debunking the game changers

Author: Ryan Lowery  / Co-author: Chelsea Malone

Documentary bias is a common phenomenon in film. While some filmmakers take precautions to avoid implicit bias during the process, others may choose a one-sided approach on more controversial topics. Funding is a key motivator behind the perpetuation of bias in film. Sometimes the bias of the filmmakers is obvious, and other times you really have to ask yourself what benefit are they gaining for making this movie? In the case of The Game Changers, the motivation and biases were strikingly apparent.

What is The Game Changers?

The Game Changers is a documentary that was recently released on Netflix and it explores the benefits of a plant-based diet. This documentary did not attempt to portray a neutral standpoint that explored scientific research from both sides of the plant-based vs meat consumption argument. Rather, it lacked context and misrepresented several studies (including a study done by our laboratory) and completely omitted any counter-research.

The Game Changers documentary utilizes striking imagery and (skewed or poorly conducted) scientific research to alter your thinking and persuade you toward a plant-based approach. The trailer featured celebrities who were the epitome of strength and fitness and promised to explain how you’ve been lied to when it comes to vegetarianism, veganism, and fitness. Unfortunately, while the intent of the movie was to dispel myths about health and athleticism on a plant-based diet, it was heavily biased and riddled with scientific errors.

 

I Am Not Anti-Vegan

Let me make this clear: I am not anti-vegan.  I am not anti-plants.  At the same token, I am not anti-carnivore either. As a scientist, I despise the misrepresentation of research in the name of pushing an agenda and aim to provide people with context to make their own decisions based on actual science.  While the initial intent might have been good, I believe due to the lack of context and counter evidence, documentaries like The Game Changers may do more harm than good.  Therefore, I wanted to address their points in this video and further breakdown in this article in hopes I can help more people understand both sides of the spectrum.

Before getting into these discussions, I’d like to point out three things I thought this video did well:

  1. Production Value: The cinematography in The Game Changers was well done and covered many anecdotal stories.
  2. High Profile Representation: Icons like Arnold Schwarzenegger promoted the video, even though he was actually in it for a few minutes. Names like Jackie Chan and Chris Paul were leveraged to increase representation and attention to the movie which certainly helped them make their case.
  3. Shock Value: Numerous visual representations were created to create shock value in The Game Changers (i.e. showing cloudy blood and looking at the hardness of male erections when comparing plant vs meat-based meals). Though they looked cool and convincing, these shock value representations were extremely flawed as I will discuss below.

In my video discussing The Game Changers movie, I go through ten of my biggest arguments against statements made in this documentary and provide factual and scientific research to back up my claims, which are outlined below.

 

The Game Changers Argument 1: The Roman Gladiators

One of the major opening arguments in The Game Changers documentary is based on the greatest warriors of all time—the Roman gladiators. Anthropologists studying the remains of these gladiators found high levels of strontium, indicating a diet heavy in vegetables. In fact, these warriors were nicknames “Horearii” meaning beans and barley muncher.1

While this data paints a grandiose image of strong warriors snacking on beans, the idea that Roman gladiators ate a primarily vegetarian diet means little without context. Movies and media have warped our image of these individuals and the Roman gladiator image we commonly think about (chiseled 6 pack) likely wasn’t the reality.

The same study that was cited about the strontium levels also explained that gladiators were “prisoners of war, slaves, and condemned offenders.”1 Anthropological research has shown that these gladiators did consume a primarily plant-based diet, but not because it was healthy. Most likely, these foods were consumed to fatten the warriors so that they would have an extra layer of protection for their nerves and blood vessels.  Additionally, barley and wheat was a lot cheaper and was the best gladiators could afford to provide sustenance to their bodies.2

A paper published in the Journal of Nutrition Science Research explained this difference between ancient eating habits and performance. During this time, doctors determined diet and nutrition for athletes. “One such form of sport was the ancient gladiator, and here we learn from Galen, that beans were highly recommended in order to build bulk into such athletes.

