From Guest Contributor: Andrew Bannout
Many people have had some extra time to browse Netflix in the past few months due to stay-at-home mandates to combat COVID-19. Some of you may have come across the documentary, The Game Changers. Guest writer, Andrew Bannout, has written a review of this documentary and its overall thesis. Check it out below and comment your own thoughts on the documentary!
The Game Changers, produced by vegan activist and former UFC fighter James Wilks, written by Joseph Pace and directed by Louis Psihoyos, is a documentary that boasts major advantages of adhering to a plant-based diet, however its methods and evidence for doing so are over ambitious. Don’t get me wrong, the film did a wonderful job of delivering the audience a set of entertaining and inspirational anecdotal accounts of world class athletes who transitioned to a total plant-based diet. The major concerns with this film come down to 3 important points that should be addressed: the testimonials from athletes depicted in the film are anecdotal, the film was heavily biased towards adhering to only a plant-based diet and lauding it as the optimal diet in every sense, and the data and scientific studies documented in the film were both manipulated and conducted on small, marginal populations of people (Kita, Paul).
As someone who is an athlete and does plenty of personal research into nutrition for performance and optimal health, I understand the claims the film made regarding the benefits of consuming a strictly plant-based diet. I have done my own nutritional experimentation where I’ve omitted certain foods from my diet, increased the amounts of certain macronutrients, and played around with time restricted eating, or intermittent fasting schedules. What I can most confidently claim on my behalf, and what most nutritionists, physicians, dieticians, and many others in the medical field can claim is that a balanced, nutrient dense diet is the best for the majority of the population, medical conditions and allergies aside of course. At the onset of the film, I could tell that the information and athletes displayed were aiming to deliver a one-sided argument about why eating plants is good, and why eating animal products is bad.
Typically, when films present an audience with a heavily controversial topic, both sides of the story are presented and the decision to accept or reject the claims are left to the audience. The Game Changers goes full throttle into showcasing why plant-based athletes perform better and live healthier lives than their meat-eating counterparts. This was a major turnoff to me, mostly because an optimal diet, for sustainability, in addition to health and performance purposes, has not been established by any scientific body (Kresser, Chris). Yet the producers and athletes, although having interviewed and cited accomplished medical professionals, still do not reflect the studies and facts accurately. For example, Nate Diaz, the UFC fighter who submitted the Notorious Conor McGregor in one of the sports most anticipated bouts, was said to have been a vegan. This is partially true, as Diaz adheres to a plant-based diet only during preparation for a fight. Outside of that time frame, he is a pescatarian. What is also questionable was the bold claim made that Diaz won the fight because his plant-based diet was optimal and lead to his win.
Regarding some of the studies that were conducted on individuals who switched to a plant-based diet, many viewers are not aware that these studies were typically done on individuals whose nutritional habits and overall state of health were poor to begin with (Kresser, Chris). By using this population of people in the study, the results were bound to be astounding and eye-opening. If I were to suddenly switch to a diet of fresh vegetables, fruit, and legumes from a diet of red meat, refined carbohydrates, and sugar, then my markers for body fat, cholesterol, lean muscle mass, and overall cognitive functioning would be remarkable and serve as a great indicator of diet superiority. Also, what was not disclosed was the number of participants in each study, which were very low for results with powerful health claims meant to reflect the general population.
Overall, I think that when it comes to nutrition, what is best to consume and what is best to avoid consuming must come down to the individual’s idiosyncrasies: their genetics, body composition, level of activity, health predispositions, allergies, culture and preferences to say the least. I did enjoy many of the scenes and personal stories of athletic success, but at the end of the day, any film or entity presenting a population with strong claims that can affect an individual’s daily life and their choices must be transparent in their sources, must be non-biased, and must be totally factual and pragmatic. Essentially, a middle ground should be common ground.
For more info, check out:
Kita, Paul. “This New Documentary Says Meat Will Kill You. Here’s Why It’s Wrong.” Men’s Health 16 September 2019.
Kresser, Chris. “Debunking the Game Changers with Joe Rogan.” Chris Kresser, chriskresser.com/debunking-the-game-changers-joe-rogan/.
Kresser, Chris. “My Appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience.” Chris Kresser, 23 Aug. 2019, chriskresser.com/why-you-should-eat-meat-my-appearance-on-the-joe-rogan-experience/.