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Debunking ‘The Game Changers’ Netflix Documentary

Netflix has dropped a giant turd on my industry again.

Another piece of content designed to get people in a flap and drive up their subscriber numbers.

I’m talking about the very pro-vegetarian/vegan documentary, The Game Changers, which was released on Netflix recently.

I’ve had a lot of questions about it, which I’ll address in this article, suffice to say that I consider this to be just the latest fecal incident in a long list of outrageous claims you may recognize as headlines from recent years. Claims such as:

  • High-fat (keto) diets will help you burn more fat / cure cancer / make you live longer
  • Sugar is as addictive as cocaine
  • The carnivore (meat only) diet will cure depression and disease
  • Connor McGregor lost to Nate Diaz because he ate meat.

(The last one is what they allude to at the start of this documentary.)

Netflix makes money from people subscribing. People care a lot about food. Celebrity endorsement = believably in most people’s minds, and this purposefully has famous people in it. Netflix’s incentive is to create things that are inflammatory because it gets people talking and drives up subscriber numbers.

Sadly, this has filled the heads of millions of people with bad info, including some of my friends and readers, so I feel the need to write this.

Here’s how I’ll proceed:

  1. Recommendations for vegetarians and vegans interested in getting jacked.
  2. Calling out the bad science and questionable BS in The Game Changers.
  3. My viewpoint on vegetarian and vegan diets.

1) Recommendations for vegetarians and vegans looking to get jacked.

Q) I’m a vegetarian, do I need to make any modifications to your standard recommendations?

(This is from the site’s FAQ. Because nothing here has changed.)

Yes. Generally speaking, you’d need to consume approximately 20% more high-quality plant protein (i.e., pea & soy) to be on par with animal protein in terms of amino acid profile quality.

Regarding vegans specifically:

  • All vegans will need to supplement with vitamin B12 because you won’t be able to get enough from your diet. 1,000 mcg (1mg) per day.
  • Most vegans are at a high risk of vitamin D (unless you get daily sun exposure without sunscreen) and iodine deficiency (unless you eat a lot of sea vegetables). So consider taking 2,000 I.U.s of vitamin D and 90 micrograms of iodine per day, respectively.
  • Some vegans will fall short on their calcium needs. Consider 1,000 mg daily.

2) Calling out the bad science in The Game Changers

Helpfully, just as I was writing this today, my two super-smart friends Greg Nuckols and Eric Trexler decided to cover it on the Stronger by Science podcast. (Listen here, skip to the 27-minute mark.)

They nailed it, and this is my summary of what they said.

The documentary treats diet choices as a false dichotomy between a vegan diet and the worst interpretation of a western diet (super-high fat, lots of processed meat, with a ton of sugars and starches). Nobody reading this is likely to eat like that, and nobody is questioning that the former will be healthier than the latter, for most people.

Debunking some claims:

Claim: If you eat a vegan diet, you will live longer.

If you compare vegans to any random omnivore — sure, vegans are generally healthier. But this doesn’t account for other health behaviors. Vegans are less likely to smoke, drink, and more likely to exercise. When comparing vegans who made the decision for health-related reasons to health-conscious omnivores, those differences in lifespan and chronic disease risk essentially disappear.

Claim: Gladiators had a high bone density and only ate plants.

Sure! Most retired American footballers have high bone mineral density. But they are large athletic people, who had been loading the hell out of their skeleton for decades and ate enough. This is not down to their individual diets.

Claim: Nate Diaz beat Connor McGregor in a fight because eating meat products makes you worse at fighting.

There is absolutely no basis for this claim. It also conveniently ignores the fact that Diaz fought a weight class higher than McGregor, and then McGregor beat him in the rematch.

Claim: Cows have more muscle than a human, but cows don’t eat meat. How do you explain that one?

Their digestive systems are different. They have four stomachs (kinda), which allow them to derive a lot more protein from the plants they consume. By this logic, you could argue that circadian rhythms are not important because raccoons are awake all night.

Claim: Humans are not carnivores. (A jawbone is shown.)

Agreed. We’re omnivores. Again, this is here to set up a false dichotomy with a meat-only diet.

Claim: Protein is not a key energy substrate for high-energy exercise.

Correct. But nobody in the contemporary sports world believes this. It was there to set up another ridiculous dichotomy — you’re going to have a high carb diet, or you’re going to have a diet that includes some amount of animal protein. They suggest that by having protein in your diet you push out room for carbs to fuel your workouts. You would have to have a crazily high protein intake to do that.

Other criticisms:

1) They disregard the importance of protein quality.

Sure, if you have a diverse diet from several different protein sources and are eating enough, you’re unlikely to be clinically deficient in any particular amino acid and die a horrible death because of it. But they threw out the concept of protein quality, which goes against the weight of the sports nutrition evidence on the performance and recovery benefits.

2) A horrendously performed leg press.

A head touched two knees.

3) A smattering of weird demonstrations presented as if they were rigorous scientific experiments.