On broad beans: ‘Our gladiators eat a great deal of this food every day, making the condition of their body fleshy – not compact, dense flesh like pork, but flesh that is somehow more flabby.’” 3

Dr. Grossschmidt, a Paleo-Pathologist who studied ancient gladiators had this to say:

“The vegetarian diet had nothing to do with poverty or animal rights. Gladiators, it seems, were fat. Consuming a lot of simple carbohydrates, such as barley, and legumes, like beans, was designed for survival in the arena. Packing in the carbs also packed on the pounds. “Gladiators needed subcutaneous fat,” Grossschmidt explains. “A fat cushion protects you from cut wounds and shields nerves and blood vessels in a fight.” Not only would a lean gladiator have been dead meat, he would have made for a bad show. Surface wounds “look more spectacular,” says Grossschmidt. “If I get wounded but just in the fatty layer, I can fight on,” he adds. “It doesn’t hurt much, and it looks great for the spectators.” 3

Now let’s compare the Roman gladiators to Olympians—specifically participants of the ancient Olympics. According to a paper published in the Journal of the Philosophy of sport,

The ancient Olympics were open only to free men and boys of Greek descent who swore an oath not to sin against the games; victory was viewed as a confirmation of aristocracy… Gladiators, in contrast, occupied the class of moral outcasts called infamia, and they were apparently forced to kill for entertainment….

Gladiators were compelled to fight, if not by their masters then by their oath, or by the fact that someone was charging at them with a knife. Ancient Olympic athletes, in contrast, volunteered not only for the contest but also for a mandatory month-long training camp just before the games.” 4

Ancient Olympic athletes were true strength and endurance athletes.  Stone carvings and statues from ancient Greece depict men with god-like figures very similar to modern-day bodybuilding physiques. These ancient Olympians were some of the first athletes to incorporate meat into their diet in order to perform performance. Some of the earliest records of prescribing a meat-heavy diet to athletes dates back to a trainer named Pythagoras (not to be confused with the philosopher and mathematician).5

Charles Stocking, a professor of classical studies at the University of Western Ontario, explained the fact that meat was a prized object only for the most wealthy or influential. Studies show that at the end of the first Olympic games, the winner sacrificed an animal and won the best pieces of meat from that sacrifice. Stocking said “It shows the status reserved for Olympic victors… Because meat was usually reserved for sacrifices to the gods, not part of the daily diet, introducing meat into an athletes’ diet was especially significant.” 6

In fact, it would seem some of these athletes even began to consume a lower carbohydrate diet before competing. Francine Sega, a food historian, said “A lot of ancient writers wrote that for optimal physical performance, athletes should avoid grains and bread for six months before the Olympics.” 6

In The Game Changers, to say that the best warriors of all time consumed a vegetarian diet is a weak argument and really doesn’t prove a point. Experts in the field have shown that Roman gladiators consumed diets heavy in beans and because these foods were cheap and meant to add mass (likely fat mass). Ancient Olympic athletes, on the other hand, were like celebrities who were privileged to be fed a diet heavy in meat products.

 

The Game Changers Argument 2: Vegans Are Stronger than Meat Eaters

Conor McGregor is an extremely skilled UFC fighter. The Game Changers uses one fight that Conor McGregor, a big meat-eater, lost against Nate Diaz, a vegetarian/vegan, as an argument to show that vegetarians have superior strength and energy levels as compared to meat-eaters.

This fight was taken completely out of context. McGregor was originally supposed to be fighting at 155 pounds against Rafael dos Anjos who canceled due to an injury. McGregor was cutting weight as the time and forced to quickly try to add mass back on before the Diaz fight.  According to Chanel Sonnen, a former UFC title challenger, Diaz entered the ring that day weighing in at 181 pounds, with McGregor standing at 166 pounds. That is a 15 pounds difference. 7

While Conor ended up losing that fight, five months later (and still consuming meat), McGregor fought Diaz again at a higher weight and won.  Many individuals argue that Diaz was the one at a disadvantage because he only had 11 days to prepare for the fight but weighing 15 pounds heavier than his opponent gave him a much larger advantage.

Again, another poor argument or representation of a superiority complex of plant-based diets over meat-based diets in The Game Changers.  Though it does show that you can perform on a plant based approach, one could make the argument that most of the best fighters in the world eat primarily meat. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZE1vWBm3bk)

As an aside, I thought it was pretty comical to include Arnold’s scene from Escape Plan when he tells Sylvester Stallone “You hit like a Vegetarian.” Who would have guessed he would be the face of a plant-based documentary only 5 years later? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLaOIXXalK8)

 

The Game Changers Argument 3: Plant-Based Diets Are Superior for Endurance Athletes

This section of The Game Changers focuses on Scott Jurek, a world-record ultramarathoner. This is a focal point for the idea that endurance athletes can run on a plant-based diet. While this idea is not incorrect, it is one-sided in making it seem that this diet is superior for endurance athletics. In fact, Scott Jurek doesn’t hold the record for the fastest time on the Appalachian Trail.  He finished the trek in 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes.  In 2017, Joe McConaughy broke the record – his diet consisting of 8,000 calories a day including dried sausage. 8 More recently in 2018 Karel Sabbe smashed the record and finished it in 41 days, 7 hours, and 39 minutes.9 Guess what his diet consisted of – bacon, eggs, and yogurt. 10

Though there is no direct research comparing a meat vs plant-based diet on endurance performance, there are plenty of individuals are elite athletes is no comparison against other individuals of different diets. Zach Bitter is a great example of an endurance athlete, who holds the 100-mile American record and who also happens to follow an animal based ketogenic diet.11

Again, a poor argument to use without bringing to light proper context.

