If you know a little bit about Nutrition Science one question you’ve no doubt been asked recently is “what do you think about The Game Changers?”
And if you don’t know a little bit about Nutrition Science, one question you’ve no doubt asked yourself after watching the documentary is “should I be switching to a plant-based nutrition approach?”
While a comprehensive analysis of the claims made in what I can only call “What the Health 2” is not viable given it would probably take me 20,000 words, a thesis chapter to my PhD and a salary akin to the executive producer James Cameron… I am going to highlight some major hypocrisies in this production which you might’ve missed, and which will hopefully encourage you to question the validity and credibility of this “movie” as a whole, and think more critically.
Before we dig in, I’d like to make it clear that I am not “anti-vegan”, “pro-meat” nor do I have any reservations against those adopting a vegan approach for ethical or religious reasons, I respect that whole-heartedly. What I don’t like, is when people incorrectly (based on the body of evidence I will discuss later) claim that a vegan approach is BETTER for health and performance compared to a balanced omnivorous approach with moderate meat consumption. Hell, if I was confident that a vegan approach was as good for performance and physique development as an omnivorous approach, I’d turn vegan too.
Now, let’s get into it.
1. Big budget, sh*t science
Let’s start with where Game Changers actually is impressive. The project took over seven years to complete, and in just one week it has generated more sales on iTunes than any other documentary in history, no small feat.
The film also boasts an impressive production team including James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oscar winning movie director Louie Psihoyos. Interestingly James Cameron also owns a vegan supplement company, and is most well-known for directing the film Avatar, which is as close to a non-fiction production as Game Changers. I’m sure I don’t need to point out the logical fallacy of using Arnold Schwarzenegger as a credible, celebrity proponent of the vegan diet, who achieved that said celebrity status across decades of high animal protein intake.
The point here is that while some might try to convince you that this film came from an altruistic motive to improve the health and performance of the global population, it is clear that millions of dollars were invested into developing a project with Hollywood polish…with the intentions of making millions more dollars.
This point is further solidified by the fact that far more emphasis was placed on using celebrity figures as opposed to credible nutrition scientists to support claims, as well as all “scientists” interviewed being vegan themselves (insert bias here). We must ask ourselves why Game Changershas not been endorsed by any credible nutrition researchers outside those interviewed in the film?
2. Vague definitions of “plant based” to encompass vegetarian AND vegan diets
One thing that really bothered me about this movie was the grouping of vegetarian and vegan under the umbrella term “plant based”. Vegetarian and vegan are not the same, and the film contradicts itself multiple time by skipping back and forth between the terms. Has anyone really defined what “plant based” means anyway? Does it mean 100% plants (vegan), 80% plants but eggs and dairy are fine (vegetarian), or what about lots of plant material at each meal but moderate consumption of animal protein? This is never made clear, and it allows the producers to cherry pick data from multiple diet approaches to give the impression that the evidence is more compelling/wide-reaching.
One of the major issues with advocating a vegan diet (at least for physique and sports athletes), is that plant-based protein sources are not “complete”, meaning they do not yield a full spectrum of essential amino acids. Plant-based protein sources are also notoriously low in leucine, one of the key branched-chain amino acids responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Of course, a vegetarian approach consuming complete protein in the form of dairy and eggs will be different (and superior) to a vegan approach with incomplete protein sources, yet the film uses data multiple times from vegetarians to support the efficacy of a VEGAN diet.
3. Ancient gladiators were vegan therefore it’s optimal for performance
This whole section of the film was just ludicrous. Firstly, they made the impression that the gladiators were eating a plant-based diet by choice to support combat and performance. That’s not true, gladiators just weren’t given meat because they were slaves, and meat was expensive.
Secondly it is portrayed as gladiators being some sort of apex athlete (insert ripped Russel Crowe image) in peak physical condition, whereas research suggests this is not at all the case. Let’s look at some sections from the Archaeological Institute of America on The Gladiator Diet.
“Gladiators, it seems, were fat. Consuming a lot of simple [complex] carbohydrates, such as barley, and legumes, like beans, was designed for survival in the arena. Packing in the carbs also packed on the pounds.”