No, there’s a whole field dedicated to this that rolled their eyes.

4) They suggested that the addition of any animal protein addition to a meal ruined that meal from a nutrition perspective and became a harmful, unhealthy meal.

This is far from unique to this documentary, but it’s just not accurate.

5) They cherry-pick several athletes who became successful after going vegan, suggesting that this proves something. It does not. 

First, this ignores all the VASTLY more numerous counter-examples and the role that random chance can play. But let’s play along — why may an athlete have found a performance benefit from going vegan? Well, if an athlete’s diet was carbohydrate-deficient prior, going vegan would have bumped that.​


3) My Viewpoint On Vegetarian / Vegan Diets

The documentary is shit, but I am not saying vegetarian or vegan diets are shit.

It’s absolutely possible to have a vegetarian diet that will support your strength and physique goals. But there is no denying that setting up a vegan diet in a way that will won’t potentially compromise health and performance is more tricky.​

(I’m not an RD and don’t work with vegans for this reason, as I don’t know enough to advise. However, here’s an excellent article on Stronger by Science for anyone interested: Plant Gains? Advice to the Vegetarian and Vegan Athlete.)

If you wish to become a vegan for ethical, environmental, moral, religious, or other reasons, please go ahead! But don’t become a vegan because some documentary scared you into it.

And if you are a vegan and wish to persuade people over to your way of thinking, don’t use this documentary to do so. The ends don’t justify the means (deception). Persuasion based on lies will backfire.

So, how should you eat?

The current state of nutritional evidence is the same as it was before the documentary was released — it does not support the claim that a vegetarian or vegan diet is best for our health, nor that plant protein is superior for physique and physical performance.

(For those who would like to dig deeper, Menno Henselmans does a very good job of covering the data around this here.)

There’s scope for flexibility with your dietary choices. This is a great thing!

  • Be active — this does a lot of things that a diet simply can’t.
  • Maintain your body composition in a relatively healthy state of leanness.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fiber, preferably from a variety of sources.
  • Don’t eat a bunch of charred, burned, fatty, processed meats.

Could we get far more nuanced about nutrition setup and talk about calories, protein, carbohydrate to fat intake ratios, and meal timing? Sure, but the basics above don’t change. (To receive my free book and nutrition email course on that, enter your email address in the box below)

Be thoughtful about what information you consume. The quality of ideas you put in determines the quality of your thinking.

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Tyler
Tyler

Andy, what’s your take on the recent “James Wilks and Chris Kessler” Debate on Joe Rogan’s podcast?

Sharon
Sharon

Great Article. The doc almost sucked me in, but everyone’s body is different. You HAVE to find what works for YOU. Period. Allllsoooo, Can we mention Rich Froning…”Fittest Man on Earth” four times. Protein shakes made w WHOLE MILK multiple times a day. If I did that, I would never poop again..LOL! Everyone is different. Love your breakdown:

There’s scope for flexibility with your dietary choices. This is a great thing!
Be active — this does a lot of things that a diet simply can’t.
Maintain your body composition in a relatively healthy state of leanness.
Eat plenty of vegetables and fiber, preferably from a variety of sources.
Don’t eat a bunch of charred, burned, fatty, processed meats.

Anna
Anna

Thanks – this was a really interesting read. At first when watching the documentary I thought perhaps veganism was the best way forward, but I started to question it myself (especially when I saw the leg press – WTF!!!). I wonder how many calories I’d need to consume to meet my nutritional requirements and also would the high carb diet cause me to put on weight because, while I’m a regular gym go-er I’m not an athlete training for hours every day.

Rob
Rob

While some of the ‘science’ in the film is quite laughable, I think just highlighting the fact that a number of athletes at the absolute peak of their sport thrive without issue on a Vegan diet is important. The film feels like a miscalculated knee jerk reaction to the many people in the media, the fitness industry and generally every day that say ‘but where do you get your protein’ and claim you cant perform well when plant based.

For reference I’ve been a vegan for four and half years for ethical and environmental reasons. While I wouldn’t claim my performance has improved being on a vegan diet, I dont feel hampered by it and most certainly feel more at ease not eating animals.

Rob
Rob

Thanks for the reply Andy. I only recently came across the website and have to say I’ve found it very useful. Thanks for all the high quality free content.

Jason Anderson
Jason Anderson

Hey Andy. How have you figured that Netflix is shitting on your industry by funding this film?
I’m a 50yr old man who has avoided statins by changing to a plant based diet 2 years ago. Also a man who has become a gym junkie about 5 years ago.
I read the China Study 2years ago and am convinced that avoiding meat is best for me.
I liked the film. James Wilks is an amazing individual.