 

The Game Changers Argument 4: The Average Plant-Eater Gets 70% More Protein Than Needed

The whole goal of this portion of The Game Changers documentary was to prove that you can consume more than enough protein on a plant-based diet. The issue is, total protein content means very little without context.  Let me try and paint a picture for you of what this means.  If you were tasked with building a house and were only given 1000 boards of wood, it would matter the type and quality of the wood.  If Person A has brand new, fully complete boards of wood while Person B has older wood with some cracks and some boards that are rotting, which house do you think will be stronger?  Similar to the boards, not all proteins are equal.  Just because one source of protein has 50 grams and another source has 50 grams DOES NOT mean they will have the same response.

The beneficial aspects of protein are dictated by their essential amino acid content.  Specifically protein quality should be measured by its branched chain amino acid (BCAA) and more specifically, leucine content. 12, 13

The BCAA and leucine content for animal vs plant-based sources varies drastically.

game-changers-leucine

As you can see here, whey contains about 11-12% leucine while wheat contains about 6-7% leucine.  Thus, in order to hit the 2-3 grams of leucine needed to maximize muscle protein synthesis you would need 25 grams of whey versus 45 grams of wheat protein to hit that threshold. 14

This becomes very important when it comes to body composition.  Dr. Gabriel Wilson showed that the quality of protein and the distribution of that protein determines the anabolic signaling and body composition benefits (wheat protein was significantly worse than whey protein) 15

This was further demonstrated in a study by Cambell et al (1999). 16 They investigated a lactoovovegetarian diet (meat free) compared to an omnivorous diet on body composition and muscular strength combined with 12 weeks of resistance training.  They found that the omnivorous group gained about 2 lbs of muscle while the vegetarian group lost muscle.

vegan athletes

Aside from directly comparing amino acid content, we know from several research studies that whey protein is superior to soy/plant-based protein for altering body composition and promoting lean muscle mass gains. In a paper published by Baer, et. al. a double-blind clinical trial was conducted on the effects of whey versus soy protein supplementation in 90 individuals. The individuals consuming whey protein saw an average 1.8kg difference in body mass, with a 2.3g kg drop in fat mass, whereas the soy protein consuming group saw no difference in body mass or composition. 17

In the study Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate by Tang et. al, it was concluded that muscle protein synthesis was induced to a greater degree by whey hydrolysate than soy after exercise. This was presumed to be due to the rate at which protein was digested and the differences in leucine content (ie.e. Whey having a higher leucine content). 18

insulin chart

Plasma insulin concentrations increased the highest after ingestion of whey hydrolysate indicating increased glucose uptake within muscle cells.

Blood concentrations of both leucine and all essential amino acids where greatest after ingestion of whey hydrolysate in comparison to casein or soy protein.

Mixed muscle protein fractional synthetic rate (FSR) was greatest in the whey protein consuming group as compared to casein and soy groups.

Moreover, in a 2013 study by Volek, et al., the effects of whey protein compared to soy protein for muscle mass gains were evaluated. The authors found that despite the testing groups have similar protein intake and total daily calories, the whey protein was more effective than the soy at promoting lean muscle mass gains. The authors concluded with “These results highlight the importance of protein quality as an important determinant of lean body mass responses to resistance training.” 19

lean body mass chart

These studies are concrete evidence that protein quality does matter and has a drastic impact on body composition and lean mass gains. If you think about this logically, it makes sense logically.  Think about carbohydrates in context of sugar and fibers. A candy bar may have the same amount of carbohydrates as a vegetable, but the source of carbohydrates may be primarily from sugar, whereas the vegetable is from the fiber. They are different qualities, even though they are the same amount of nutrients.

This becomes even more important as we age.  As we get older, we start to develop “anabolic resistance” meaning that our bodies don’t respond the same as when we were younger. 20 Thus, protein quality becomes even more important the older we get!

 

The Game Changers Argument 5: Cloudy Blood After Meat Consumption

In The Game Changers, this was a powerful visual demonstration. Dr. Vogel brought in three athletes from the Miami Dolphins to demonstrate blood content after consumption of meat or plant-based meals. After consumption of their designated meat or plant-based meal, the player’s blood was drawn and spun to show the separation (red blood cells on bottom, buffy coat in the middle, and serum at the top). The serum was shown to be cloudier in the individual who consumed meat as compared to the plant-based meal.

