Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Please note I have nothing personally against vegans or to anyone who adheres to a “plant based” diet. This blog simply addresses a sample of the many claims made within the movie the Game Changers that I feel are greatly mis-leading and in need of rectifying. Images used in this blog are for illustration purposes only.
Now that’s out the way, let’s take a look at this documentary that was recently released on Netflix and seems to be causing a lot of controversy within the media, the public and the fitness community.
The Game Changers is basically a pro-vegan lifestyle documentary. The movie follows ex-MMA fighter James Wilks on his quest to find the optimal diet for human performance and health. The documentary uses a variety of celebrities and athletes who support James Wilks claim that “a plant-based diet is far superior to an animal-based diet in every way.” Various arguments are presented to support this claim by comparing both meat with vegan lifestyles in conjunction with people's performance, sex drive and health.
From the outset, the documentary is incredibly well produced and creates a seemingly compelling case for adhering to a plant-based diet. The use of engineered experiments to create shock value, several talking heads in white lab coats making ground breaking claims and the support of famous sports stars and celebrities talking about a vegan lifestyles in true anecdotal fashion, all adds to their case in following a plant-based diet. Perhaps the most surprising celebrity to see supporting this claim is none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who although is seen supporting the claims still to this day eats meat. Nevertheless, The goal of the movie is to leave the viewers to question their own lifestyle choices and to consider changing it to a “superior one.”
As with anything, one has to ask what’s this movie’s agenda?
Is it to simply preach a better way of living with the support of well researched evidence? Or is it just by chance that the movie producer: James Cameron has invested over 140 million dollars into a vegan based protein business and needs a vehicle to drive sales, whilst giving an unknown protagonist James Wilks his 5 minutes of fame? Who knows…
Now let’s take a brief look at a few claims made within the movie that I feel are misleading and why I feel the “scientific” evidence used are often cherry picked and taken out of context.
Basic Movie Premise Reminder: A Plant-Based Diet is "superior" to an animal based diet in every way.
Movie Claim 1:
The Gladiators were “highly prized fighters who got the most advanced training and medical care in the Roman Empire…. The original professional fighters (gladiators) ate mainly plants…” In support of this, an analysis of bones from a gladiator's graveyard was referenced, showing high amount of strontium which is used to support the evidence that gladiators followed a plant-based diet.
Research shows these high-level fighting athletes were fed a plant-based diet to support their sport.
Historically gladiators were not “highly prized fighters.” Neither were they all “professional fighters,” they were often despised and were in fact slaves. They were either, prisoners of war, known criminals or part of a community who were disliked by those in power and forced into gladiator school. They were valued like animals ready for slaughter, they were segregated even in death. They were objects, whose purpose were to provide entertainment value only. Often for the pleasure of the rich, they would be brutally sacrificed at parties for the guests enjoyment. Not the kind of party I'd want to attend that's for sure.
An average life span of a gladiator was around 2 years with an age believed to be anywhere between 18-27 years old. It’s interesting to note in the movie that they commented on these gladiators bone density and how there was no evidence of bone decay due to their plant-based diet. However, at this age it’s highly unlikely that there would be any signs of osteoporosis. Since this is the age where our bodies natural growth hormone will be at its highest in production, which will have a huge impact on the positive quality of our bone density regardless of what they ate.
The research used in this movie was based on the bones of gladiators containing high amount of strontium (from plants) that were carried out at a burial site in the city: Ephesos (Turkey) where the gladiators were nicknamed "hordearii" ("barley eaters"). Whilst the evidence does strongly suggest that the gladiator’s diets from this area consisted mainly of plants, one cannot simply suggest that “ALL” gladiator diets were plant-based. In contrast if we were to look at a similar research done from another gladiator site not mentioned in the movie, like the city of Thebes (Greece), the bones from these gladiators tell a different story. The Gladiators from Thebes are shown to have a high amount of sulphur, which is evidence for a high consumption of fish in their diet. In light of all of this, historically, gladiators didn't get a choice in what they ate, they simply ate whatever was available and was most cost effective to feed them to entertain.
Nevertheless, historically gladiators were fed a high-carb diet and consuming a plant-base diet would certainly contribute well to obtaining this with ease. Reasons for a high-carb diet is because gladiators were not the lean muscular strong heroes Hollywood would have you believe. They were often overweight slaves who needed the excess layer of fat to protect their vital organs and reduce the chances of bleeding to death after being cut in battle.
