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Is Dairy Healthy? The Whole Story – Part 1

In light of the overwhelming popularity of a recent guest blog on the topic of sports nutrition and healthy food options, I wanted to keep the ball rolling with some regular nutrition content.  This week, Brian St. Pierre kicks off a three-part series on everything you want to know about dairy.  Enjoy!  -EC

Dairy: perhaps the most controversial food in history.

While some people would argue that we shouldn’t consume dairy at all, others recommend getting at least three servings per day. There is fat-free, 1%, 2%, whole, cream, butter, and more. There is also the pasteurization, ultra-pasteurized and raw debate.  Who is right?  What fat content is the best?  Should you eat raw dairy?

Let’s find out.

The History of Dairy Consumption

The fact of the matter is that humans have been consuming dairy in one form or another for 10,000 years. Many cultures (e.g., people of the Lotchenstal Valley, the Masai, Mongolians) have subsisted on tremendous amounts of dairy without any problems often associated with it. The difference is that traditional dairy was from cows that ate grass, got exercise, breathed fresh air, and enjoyed the sunshine. Their quality of life – and therefore quality of milk – was excellent.

Fast forward to today and things have changed.  Milk demand has increased greatly in the last hundred years, and so the industry responded.  Cows moved off family farms and onto Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO), which are essentially huge conglomerate farms where they:

a)      are fed tons of corn,

b)      stand in their own waste

c)       are given antiobiotics to prevent the illnesses from that corn consumption and the unsanitary living conditions

d)      are given copious amounts of growth hormones to speed their growth and increase their milk production.

Appetizing, I know.

Traditionally, cows were allowed a seasonal reproductive cycle and were milked for only six weeks after giving birth.  Today, conventional dairy farmers inseminate cows only a few months after giving birth, which can compromise the immune system and decrease milk quality. What’s worse, it will also cause a huge increase in estrogens in the milk.

These estrogens can fuel the growth of several tumors and are linked to prostate, breast and ovarian cancer.  Cows allowed to graze on grass and have seasonal reproductive cycles have significantly less estrogens in their milk, at levels that are not thought to be problematic.

Below is a table to give you a little perspective on the changes in the lives of milking cows brought about by the move off the family farm and onto the CAFOs.

Why Grass-Feeding Rules

While we have certainly made cows more efficient milk-producing machines – going from 336 lbs to 20,000 lbs of milk produced per year – this has had a tremendously negative impact on milk quality. Milk produced in this manner is not what I would consider a healthy food option, and I am definitely not a big fan of this conventional dairy due to the poor production, poor quality, high estrogen content, and loss of important fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins.  Fortunately, dairy from pasture-raised grass-fed cows is an entirely different animal.

Since these cows are actually allowed to eat what they were designed to eat, their milk quality is vastly superior – containing more actual nutrition like increased levels of vitamin A, vitamin K (in the more powerful form of K2), omega-3s, and CLA.  In fact, grass-fed cows have been found to contain up to 500% more CLA than their conventionally fed brethren!

In addition to grass-fed dairy being far superior to conventional grain-fed dairy, full-fat dairy is also superior to low-fat or fat-free, contrary to popular belief or recommendations – but we will get to that in Part 2!

About the Author

Brian St. Pierre is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He received his degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition with a focus in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Maine, and he is currently pursuing his Master's degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the same institution. He was the Nutritionist and a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA for three years. He is also the author of the Show and Go Nutrition Guide, the accompanying nutrition manual to Eric Cressey’s Show and Go Training System.

With his passion for seeing his clients succeed, Brian is able to use his knowledge, experience, and energy to create highly effective training and nutrition programs for clients of any age and background. For more information, check out his website.


Malekinejad H, Scherpenisse P, Bergwerff A. Naturally Occurring Estrogens in Processed Milk and in Raw Milk (from Gestated Cows). J. Agric. Food Chem., 2006, 54 (26), pp 9785–9791

Qin LQ, et al. Estrogen: one of the risk factors in milk for prostate cancer. Med Hypotheses. 2004;62(1):133-42.

Ganmaa D, Sato A. The possible role of female sex hormones in milk from pregnant cows in the development of breast, ovarian and corpus uteri cancers. Med Hypotheses. 2005;65(6):1028-37.

Dhiman TR, Anand GR, et al. Conjugated linoleic acid content of milk from cows fed different diets. J Dairy Sci. 1999;82(10):2146-56.