This is meant to be a visually shocking demonstration but is taken completely out of context. You have circulating triglycerides in your blood after consumption of fat, the same as how you have circulating glucose after a carbohydrate-rich meal. In a study by Wolfe (1996) 21 individuals were infused with pure fat directly into their bloodstream. They found that insulin nor glucose rose and that fat was almost immediately used for energy (very little fat in the blood). However, when they infused these same individuals with a fat and varying amounts of carbohydrates, they saw fat utilization decreased, fatty acids in the blood increased, and both insulin and glucose increased.

Glucose decreased fat mobilization by both inhibiting lipolysis and stimulating reesterification, thus causing a significant increase in triglyceride-fatty acid substrate cycling within the adipose tissue.”21

This means when fat is consumed alone, it acts as a fuel source that directly gets broken down and utilized,  but when coupled with carbohydrates, they actually cause fat utilization to decrease (i.e. think about a Big Mac or even an Impossible Burger with the bun). In the study shown in the documentary, the individuals consumed both high fat and high carbohydrates in the “meat” condition which likely contributed to the decrease in fat utilization, hence the cloudy blood. The bean burrito clearly had less fat than the meat-based burritos and didn’t have the same impact – not because of the meat but because of the low-fat nature.   While the base was the same, the meat burritos had what appeared to be around 3oz of meat, plus 2-4 tbsp of shredded cheese, in contrast to the bean burrito which had the same amount of beans and no shredded cheese. 3oz of black beans only contain 0.8g of fat, whereas ground beef is going to have around 13-16g and even 3 oz of chicken breast (the leanest part of chicken) has 3g– over 3 times that amount of fat in the beans.

They then try to use a study titled “Hass avocados modulate postprandial vascular reactivity and postprandial inflammatory responses to a hamburger in health volunteers” to show the consumption of plants with meat lowers inflammatory responses. 22 This study actually found no statistical difference in blood vessel functioning. The documentary makes it seem like this study shows individuals who ate meat showed inflammatory markers after eating, but those who ate meat and avocados did not.

The study participants were divided into two groups of either eating meat or eating meat and avocado. The participants did not consume any meat products three days prior to the study, which could have altered their metabolic response. They found no statistically significant differences (p>0.05) in arterial blood flow or inflammatory markers (except at hour 4 with IL-6). 22 The only thing that can be interpreted from this study is that it is a good idea to incorporate avocados, likely higher amounts of potassium, and a good source of monounsaturated fats into your diet.

*Interesting to note that throughout the documentary they stated that most of the studies showing benefits of meat are biased due to funding.  Here is the disclosure statement for the aforementioned study (note it was funded by the Hass Avocado Board) 22

Dr. Robert Vogel makes a huge point in The Game Changers to say that meat consumption causes endothelial damage and when the endothelium can’t dilate, then blood flow decreases and impairs athletic performance and recovery. He cites studies like this one and the avocado study as evidence, but let’s take a deeper look:

  1. Postprandial hypertriglyceridemia impairs endothelial function by enhanced oxidant stress 23

This study looked at high fat consumption, not animal or plant sources. The study does not detail the meal that was given, but rather just that it was a high-fat meal. Furthermore, it does not detail whether or not the participants had any underlying conditions that affected their ability to metabolize fat. In Giannattasio, et. al, they found that a high fat meal (again not plant vs animal, just high fat vs low fat) did cause endothelial dysfunction but, “This impairment is evident in dyslipidemic patients with baseline hypertriglyceridemia but not in normotriglyceridemic controls.” 24

  1. Hass avocados modulate postprandial vascular reactivity and postprandial inflammatory responses to a hamburger in health volunteers22

Again, the researchers found no statistical difference in arterial functioning and the consumption of the burger versus burger and avocado.

To make such a bold statement that animal production consumption causes endothelial dysfunction warrants research to back it up and they provide none. It is EXTREMELY important to differentiate between CORRELATIONAL and CAUSALITY.  To that extent,  though correlational, the only studies they provided were studies that found no differences in healthy individuals and did not compare plant versus animal products, but rather higher fat (non-ketogenic) versus lower fat meals.

