The Game Changers: A Critique
A lot of people asked me about the Game Changers film on Netflix.
It features a number of vegan athletes, and Arnie.
Arnie who, as he explains during his brief cameo, ate lots of meat on his way to winning several bodybuilding competitions.
Arnie who, as is not so explicitly explained, has a supplement company selling plant-based proteins and greens powders.
From and entertainment and story-telling point of view, it’s very well done (James Cameron is one of the best story tellers ever after all).
But from a nutrition science point of view, The Game Changers film is very poor, as I'll outline here.
If there’s one plant-based product that the film has in abundance, it’s cherries.
As in, the ones they pick to back up their side of the story.
The cherry picking of athletes who have gone vegan clearly ignores the large majority of other medal-winning athletes who are not vegan.
They are anecdotes, nothing more.
Likewise, the use of doctors who have a vested interest is very misleading.
Almost to a man, they have written books that advocate plant-based vegan diets.
So, by the way, has James Cameron’s wife.
The more people who want to go vegan, the more books they sell.
Or the more people pay them to be their doctor (in the US private health care system).
Ultimately, the more people want to go vegan,
The more money they make.
So there’s that bias.
Knowing that people now like to see evidence, and proof, it flashes ‘studies’ at us at an alarming rate (too close to actually read or analyse, of course).
Funded research is (correctly) criticised, but is then countered with similarly funded research (from the Avocado board rather than the Beef board).
A classic piece of research, that I’ve referred to recently, and that vegans love to trot out, is The One that links Processed Meat with Colorectal Cancer.
The bottom line stat is that 50 grams of processed meat daily (about one sausage) increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 17%.
But what is not mentioned is that the baseline, lifetime risk for colorectal cancer is 5%.
We can use simple maths here.
So we start at 5%, or 0.05.
We munch the sausage.
Stay with me… minds out of the gutter please.
There’s a 17% increase from the starting point.
17% of 0.05 is 0.0085.
Add this to the starting point.
So now our chances of getting colorectal cancer have increased from 0.05 to 0.0585.
In other words, we now have a 5.85% chance of getting colorectal cancer.
Sounds less scary.
But this is how statistics work.
Still – people might want to avoid processed meats, or eat them less frequently. After all, any increase in cancer risk is not good.
And I’d have no problem with that.
As long as they understand what the studies are actually saying.
Then there's the part about a peanut butter sandwich having as much protein as 3 boiled eggs...
You would need over 420 Calories of peanut butter to get 18 grams of protein, the same as in 3 eggs (with 6g protein per egg being on the lower end of the spectrum), and the eggs would come in at around 230 Kcals.
Over-consumption of calories is much more detrimental to our health (obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, heart attack risk) than consuming eggs (seemy blog on eggsfor more)
So lack of context is an issue.
Another example of this is the ‘studies’ with athletes who have eaten bean burritos or chicken burritos, then get their erectile strength and frequency tested.
Both tests (shock) come out in favour of bean burritos.
They tested three athletes.
On their erectile function.
They didn’t ask about variables like sleep, muscle fatigue, stress, training, hydration, history of tobacco use, weekly alcohol consumption, prior medical history, mental clarity, emotional state, and—HERE’S A BIG ONE—genetic predispositions.
None of the athletes featured talk about these things either.
There are plenty more examples that I could go into, but it might take up a full book.
Suffice to say - the documentary is riddled with biases, as you might expect.
However, for me, it is important to realise that my clients, or potential clients, might be very easily swayed or mislead.
After all, they have Arnie and James Fricking Cameron.
It’s therefore important for me to be able to articulate where the biases and misinformation lie, where the truth lies, and how to be more discerning about the information they consume.
To clarify, and as I’ve said before, some people want to be vegan for perfectly legitimate (ethical/environmental) reasons.
And to clarify (again) I have nothing against vegans or their personal reasons for choosing veganism.
What I have an issue with is misinformation.
The film, and others like it, create a false dichotomy.
They say ‘these unhealthy people eat meat, it’s clearly the meat that’s making them unhealthy’, and ‘these other people eat vegetables, it’s clearly the lack of meat that’s making them healthy’.
This is false, and misleading.
What is clear from the nutritional science is that eating a wide variety of plants is a very good thing to do.
When people go vegan, they tend to increase their fruit and veg intake.
This is a good thing.
Particularly if their previous diet consisted of junk food.
Nobody is arguing that.
But when meat eaters increase their vegetable intake, they too get healthier.
Increasing your veg intake, with or without meat, is a good thing.
Eliminating meat is extreme, and unnecessary.
Vegans often also eat fewer calories and therefore lose fat, which is often the best thing a person can do for their health (especially if overweight).
Also important is getting an adequate amount of complete protein, adequate vitamins and micronutrients, which, while possible from a vegan diet, requires a lot of planning and knowledge. And probably supplementation in most cases.
I’ve spoken at length about protein, and it’s benefits
I’ve even written about protein for vegans, and how it’s more difficult for them to get their requirements from plants alone, mainly due to low leucine content.
Meat and fish are very beneficial for protein, and for various other zoonutrients.
But the take home messages are:
Stop thinking of your diet as either/or.
If you want to stop eating animal-based products for ethical, and possibly environmental reasons, you have my full support.
(though note that you don't HAVE to go vegan to improve your personal impact on the planet)
Just, PLEASE, don’t be misled into believing that it is necessarily superior for health, or for athletic performance.
The Healthy Planet Project is all about improving your health, losing fat, or gaining muscle, all in an environmentally friendly way, without having to go vegan. Try it for Free with the Free 14 Day Challenge: Sign up here