Daniel
Daniel

I suggest watching the movie Dominion free on youtube. there are more important things than calories or macros

Berke
Berke

Hi Andy, first thing first I am on the same page with you for the most of the topics above you mentioned. I’d like to look from a totally different pov and have your opinion on that.
So i cant stop thinking since the meat industry is so huge (almost untouchable) who does back up this doc? Not from body pers view but from healthy life and better blood values pov, do you think veggie or vegan life is better ? (Again, most of the so called proofs in the doc is non-sense, i want to learn your thoughts based on your experience/researches)

Following you with all respect! (Even read your book via amazon)

Best
Berke

Berke
Berke

Hi Andy, I meant not from body building / increase muscle density & volume perspective but from visceral organ and general health perspective

John Kimsul
John Kimsul

Great article. It was thoughtful and well written. Keep up the great work.

Scott
Scott

As a supplementing, whole-food, plant-based vegan (phew!), I appreciate this article of yours. You acknowledge vegetarians and vegans will read this article, and you compassionately alert them to the need for conservative supplementation, just as should be done in omnivore articles (Vitamin D, sometimes B12).

Btw, I’ve read elsewhere (from Dr. Joel Fuhrman and Dr. Michael Greger) that Vitamin K2 is also recommended.

Scott
Scott

Thanks for the links, Andy. I’ll read them both. I always enjoy Stronger By Science content.

Below are two additional vegan guideline resources you might want to bookmark in case you come across more vegans (we’re growing, after all). There’s no presumption of size, strength, or sports performance gains, just longevity and healthspan, but it’s always good to read broadly.

Speaking of reading broadly, I found your article (and thus your site) through Tony Gentilcore. I love his content, too.

https://veganhealth.org/daily-needs/

https://www.theveganrd.com/vegan-nutrition-101/vegan-nutrition-primers/recommended-supplements-a-vegan-nutrition-primer/

Kevin
Kevin

Are you using “plant based” and “vegan” interchangeably here when referring to diet? I think an important distinction should be made, where plant based just means the majority of what you eat are from plants (like 80% calories from plants and 20% calories from animal products for example), and not the entirety of what you eat. I know some people would disagree with that definition, so I think you should clarify what you meant. You say: “it is not necessary for everyone to eat a plant-based diet for optimal health.” do you mean 100% vegan by that or something like 80% plants and 20% animal products? If you mean vegan, I’d substitute that in for plant-based to be more accurate.

Maria Resende
Maria Resende

Hi Andy,

Could you please provide the articles (scholarly/peer reviewed) from where you gathered all this information? Thank you.

Maria

Maria Resende
Maria Resende

Thank you, Andy. I appreciate the link and the article. I found it interesting and compelling so I decided to dig further and read the articles cited. I found that ALL citations were sponsored by the meat, egg, dairy industries, or Nutrition 21. Also, the Annals of Internal Medicine’s recommendation is based on an assumption the majority of individuals are not willing to modify their eating habits or feel a burden to do so.

• Händel et al. (2019): This work was funded by MatPrat – Norwegian Centre for Consumer Information: Egg and Meat.
• Daly et al. (2014): Supported by a competitive, peer-reviewed grant from Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd.
• Campbell et al. (1999): Monetary gift from Nutrition 21.
• Haub et al. (2002): Supported by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
• Hartman et al. (2007): Supported by a grant from the US National Dairy Council.
• [2]: funded by the Dairy Farmers of Canada.
• [4]: Supported by the US National Dairy Council.
• [5]: This work was funded by a research award from the US Dairy Research Institute.

Again, thank you. I think it’s important to have these kind of discussions so I appreciate you opening this forum.

Donal O Riordan
Donal O Riordan

Great article Andy, glad you tackled this topic.

So much poor quality information being consumed by people on mass.

Orinn
Orinn

But Arnie was in the documentary, must be credible 😂😂

Chris F.
Chris F.

Hi Andy,

My wife and I watched the documentary last night and we had been debating all morning long about it. I will be forwarding this to her as my finishing move! I agree this documentary was shit on many levels. Especially the part where they said plants have all the essential amino acids we need. Oh yeah? How much of them? What percentage of the food is “all” the essential amino acids? The amount they have is not significant. Should I eat 5 pounds of kale to get all these amino acids? Or maybe 2 eggs, a little chicken breast and a giant salad with a little oil and vinegar? I’ll go with the ladder every time.

Anyways, great info like always. Thanks, Andy.

Russ Edwards
Russ Edwards

Hey Andy

FUCK YOU!!!

You are the ignorant one, that is if you think “science” is important

And yes, you can quote me.

ilo
ilo

Some people are just a waste of time because their mind is already closed. That is you, Andy. A waste of time.

Chris
Chris

Hey Andy, thanks for this post.

Let me give you a small personal anecdote from my past:

I have been on a vegetarian and then vegan diet in my teenage years, and really regret this in hindsight. It stunted my growth, I had severe deficiencies in various macro and micronutrients, and got pretty sick. Changing to a balanced diet with meat, fish, vegs fruit and starches changed my health almost over night.

This “documentation” really is nothing but propaganda. Seeing that Arnold is backing it made me sad tbh.

Have a great Weekend my friend!

Yours,
Chris

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