I’ve received and endless amount of texts, emails and questions about the recent documentary, The Game Changers.
The Game Changers pushes a “plant-based” lifestyle. The film, produced by James Cameron (award winning film maker (Titanic, Avatar), story teller, and founder and CEO of Verdiant Foods, an organic pea protein company) argues that eating any animal products—including meat, fish, eggs, and dairy—can hinder athletic performance, wreak havoc on your heart, impair sexual function, and lead to an early death.
The documentary follows James Wilks, a combative instructor for the U.S. military and a former UFC fighter, as he converts to a vegan diet while sports stars, celebrities, doctors, and medical experts weigh-in.
The Game Changers’ is heavy on the plants, but light on scientific context. Here’s just a few claims The Game Changers gets wrong.
Claim: Gladiators Were Vegan
The film claims that Roman gladiators were tough because they ate a diet of barley and beans instead of meat.
Most gladiators were slaves who were taught to fight at a special school, and then made to fight to the death. Gladiators carried extra fat, on purpose, to help them stay alive. A layer of fat around the chest and abdomen provided an additional layer of armor around their vital organs, protecting them against superficial wounds. This allowed them to endure more wounds before they died. They built up this fat by eating a lot of carbohydrates, primarily barley, legumes, and dried fruit.
Yes, gladiators did eat a lot of plant based material. With that being said, the film takes that claim and basically says gladiators were vegans because its the best for their performance. The truth is, its more about where they were located and what food they had access to. If you look at most ancient civilizations, thats how people ate, they ate what they had access to.
Claim: Vegan Diet Is The Best For Athletic Performance
One of the primary arguments made in The Game Changers is that a vegan diet is the best for optimal performance, especially athletic performance. Experts in the film make a number of claims about elite Vegan athletes. A few athletes they touched on were:
#1. Scott Jurek who dominates the world in ultra marathon runs. Scott thrives on a vegan diet, which makes sense, because the primary source of fuel for endurance exercises is carbohydrates and fat depending on the duration of the activity.
#2. Nate Diaz, who is an elite MMA fighter. Nate, a vegan beat Conor McGregor, a meat eater. But what the film doesn’t talk about is their training, consistency, years of experience, coaching, or that Diaz lost the rematch to McGregor. Was it because McGregor also become vegan? Nope. Was Diaz fed a porterhouse against his will? The result of the rematch, like the initial fight, had nothing to do with the dietary preference of the fighters involved. And while we’re at it, besides losing to McGregor in his second fight, Diaz also lost to ten other fighters, who aren’t vegan.
#3. Strong man competitor, Patrik Baboumian, is Vegan. Patrick Baboumian is incredibly strong, but tons of strongmen are much better than him, like Jean-Francois Caron, who finished fourth at the World’s Strongest Man, and Jimmy Paquet and can attest that, like most other top strongmen, they eat an inhumane amount of meat and eggs daily.
These athletes are impressive, but diet is only a small piece of overall performance.
The film cherry picked the best elite athletes. They never mentioned a third string vegan quarter back. They also failed to mention the non-dietary factors that influence athletic performance, including genetics, supplements, stress, sleep, work ethic, talent, coaching, etc. These are significant things!
What’s more, many of the athletes featured didn’t start out on a vegan diet. They switched from a standard American diet to a whole-foods, non-processed vegan diet. But what might have happened if they switched to a omnivorous diet (nutrient-dense plant and animal foods)? Would they have done better than they did on a vegan diet?
The documentary didn’t mention the diets of elite, world-record-breaking athletes like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. Phelps, who holds the record for the most Olympic medals by any athlete at age 28, eats 12,000 calories a day, including three ham and egg sandwiches, three chocolate chip pancakes, energy drinks, and an entire pizza. Bolt, who is arguably the fastest man in the world, famously ate over 1,000 chicken nuggets during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he set a new world and Olympic 100m record of 9.69s. Does this mean Phelps’ and Bolts’ diets are “optimal” for performance? Should the average weekend athlete eat this way?
Just because some of the athletes in The Game Changers excel on a vegan diet, that doesn’t mean that everyone will.
Claim: Animal Protein Is Dangerous To Our Health
One of the key claims in The Game Changers is that animal products increase the risk of disease and shortened lifespan.
Its important to take into consideration ones lifestyle, overall diet, and the way they prepare their food. The film failed to do this, and instead demonized animal protein.
For example, red meat has been perceived as unhealthy and gets a bad wrap. Many people who eat red meat also engage in unhealthy habits, like smoking, being physically inactive, and eating fewer fruits and vegetables. If someone is eating a diet of Burger King and KFC, it makes sense that they would feel better on a higher quality diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables in place of fried, processed, and refined foods.
