‘The Game Changers’ documentary is little more than a cleverly-disguised attempt to scare people into being vegan with false health and performance claims.
Netflix benefits their view count from the outrage; the backers (James Cameron, among them) benefit financially from their vegan product investments.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons (ethical, environmental, religious) someone may choose to follow a vegan diet; health and performance can’t be considered among them.
This article debunks the claims made and wraps up with recommendations for those who choose to follow a vegan diet.
Debunking Game Changers
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.
The main problem is that 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 is questioning that the former will be healthier than the latter, for most people.
There are three critically important things to remember before I proceed to debunk specific claims, and that is the incentives of the parties involved.
Nutrition Advice Driven By Conflicts of Interest
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.
The executive producer, James Cameron, benefits financially from an increase in demand for vegan products.
He and his wife’s company, Verdient Foods, is in a joint partnership with Ingredion, which is investing $140 million to expand its range of plant-based foods.
And in case you are wondering…
My business is online physique coaching. I get paid based on my client results, and my business lives or dies based on my reputation. I have written this because I want to protect my clients from believing this shit because it will be bad for their results.
Debunking Specific 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 decided for health-related reasons to health-conscious omnivores, those differences in lifespan and chronic disease risk virtually 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.
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. 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 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.
3) 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.
4) 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.
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 won’t potentially compromise health and performance is more tricky.
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.
Recommendations for vegetarians and vegans
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.
I have a full article on this here: How To Minimize Muscle Growth and Performance Compromises While Following A Vegan Diet.
Recommendations on How People Should Eat To Support Their Health and Physique Goals
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.
Avoid the Joe Rogan podcasts on the topic. Chris Kresser, who Joe interviewed to debunk it, is highly biased in the other direction.
If you are looking for the single most thorough critique of The Game Changers Documentary out on the internet, Dr. Mel Davis of Renaissance Periodization has put together an absolute gem of an artixle here. So, if you’re thinking, “But what about…” then I suggest you go there and hit control+f to search for her opinion on the debunk to the claim you’re looking for.