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Upcoming Seminar Appearances

Just wanted to quickly let you all know about a few upcoming seminar appearances I'll be making. Elite Training Workshop - Canton, Connecticut - September 24, 2011 Topic: Medicine Ball Training for Performance and Health (Lecture and Hands-on) For more information, click here. Fitness Business Weekend - Louisville, KY - October 14-16, 2011 Topic: How to Develop Your Fitness Niche For more information, click here. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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What a Difference a Few Months Make

I received this email from an online consulting client of mine.  I wanted to share it with you because a) I loved Jeremy's persistence in finding the right fix for him and b) a lot of folks don't know about my online consulting services: "I am a little late on this, but things have been a bit nutty in my life recently.  However I just want to take a moment to thank you for all of the help.  When I started working with you, just about every exercise hurt.  Now I am 100% pain free for all exercises.  No doubt it is due to your programming. "I saw three orthos, and they all recommended surgery.  I spoke with two PT's, and their advice, 'strengthen your rotator cuff and perform no pressing movements.'  I hardly consider either piece of advice ground breaking.  You were the only person I communicated with that believed my shoulder was fixable.  Everyone else thought I was crazy.  Hire someone to teach you to work out, to fix an issue that was caused by working out???  That's not possible the haters said.  In fact I had an ortho laugh at me when I told him that it was fixable without surgery. "I am not going to go into an entire diatribe on how way too many Americans take the easy way out and have unnecessary surgery, or take some ridiculous pill they see an ad for on TV, or how trigger happy surgeons are to cut someone open.  But I will say this, I took great pleasure proving the doubters in my life wrong.  Tell me something is not possible, and I will go out of my way to accomplish it. "You answered all of my questions (there were a lot), and your strength and conditioning programs were always on time for me to start the next month.  At first your programming was a bit challenging because you just don't hand the answer key over, you make the person think about it.  In the end, it was very helpful, because you actually taught me HOW to work out.  It makes doing your own programming 100x easier when you are done and headed out 'on your own.'" Jeremy Miller Cincinnati, OH For more information on my online consulting services, click here. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Think “The Opposite”

September 6 might seem like just another Tuesday to most folks.  Many people probably despise it because the day after Labor Day serves as an unofficial end to summer.  Kids go back to school, teachers go back to work, and many seasonal businesses lose customers and employees as the season winds down.

Not me, though.  Today, the madness begins for me – and I love it.

You see, today is the start of the professional baseball off-season, as some minor leaguers played their last games yesterday.  Between now and the start of spring training in February/March, Cressey Performance will likely see over 50 guys either in the big leagues or trying to make the big leagues.

We get a special type of ballplayer, too. Trekking to Hudson, MA in the winter isn’t for everyone – and certainly not for guys who want to be coddled.  Our guys love to work smart and hard – and that makes my job incredibly fun.

People are often surprised to learn that I never even played baseball in high school.  Being an “outsider” to the game would seemingly make it harder to enter the world of baseball strength and conditioning, but I actually used it to my advantage.  To put it bluntly, I had no preconceived notions of what people think works, so it made it easy for me to “buck” stupid baseball traditions and focus on what I know works.  In short, as some of the world’s smartest marketing advisors have recommended, I did the opposite of what others do, and the Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development Program thrived.

Given that baseball players are among the most often-injured athletes in sports, many “experts” in the industry baby them with “do no harm, but do no good” strength training programs.  We show guys that it’s possible to get strong in an intelligent way while decreasing the risk of injury – both acutely and chronically.

Conversely, many strength and conditioning coaches alienate players by looking, acting, and programming like football coaches.  We don’t Olympic lift, back squat, or bench press with our baseball players – and we’ve gone to great lengths to bring in equipment that enables us to modify traditional strength exercises and make them safer for a baseball population.

Many coaches who have played the game before rely exclusively on their experiences playing the game to dictate how players prepare nowadays.  What they fail to appreciate is that the modern game is far different: more off-field distractions (e.g., heavier media attention, social networking), heavier travel schedules (more teams = more travel), more competing demands (e.g., strength and conditioning), and more pressure to succeed (larger organizations = more levels of minor leaguers pushing to take your job).  As a result, I do a lot more listening to my athletes than I do talking - and much less assuming than other coaches do.

Loads of coaches run their pitchers into the ground, thereby ruining guys’ mobility, sapping their power, and abusing their endocrine systems in an ignorant attempt to improve recovery.  Our guys never run more than 60 yards – and they get healthier and more athletic in the process.

Many organizations hand out the same strength and conditioning programs to all their players – regardless age, training experience, dominant hand, and position on the field.  A lot of facilities are no better; one training program on the dry erase board dictates what everyone in the gym does on a given day.  In a sport where each body (and injury) is unique – and asymmetry is overwhelmingly problematic – we give our guys a competitive advantage with a strength and conditioning program that is individualized to each player.

While some facilities were aligning themselves with companies who were trying to be “everything to everybody” by catering to loads of different sports, we allied with New Balance, a Boston-based and not only has a heavy baseball focus (225+ MLB players under contract), but a strong commitment to various charitable causes, American workers, and the education of up-and-coming players.