What we should be looking at is what a person is eating their red meat with and how are they preparing it. Are they eating a cheeseburger and french fries with a chocolate shake or soda? Or are they eating a lean cut of steak with a side of broccoli and sweet potatoes? This is all very important to consider when making a claims that vegetarians and vegans live longer than omnivores (diet consisting of plants and animal origin), or red meat causes serious health conditions like cancer or cardiovascular disease.
Through the entire film, they pit plants against meat. Many meat eaters, including myself, also get plenty of veggies, fruits, nuts, and whole grains in their diets. You don’t have to exclude plants if you eat meat.
People go on a plant-based diet, get healthy, and say ‘Oh, it was the chicken and meat that was slowing me down.’ They don’t pay attention to the lack of vegetables they were consuming previously.
This is how we get misleading claims.
Claim: Plant Protein Is Better Than Animal Protein
They have two people eat either plant food or a steak. Then they take a blood sample and, surprise, the meat eater’s blood is thicker and darker. That’s a powerful image; you can almost feel your arteries clogging just by watching this scene.
But, its normal for the blood to be thicker! The same thing would’ve happened if they had eaten avocados and almonds (vegan). When you eat, once the nutrients are digested, they enter the bloodstream to be sent to the storage facilities (muscles, liver, adipocytes) or to be used for fuel by the muscles and brain. Test the blood once the nutrients are stored and it will be back to normal.
If you wanted to flip the script, you could do a blood test after eating a meal of grapes and rice (vegan) versus chicken. Instead of looking at the thickness, we would look at the blood sugar levels.
If tested at the right time (for my agenda), the blood sugar level in the vegan meal would be very high, bordering hyperglycemia. The chicken meal, on the other hand, would show normal blood sugar levels. You could go on to claim that a vegan diet is causes diabetes because of the high blood sugar levels.
It would, of course, be a manipulation of facts, just like the blood test done in The Game Changers.
Claim: Peanut Butter Has As Much Protein As Beef Or Eggs
Early in the film, Wilks says “a peanut butter sandwich has about as much protein as three ounces of beef or three large eggs.” The fact is, for a peanut butter sandwich to have the same amount of protein as 3 oz. of beef (which contains 150 calories for 20 grams of protein) or three large eggs (which contains 210 calories for 18 grams of protein), you’d have to use 2 Tbsp of PB (190 calories for 18 grams of protein).
Now, lets add in the bread. Lets say each slice of bread is 80 calories a slice with 3 grams of protein (160 calories and 6 grams of protein). Thats around 350+ calories and 18 grams of protein for a peanut butter sandwich, compared to 150 calories for 3 oz of beef 210 calories for 3 eggs.
So, yes its true that peanut butter does have as much protein, but you are going to get it with a lot more calories. If you are someone with a really fast metabolism or are doing a lot of endurance exercises, maybe you can get away with eating that many calories, but for most of us, we would rather have more protein per calorie.
A few more things the film doesn’t mention….
There are a few drawbacks of veganism. The most obvious and well-documented one is a B12 deficiency. This deficiency can lead to tiredness, weakness, dizziness, lack of energy, and vision problems. Or, the lack of choline in the diet. Choline is vital for the production of acetylcholine – a key neurotransmitter involved in creativity, memory, coordination, and learning.
Not to mention, more studies are showing that vegans are at a greater risk of depression and anxiety.
The argument against these deficiencies is that you can always supplement B12 or choline.
But if a diet needs supplements in order to prevent deficiency, can it ever be optimal?
Oddly enough, the film doesn’t mention any of the vegan influencers who had to stop being vegan because they started to have severe health issues. Yovana Mendoza, a YouTube and Instagram star (with over a million followers), is the most famous example. She had to start introducing animal foods into her diet to save her health. The same thing happened to other huge vegan influencers like Alyse Parker, Bonnie Rebecca, and many others. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows
In my opinion, The Game Changers is a film, not a documentary. A true documentary tells both sides of the story and lets you decide for yourself. I felt this “documentary” was very one sided and misleading.
I do agree everyone would benefit from eating more fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and whole grains. The science supporting this is sound. What I do not agree with is the idea that it has to be either/or. The fact is, there are plenty of very unhealthy vegans out there just like there are plenty of very healthy meat eaters.
I’m not against vegan diets. I don’t care if you’re vegan or even want to become one, especially for ethical reasons (like the welfare of animals), I respect your choice.
However, if you’re going Vegan because it will “optimize your health,” I encourage you to do your research. The real value is in finding a sustainable in-between diet that gets you the best of both worlds. I personally prefer the omnivorous diet (both plant and animal food)
Whats your thoughts? Did you watch the documentary? What kind of diet do you follow?
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Great post Aftann! It’s so easy to get caught up in the story telling of these “documentaries”. Thanks (as always) for keeping it real.