If you really want to look historically at some of the greatest fighters of all time and analyse what they ate, then research the Spartans, Trojans, the Persians and even Alexander the Great who’s diets all consisted of a high consumption of meat, dairy and fish as well as plants.
Movie Claim 2:
A peanut butter sandwich has as much protein as three eggs or three ounces of steak.
Why do we need to consume meat when plants can provide all the protein we need?
Okay let’s do the maths here…
3 eggs will be around 18g of protein (234 calories) and a 3 ounce of steak will have around 20-26g of protein depending on the cut (158 – 230 calories).
45g of peanut butter has around 11 grams of protein (265 calories) and two slices of brown bread will have around 7g of protein (146 calories) totaling 18g of protein and a whopping 411 calories. That’s almost double the amount of calories to match the protein quantity of a meat alternative. Not good if you need to stay within a healthy caloric intake, whilst meeting your nutritional macro and micro needs.
Furthermore, plant-based proteins are not always bio-available when consumed (having the essential nutrients we require to absorb) and often have to be paired with other plants to provide a complete protein source required for living. However, even when combining plants, the quality of protein served within a vegan based diet is often questioned because the essential amino acids necessary for muscle protein synthesis like leucine, needs to be of a substantial amount. Leucine stimulates protein synthesis by activation of intracellular cell-signaling pathways that stops the body from going into a severe catabolic state (muscle break down, catabolism).
Quite often especially amongst vegan athletes, additional leucine supplementation is required to meet their protein absorption needs, in order to sustain any kind of muscle maintenance and growth (anabolic state).
At the end of the day, eating a peanut butter sandwich will not give you the same quality of protein found in meat. It's highly likely you would have to eat even more peanut butter or bread than suggested, just to match the ‘protein quality’ that meat can give you in order to reduce a catabolic response. Thus, increasing your total calorie intake even further. Hence why an understanding of how to supplement for vegans is paramount to their overall health, which the movie does not really go into.
Movie Claim 3:
Undefeated MMA fighter Connor McGregor who ate meat before his fight lost to plant-based MMA fighter Nick Diaz.
Vegan diet makes you a better athlete than athletes who consume meat.
I was actually shocked at this claim. Mainly because someone like James Wilks who’s an ex MMA fighter himself should really know better. To say this was taken out of context would be an understatement. At times like this we have to look at the circumstances in which "meat eater" Connor McGregor lost this fight to the "plant-based eater" Nate Diaz. Whilst Nate Diaz is an incredible fighter, you have to take into account their genetics, their type of training and all the other factors that come into winning a fight. The fight was matched up at the last minute whilst Connor McGregor spent months training to fight a different opponent at 155lbs, who pulled out weeks before they match date. In order to not let fans down, Connor then took on an opponent who was 2 weight classes higher than him, Nate Diaz.
Connor then had to add weight in to make the weight class. Ask any athlete who competes at a high level, to add this kind of weight on last minute will have a huge negative impact on your performance with regards to endurance and speed. Nate Diaz is also a skilled black belt BJJ fighter whilst Connor is still inexperience in comparison on the ground. However, what this fight does show is that Nate being a vegan didn’t inhibit his performance, but it certainly wasn’t the reason why he won. Because 5 months later they had a rematch and Connor came out on top defeating Nate Diaz. Interestingly enough, Connor’s diet didn’t change and the rematch was never mentioned in the movie.
This shows how easy it is for movie documentaries to cherry pick evidence when they are looking for examples to support their argument. However, if you want to find evidence which is not open to much criticism, then at least tell the whole story, not just the part that suits your belief. If I was to do the same, I could argue that eating unhealthy processed foods will make you a far superior athlete than a "healthy" plant based eating athlete. I would then use the example of Usain Bolt, who ate an estimated 100 chicken nuggets from McDonald's per day and broke the 100m World Olympic Record.
But! I wouldn’t be that foolish to suggest everyone starts following this diet, because although this is true of Usain Bolt, it is not enough to prove that everyone will have the same results just from eating chicken nuggets. There are a lot more factors involved here as well as questionable health issues than just the cherry-picked assumptions used to prove an argument.
Movie Claim 4:
“Endothelium function (cells that line the interior of your blood vessels) is impaired when eating fatty (SFA – saturated fatty acids) meat.” To prove this, scientists had participants eat two different burritos, one was plant based and one was meat based. They then show a comparison between their blood results. The blood results from a vegan burrito showed it to be “nice and clear,” whilst the meat based blood results showed it to be "cloudy."
Eating a plant-based diet will produce “nice and clear” blood results. However, eating fatty meats that will cause cloudy blood results which can lead to vascular damage and will effect functionality.