Walk into any professional baseball clubhouse, and you’ll see a lot of different “cliques.”  Guys of a wide-variety of ages come from different states and countries, speak different languages or have different accents, and play different positions.   On a 25-30 man roster, a player might only hang out with 2-3 teammates off the field at most during the season.  We’ve made camaraderie an insanely important piece of the CP professional baseball approach, introducing guys to each other, setting up out-of-the-gym events for our guys, and creating a culture where everyone roots for everyone else.  I’ve had guys at my house for Thanksgiving and at my wedding – and guys have held back on referring other players because they didn’t feel that their work ethics or attitudes would be a good fit for CP.  In short, we’ve created a family and an experience – and given our athletes an ownership stake in it – while others just  “worked guys out.”

Although it is a point Pat Rigsby, Mike Robertson, and I heavily emphasize in our Fitness Business Blueprint product, the concept of “doing the opposite” to succeed isn’t just applicable to business.

Go to any gym, and look at how many people are on the treadmills year-after-year, none of them getting any leaner.  Get some of them to head across the gym to a weight room and they’ll transform their bodies in a matter of a few months.  Switch someone from a high-carb, low-protein, low-fat diet to a high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diet, and they’ll often drop a lot of fat in a short amount of time.

With all that said, the answers for me will never be the right answers for you.  Look at what you’re doing – whether it’s in training, business, or life – and think about how doing the exact opposite may, in fact, be the best way to improve your outcomes.

For those of you interested in taking a peek inside what goes on with the Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development Program on a daily basis – from training videos to footage of guys goofing off in the office – I’d encourage you to follow @CresseyPerf on Twitter.

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Down on Lumbar Flexion in Strength Training Programs? Enter the Reverse Crunch.

The other day, I got an email from another fitness professional saying that he really liked my Maximum Strength training program, but that he'd have left out the reverse crunches if it was his strength training program because he "doesn't use any lumbar flexion work" in his programming anymore.

Given that the book was published in 2008, I'd gather that he is under the assumption that I've jumped on board the anti-flexion bandwagon that's been piling up members in droves over the past 3-4 years.  That perception certainly has backing.  Afterall, if you want to herniate a disc, go through repeated flexion and extension at end range.  If you want to see a population of folks with disc herniations, just look at people who sit in flexion all day; it's a slam dunk.

And, you certainly don't want to go into lumbar flexion with compressive loading.  As far back as 1985, Cappozzo et al. demonstrated that compressive loading on the spine during squatting increased with lumbar flexion.

These points in mind, I'm a firm believer that you should avoid:

a) end-range lumbar flexion

b) lumbar flexion exercises in those who already spend their entire lives in flexion

c) lumbar flexion under load

It seems pretty cut and dry, right?  Don't move your lumbar spine and you'll be fine, right? Tell that to someone who lives in lumbar hyperextension and anterior pelvic tilt.  Let me make that clearer:

Flexion from an extended position to "neutral" is different than flexion from "neutral" to end-range lumbar flexion.

In the former example, we're just taking someone from 20 yards behind the starting line up to the actual starting line.  In the latter example, we're taking someone from the starting line, through the finish line, and then violently through the line of people at the snack shack 50 yards past the finish line as nachos and Italian ice fly everywhere and the spectators scurry for cover.  You get a gold star if you take out the band, too.

If you're someone who trains predominantly middle-aged to older adult clients, by all means, nix flexion exercises.  However, I deal with loads of athletes - most of whom live in lumbar extension and anterior pelvic tilt.

Now, I'll never be a guy who has guys doing sit-ups or crunches, as they can shorten the rectus abdominus, thereby pulling the rib cage down when we're working hard to improve thoracic extension and rotation.  Additionally, most athletes absolutely crank on the neck with these - and that leads to a host of other problems.

For reasons I outlined in a recent post, Hip Pain in Athletes: The Origin of Femoroacetabular Impingement, we need to work to address anterior pelvic tilt and excessive lumbar extension - which can lead to a "pot belly" look even in athletes who are quite lean.

Enter the reverse crunch, which selectively targets the external obliques over the rectus abdominus.  As Shirley Sahrmann wrote in Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, "The origin of this muscle from the rib cage and its insertion into the pelvis are consistent with the most effective action of this muscle, that is, the posterior tilt of the pelvis."

We utilize the reverse crunch as part of a comprehensive anterior core strengthening program that also includes progresses from prone bridging variations to rollout variations and TRX anterior core work (and, of course, anti-rotation exercises to improve rotary stability).  And, I can say without hesitate that this addition was of tremendous value to an approach that got cranky baseball hips and spine healthier faster than ever before at Cressey Performance.

In summary, remember that flexion isn't the devil in a population that lives in extension. Contraindicate the person, not the exercise.

To learn more about our comprehensive approach to core stabilization, be sure to check out Functional Stability Training of the Core.

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