“Gladiators needed subcutaneous fat,” the professor explained. “A fat cushion protects you from cut wounds and shields nerves and blood vessels in a fight.”
“cuts extended only as far as the fatty layer would have looked more spectacular and allowed the gladiator to fight on”.
So, if in your head you’re imagining some sort of Greek god-like physique when the word gladiator is mentioned, think again. Eating truly like a Roman gladiator of the time was probably a quick and cheap way to look more like a modern-day Comic Book Guy.
What about when we look at research on actual ancient athletes and not slaves?
“The ancient Greek athletes were heavy meat eaters. Mio of Crotona, the legendary wrestler who was never once brought to his knees over five Olympiads (532–516 BC), supposedly consumed gargantuan amounts of meat”
Food for thought…
4. Anecdotal hypocrisy
My favourite anecdotal support for the “plant based” approach was when they made the conclusion that the reason UFC fighter Nate Diaz beat Connor McGregor was because Connor was eating meat and Nate was not.
Why can I find an interview of Nate going on record saying he “eats eggs and a little bit of seafood”? Not exactly vegan, as far as I know.
How can the producers single out the difference in meat consumption for being the decider of the fight outcome while disregarding potential differences in training, fight style and ability (alongside the fact that Nate is just an all-around bad MF and with a brick for a skull).
And what’s the film team’s explanation for McGregor winning the rematch when there’s no evidence of either of the fighters changing their diets between fights? Or what about the other anecdotes of meat eaters who beat Nate during his career? I guess that clarification missed the final film cut…
Oh, and whilst we are at it how about strongman Patrik Baboumian who claimed that once he ditched animal products, his strength and size climbed – all the way to a world record!
Did anyone stop for a second to consider that it may have also been the addition (if not increase dosage) of Mexican supplements that aided his strongman career?
Game Changers, sure you can be an exceptional athlete while being vegan, but don’t try and say it’s going to make you a BETTER athlete.
5. 3 ounces of beef same protein as a peanut butter sandwich!
I loved this one.
The protagonist James explains how a vegan approach is a perfectly viable one for reaching protein requirements, as there is an equal amount of protein in 3 ounces of beef as there is in a peanut butter sandwich.
First of all, who’s eating 85 grams (3 ounces) of beef in a sitting. That’s about one chipolata…
Second of all, while there may be an equal amount of protein in the PB sandwich, there is also an extra ~35g of fat and an extra ~400 calories. In a society where one of our biggest global health issues is obesity and the associated increase in chronic diseases due to long-term overconsumption of calories, this supposed “health promoting” documentary wants to encourage us to go with the higher calorie/more calorically dense option for protein? Makes sense right…
One thing we also need to consider, which I touched on earlier, is that plant sources of protein don’t contain a full spectrum of essential amino acids.
From a paper Gorissen and Witard in 2018.
“..plant-based proteins generally exhibit lower digestibility, lower leucine content and deficiencies in certain essential amino acids such as lysine and methionine, which compromise the availability of a complete amino acid profile required for muscle protein synthesis. Based on currently available scientific evidence , animal-derived proteins may be considered more anabolic than plant-based protein sources.”
So, as well as the increase in calories with the PB sandwich option, you are also getting an inferior protein source for stimulating muscle growth.
6. Reliance on single studies and outdated research to support claims
A classic tactic used by the film makers of Game Changersis to cherry pick single studies that support their agenda, avoid discussing studies that DON’T support it, as well as omit recent meta analyses and systematic reviews (studies of studies = higher quality evidence).
Perhaps their most “convincing” research presented was the 2004 study, Nutrition Considerations for Vegetarian Athletes (yes vegetarian not vegan) by Susan Barr and Candice Rideout.
The authors state that “well-planned, appropriately supplemented vegetarian [not vegan] diets appear to effectively support athletic performance.
The authors use this as evidence of a “plant based” (encompassing both vegan and vegetarian) diet being conducive to performance.
This is despite the fact that since this piece was published no research has shown that removal of animal produce from the diet has any benefits on athletic performance.
But what does the recent research say about meat consumption, which was avoided in this film?
In a 2019 review of meat consumption from Johnston and colleagues titled “Dietary Guideline Recommendations from the Nutritional Recommendations Consortium” the following was concluded.
