If you enjoy researching nutrition, the documentary ‘The Game Changers’ may just be at the top of your Netflix watch list. Or, perhaps you already watched the film and wanted to research the other side of the argument.
Filled with anecdotes, research and studies, ‘The Game Chargers’ argues that a plant-based diet holds the key to athletic success. Produced by James Cameron, the film claims that animal products — including white and red meat, fish, eggs and dairy products — can hinder athletic performance.
There are just a few problems. The documentary has been heavily criticised for selecting evidence that fits its narrative, blinding itself to counterarguments. In addition, the two studies featured in the film are heavily flawed — which we debunk below.
Below, we present the rebuttal to ‘The Game Changers’ film, carefully left out by filmmakers.
‘The Game Changers’: Film Recap
‘The Game Changers’ documentary follows the journey of and is narrated by former MMA and UFC fighter James Wilks. After following an omnivore lifestyle for most of his life, Wilks switches to a vegan diet.
James Wilks narrates his journey by pulling in other high-performing athletes who made the switch to a vegan or vegetarian diet. Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, Australian sprinter Morgan Mitchell, strongman Patrik Baboumian, Olympic lifter Kendrick Farris, martial artist Jackie Chan and bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger are just a few non-vegetarian athletes who made the switch to veganism and claimed to see results because of it.
Throughout the film, Wilks discusses surface-level research supporting his claims. He points to various studies that state vegan diets help strengthen heart health, increase muscle mass, decrease risk of chronic disease, improve athletic performance and reduce cancer risk. Unfortunately, many of the sources used in the film are flawed, and ‘The Game Changers’ producers have been criticised for skewing scientific research to fit their agenda.
‘The Game Changers’: What the Film Gets Right
Listen, we love scientists, nutritionists and researchers who question conventional wisdom and medicine. Therefore, we can respect — even when we disagree — those who go against the status quo.
So, for our love of science and questioning the conventional, we acknowledge that the film gets a few things right:
- Yes, plant protein does contain essential amino acids: Essential amino acids (those the body cannot produce on its own) can be found in plants. While it will certainly be more difficult to get enough protein on a meatless diet, foods including legumes, nuts and seeds (or nut butters, like peanut butter) are good protein sources for vegan athletes albeit typically less bioavailable than their animal counterparts .
- Plants contain a host of vitamins and minerals: While extremely rare and typically in lower & less bioavailable forms, there are a few plants that contain nutrients often found in animal products, such as vitamin B12 and iron . In addition, they contain large amounts of vitamins, like vitamin C, that are only found in trace amounts in animal sources (aside from liver and other organ meats, which have been found to contain vitamin C).
- You should build a diet based on whole foods: We believe in building a way of eating that revolves around real, whole foods. To an extent, ‘The Game Changers’ film supports this as well. (We have a couple qualms with their approach, but we digress.)
- There are scientific reviews that show vegan diets decrease risk of cardiovascular disease: Some research suggests that plant-based diets may reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 40% and Type 2 diabetes by 50% . However, it’s important to note that these are scientific reviews, not studies.
‘The Game Changers’ Debunked: What the Film Leaves Out
While we support those questioning conventional nutritional advice, we do not support blatantly ignoring scientific research. And for all of our researching and questioning nutrition, we understand this: If you look hard enough, you can find a study to support nearly any claim. Or, you can cherry-pick certain findings within a study to skew the results, which is exactly what ‘The Game Changers’ does on Netflix.
The documentary relies on anecdotes from athletes, which are not scientific studies, and flawed research. Here's what the film gets wrong (or intentionally leaves out).
1. Gladiators Weren’t Vegans
The documentary references an article (note: not a study) published by ‘Archeology’ that suggests Roman gladiators may have followed plant-based, carbohydrate-dense diets .
Even within the same piece, it’s clear that gladiators weren’t vegans. ‘Archeology’ says gladiators consumed calcium through 'brews of charred wood or bone ash'. — i.e., an animal-based substance (and perhaps a sign that gladiators drank bone broth).
This is just one example of how the film exaggerated claims about scientific studies while carefully leaving out details from the same research.
2. Iron Deficiency Anaemia Is Common in Vegan Diets
Throughout the film, Wilks makes the argument that every nutrient — vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, you name it — found in animal protein can be just as easily found in plant-based sources.
However, science has repeatedly shown that vegan and vegetarian diets pose an increased risk of iron deficiency anaemia in athletes . Anemic athletes will experience feelings of weakness, tiredness and fatigue, which can easily negate athletic performance.
3. Corporations Often Fund Scientific Research
Throughout the film, Wilks denounces various science-backed studies because they were 'funded by the Big Meat industry'. While we can understand his frustration, here's the truth the documentary skillfully leaves out: Meat eaters aren't the only ones funding research.
Within the film, producers cite a meta-analysis where study participants experience inflammatory responses to eating hamburgers . This study, ironically, was funded by the Hass Avocado Board.
4. Low-Carb Eating Plans Help Lower Heart Disease
Throughout the film, Wilks praises a high-carb, plant-based diet for increasing metabolic function, lowering the risk of obesity and decreasing cholesterol levels. In doing so, he completely ignores a growing stack of evidence that eating meat and following a low-carb approach can accomplish all of the above.
Studies show that low-carb diets, like the keto diet, can decrease a number of cardiovascular risk factors. In fact, these studies show that meat consumption and a low-carb approach can decrease your risk of Type 2 diabetes, lower HDL cholesterol levels, encourage weight loss and improve insulin resistance — even more so than a low-fat 'healthy diet' .
5. Its Two Main Studies Are Heavily Flawed
The documentary conducts two studies during the film itself. One focuses on a blood test of three football players — yes, three — after they eat meat burritos vs. after they eat vegan burritos. The second studies nighttime erections of college football players after eating meat.
These two studies were flawed in uncountable ways. First, the sample size (three athletes) was laughable, at best. Second, neither of these studies had a control group, or factored in certain aspects like training schedules, sleep, muscle fatigue or supplementation with other foods. Lastly and most importantly, neither study actually focused on something related to the athletes’ physical performance — kilos lifted, distance ran, speed measured or height jumped — the entire supposed point of the film.
In addition, the film referenced a B12 ‘study’ which claimed that vitamin B12 isn’t made by animals. Instead, animals consumed B12 through bacteria in the soil and water, but due to the increase of pesticides these vitamins have disappeared.
This is factually wrong. While B12 can be made by bacteria, it’s bacteria that is made within the gut. In fact, it was later found that the B12 vitamins found in soil was because it had manure in it — i.e., B12 that was ‘fertilised’ (pun intended) in the gut, then passed through the digestive tract.
Always Conduct Your Own Research
Debunking ‘The Game Changers’ film was frighteningly easy. The documentary based its argument off cherry-picked evidence, flawed studies and anecdotal research. In doing so, it misleads its viewers and ignores a host of counterarguments.
When constructing any eating plan, we encourage you to do your own research, question conventional wisdom, listen to your body and focus on real, whole foods. While we enjoy questioning the status quo — which is why we explore subject areas like intermittent fasting and the carnivore diet — we also believe in scientific research. Something, unfortunately, ‘The Game Changers’ film often ignores.
Rather than cutting out all meat products to improve athletic performance, we encourage you to follow a whole foods approach. Avoid inflammatory foods including legumes, sugar and grains, drink plenty of water, and eat nose-to-tail, consuming gut-healing foods including bone broth, collagen and organ meats.
All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.
It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
We do however recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.