I love how they use the words “nice and clear” to mean something positive. The participants reactions to this was "I don't want my blood to be cloudy." This is a pre-supposition tactfully used to suggest that “nice and clear” is a good sign and a cloudy image is a bad sign. But who says cloudy isn’t better? If there is fat in the blood and fat is your primary source of energy (ketosis) then perhaps this is a good thing? If we were to open up your liver and you see all that “yucky” green bile that it produces, would you prefer a liver that produces a “nice and clear” bile? If you did you’d probably have sever health issues as your body struggles to rid the harmful toxins we normally excrete as waste.
Furthermore, If we look at other studies regarding endothelium in relations to fatty acids found in meat we can also stumble across this:
Conclusion: The replacement of SFAs with MUFAs or carbohydrates in healthy subjects does not affect vascular function. This trial was registered at Current Controlled Trials (http://www.controlled-trials.com/ISRCTN) as ISRCTN 29111298.
Funnily enough this paper was mentioned in the film and cherry picked, but they seem to have ignored the conclusion. Always know that for every bit of research that says one thing, there will always be other research that will say something else. Reason for this is that people will always find what they are looking for if they have a strong enough objective to find “the right kind” of evidence to support their claims. Problem is that claim is often contextualized and misleading as has been founded here and throughout the documentary.
Movie Claim 5:
“Humans do not have any specialized genetic anatomical or physiological adaptations to meat consumption. By contrast we have many adaptations to plant consumption. We have longer digestive tracks than do carnivores and this allows humans to digest plants with longer processing times.”
Based on our genetic design, humans are not designed to eat meat, we are designed to eat plants.
Well let’s compare the anatomical and physiological adaptations between: carnivores (meat eaters) Herbivores (plant eaters) and Omnivores (plant and meat eaters):
Humans digestive track is regarded as a medium length digestive track (30 Feet). Whilst it’s longer than a lions (carnivore – meat eater) it’s not anywhere near that of a cow (herbivore – plant eater) being at 130 Feet.
The first point of animal protein breakdown happens within the digestive system and requires a very high level of hydrochloric acid to support this process which positions it on the lower end of the stomach PH level. Humans are similar to that of a lion, as our levels are at around PH3, whilst a cows is much higher being more neutral at around PH7. Herbivores are generally higher as they have very little need for hydrochloric acid, as they do not consume animal protein.
The teeth are another indication to the type of food we are designed to eat and is what commonly separates carnivores from herbivores. Lions have sharp teeth to tear the meat down into smaller pieces in order to aid digestion. Cows have flat teeth as they only eat plants, the need to break down the carbohydrates before digestion is not needed as the digestion commences predominantly in the mouth. Humans have sharp teeth at the front of our mouth and flat teeth towards the rear.
So with these three “genetic anatomical” and “physiological adaptations” listed, it would seem that we are suited to eat both plants and meat, which places us to be omnivores, not herbivores as the film implies.
The purpose of this blog was not to mock nor invalidate a vegan plant-based lifestyle. It was simply to highlight some of the many claims made within this movie and show how easy it is to mislead and falsify evidence to support a very biased argument. It’s amazing how influential documentaries can be when cherry picking data to support their claims and unfortunately the nutrition and fitness industry is plagued with similar practices. It can become a very confusing place at times, with seemingly sound advice given which is plagued with hidden agenda undertones. “Buy my product/movie if you want to learn how to live a superior way of life,” are normally the undertones at hand.
Never take things as gospel, especially on tv, even in my blog. We all can have agendas and we can all find biased opinions to support our arguments. Do your own research and always question what you hear. My job is to help separate the anecdotes from the meta-analysis I research in hope to give you a better understanding and education into the world of health and nutrition. However, your job is to not just take what I say on face value, but also do your own research and come to your own conclusions and not somebody else's. I see a lot of nutritional goodness in both plants and in meat and in my personal opinion neither should be compromised.
If you do follow a vegan (plant-based) lifestyle, then I would highly recommend you research the supplements you need to stay at your optimum level of performance and also to maintain an overall healthy balance. Supplementing vitamin B12, vitamin C (with non-heme foods) and branch chain amino acids (like leucine) will be paramount for your well being.
So to end this blog, let’s ask… what’s my agenda?
Well... maybe you might seek my help one day for a nutrition plan. Who knows, in the mean time I hope you enjoyed this blog, thanks for reading. I will be releasing more every 2 weeks. Stay tuned, subscribe to my email list and most importantly, stay heathy.