“The rationale for our recommendation to continue rather than reduce consumption of unprocessed red meat or processed meat is based on the following factors. First, the certainty of evidence for the potential adverse health outcomes associated with meat consumption was low to very low… Second, there was a very small and often trivial absolute risk reduction based on a realistic decrease of 3 servings of red or processed meat per week. The panel suggests that adults continue current unprocessed red meat consumption… Similarly, the panel suggests adults continue current processed meat consumption”
So, taken together, the RECENT review of ALL the research on meat consumption tells us that we SHOULD continue current levels of red and processed meat consumption without fear.
But, The Game Changers won’t want you to know that.
7. The diet we “evolved” to eat, but requires the most supplementation
A classic hypocrisy I hear all the time, is that humans are not evolved to eat meat, or drink the milk of other animals…and the vegan diet is what humans were “designed” to eat.
Why is it that a vegan diet requires supplementation of vitamin B12, and various protein supplements if you’re a high performing vegan athlete then? Were we evolved to need supplements made in a lab?
Let me ram this point home by touching on the use of Patrik Baboumian one of the world’s strongest men, in Game Changers.
The film will lead you to believe that his strength achievements were built on the backbone of a vegan diet approach. Patrik eloquently states that “Someone asked me how you can get as strong as an ox without eating any meat?” My answer was, have you ever seen an ox eating meat?”
Let’s have a look at a day of eating for Patrik which I managed to track down.
Morning: Meal 1
Post-Workout: Meal 2
- Smoothie – Black currants, frozen mixed fruit, 80 grams of protein, Glutamine, Beta-Alanine, 5 grams of Creatine, dried greens, turmeric, cinnamon, 5-10 grams BCAA’s, orange and mango juice, and water.
Lunch: Meal 3
- Vegan sausages
- Low-fat oven fries
- Other grilled veggies
Afternoon snack: Meal 4
- Protein shake – 50 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat
Dinner: Meal 5
- Cooked potatoes
Night Snack: Meal 6
- Peanuts – 60 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbs, and 90 grams of fat
- Protein smoothie – 50 grams of protein
I don’t know about you Patrik, but I don’t think Ox’s needed to have supplements with 4 of their 6 meals or were consuming over 50% of their protein requirements in the form of store bought brightly packaged protein shakes.
If this was the diet humans were “evolved” for, I wonder where our ancestors bought their BCAA’s and glutamine supplements.
This is a well-designed entertainment production using an A-list of expertise film producers, directors and celebrity influencers to misguide the public using anecdote, cherry-picked research unrepresentative of the BODY of research, and vague definitions of terminology to confuse the viewer.
A classic example of using scare tactics and shock value to draw in viewers and promote virality…with a means to one end. If you’re hiring Jeremy Cameron to produce this film, there’s one agenda, dollar signs.
While the multiple studies referenced give the impression that a non-meat diet approach is superior, not a single study provided evidence that actually removing animal produce improved performance.
The single studies referenced in the film do not agree with the more recent, more comprehensive research on meat consumption.
There are numerous hypocrisies throughout the film, which question the credibility of the whole project.
There are downsides to a vegan diet approach, namely requirements for heavy supplementation to reach a required intake of essential amino acids (particularly leucine) for maximising muscle growth/retention, and vitamin B12.
Reaching required protein intake using plant sources may promote higher body fat levels (as was in the case of the Roman gladiators) through higher caloric load (PB sandwich versus beef).
There is no compelling evidence that a vegan diet is healthier or more sustainable than a diet comprising lots of fruit and vegetables, with lean animal proteins in moderation.
The Western diet is not unhealthy from the lean animal produce consumed, it’s unhealthy because of the calorie dense, micronutrient poor, junk food… which just happens to often involve meat (cheeseburgers, hotdogs). Remove those and of course you will be healthier, but it IS NOT from removing the meat per se.
We are all for people making their own informed choices surrounding their diet and there is nothing wrong with choosing not to eat meat or animal products if that choice is well-informed and supports your goals and ideals. However, there is plenty wrong with propaganda and dodgy use of science aka disinformation with the intentions of misleading and scaring people with regards to their dietary choices.
Question everything friends.