 90 percent of its wool. With more than 25 million head of cattle, the country trails only Brazil as the globe’s largest exporter of beef. By any measure, the country is a major supplier to a hungry world.  The 2015-16 El Niño helped drive the fourth-warmest temperatures on record.

With the world’s demand for wheat and other foods still increasing, Australia once again is a major factor in global food security.

Southeast Asia and the western Pacific

Disruptions to the normal monsoons could adversely affect many of the mainstay crops that dominate this region, providing food staples to literally billions of people.

Palm oil, for example, makes up more than half of all the vegetable oils consumed globally. About 60 percent of global palm oil comes from Indonesia; another 29 per cent is grown in nearby Malaysia and Thailand. Rising demand and tight supplies already have led to export restrictions among some major producers. Changes to traditional monsoon patterns and other weather-related complications can only add to the threat of further supply disruptions and drive further market gyrations.

Rice markets face similar concerns. Rice, a staple food for billions, is the second most important cereal crop in the world (behind only corn). Markets look to China, India, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and Thailand for 75 percent of total production.


India’s role as a major player in global agriculture often is overlooked. India leads the world in acreage planted to wheat, rice and cotton, and ranks very near the top of global production charts for fruit, vegetables, sugarcane, sugar, rice and cotton. India farmers feed what is soon to become the world’s largest national population (1.5 billion by 2030) – and still export large quantities of the essential commodities sought by global customers.

China and Brazil

Both countries are critical elements of the global food system, both as exporters of commodities and food products. El Niño projections place China largely outside the areas expected to be most affected by weather events tied to El Niño.

Scientists also predict the worst of the potential “dry” conditions affecting Brazil will fall in the northern part of the country, which trails the southern areas as key agricultural producing regions. Brazilian produces soybeans, sugar cane, corn, cotton, beef and other commodities and food products – many of which should continue to compete aggressively in what could become an even tighter market supply picture.

But the same experts caution that specific abnormal weather events may occur  nonetheless across the globe as a result of El Niño, especially when coupled with overall global warming patterns. El Niño only adds to the weather and climate challenges facing today’s global food system.

What does all this mean for the food consumer?

The losses imposed by El Niño are far from inconsequential. Experts measure their economic costs in the trillion of dollars — on average around $3.4 trillion, and as much as $5.7 trillion from the severe 1997-98 El Niño. Those costs ripple through national economies – with consumers ultimately paying their share.