In order to try to counter the effects of meat on endothelial function, they compare it to beetroot juice supplementation, which can allow cyclists to cycle 22% longer and lifters to bench 19% more weight. This has nothing to do with the plant versus animal debate, but rather blood flow from nitric oxide production.25 Arginine and citrulline are common ingredients in pre-workouts because they are both amino acids that increase nitric oxide production. Citrulline actually converts into arginine, which is the main amino acid needed for nitric oxide biosynthesis. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which means it expands blood vessels and allows for increased blood flow. The reason beetroot improves exercise performance is because of this, not just because it is a plant. In fact, foods like turkey, pork, chicken, and beef are high in L-arginine. Meats, poultry and seafood are all rich in L-citrulline. All of these foods can improve exercise performance and increase blood flow through increased nitric oxide production. 26,27, 28 , 29 Moreover, a study that directly compared a vegan diet to a Mediterranean diet (MD) found that “the MD led to improvements in microvascular function (in general) and NO bioavailability (specifically) in a healthy sedentary population”. 30

It is also claimed that meats contain endotoxins which promote inflammation. These claims are not backed up with any research whatsoever. Gram negative bacteria have endotoxins, also known as lipopolysaccharide (LPS), in their outer layer; these toxins act as a kind of defense mechanism for bacterial cells. 31 Numerous studies have shown low endotoxin counts in meat products. To claim that meats are full of these toxins that are destroying your body is a far-fetched claim with no scientific evidence to back it up. 32, 33

“In healthy individuals, LPS does not cross the intestinal barrier easily and LPS is metabolized in animal tissues, particularly the liver, and in the lungs. Endotoxins that reach the respiratory tract are rendered harmless by macrophages and polymorphonuclear leukocytes. Thus, endotoxin would not be expected to accumulate in edible tissues. An endotoxin-contaminated feed ingredient would therefore not pose a risk to the consumer of animal products.” 33

All of the studies cited in the connection between meat consumption and deadly diseases are correlational studies. Correlation does not equal causation. All these studies did was ask participants what medical conditions they suffered from and what kind of foods they ate. They do not account for total caloric intake, exercise, smoking, stress, or any other factors that can contribute to these diseases. 34

 

The Game Changers Argument 6: The Only Diet That Has Ever Been Shown to Reverse Heart Disease Is A Plant-Based Diet

This statement in The Game Changers is based on a research study that was poorly explained. The abstract of this study says, “In a prospective, randomized, controlled trial to determine whether comprehensive lifestyle changes affect coronary atherosclerosis after 1 year, 28 patients were assigned to an experimental group (low-fat, vegetarian diet, stopped smoking, stress management training, and moderate exercise) and 20 to a usual care group.” 34

Eighty-two percent of these individuals experienced better cardiovascular health, but not because they solely switched to a vegetarian diet, but because of the multiple other factors that were mentioned. If they wanted to test the direct effects of switching to a vegetarian lifestyle, they should have controlled for just this one variable. Of course, individuals are going to get healthier if they stop smoking, increase physical activity, lower calories, and manage stress. 34

Dr. Kim Williams makes the statement that “when you eat animal products, you start to form plaques in the coronary arteries, plaque formation in the arteries doesn’t just limit the function of the arteries it can also block the blood flow. That’s when the heart starts to have some real problems keeping up with the demands of the body.” Again, another statement with no science or physiological rationale behind it.  Your arteries do not sense that you consumed an animal product and begin forming plaques. The exact cause of atherosclerosis is still not well understood, but the risk factors have been well documented and include: high LDL, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, gender, smoking, exercise, and family history. 35 While some studies have correlated increased meat consumption with cardiovascular disease in general, they are correlational studies that no not take into account the quality of food, macronutrients of the food consumed (Big Macs, etc) total caloric intake, and exercise levels. Most often in these studies, the participants eat a fast-food based diet, heavy in processed carbohydrates and omega-6 rich inflammatory fats.

Similarly, individuals who consume a plant-based diet that is not well rounded can experience a similar phenomenon.

“Compared with omnivores, vegetarians, especially vegans, have lower serum vitamin B12 concentration and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) levels in the tissue membrane phospholipids, which are associated with increased collagen and ADP stimulated ex vivo whole blood platelet aggregation, plasma 11-dehydrothromboxane B2, and homocysteine levels and decreased plasma HDL-C. This may be associated with an increased thrombotic and atherosclerotic risk. It is suggested that vegetarians, especially vegans, should increase their dietary n-3 PUFA and vitamin B12 intakes.” 36  

They also claim that heme iron causes coronary heart disease based on more correlational studies. 37 Heme iron is just like most things in life: better in moderation. Too little or too much can have negative health effects. Anemia, or low iron, affects 25% of the world’s population. A major concern should not be too much iron intake, but rather too little. Humans are able to get rid of iron pretty easily to prevent accumulation. 38

Women naturally lose iron through blood during the menses phase of their menstrual cycle, whereas males do not. This is why it is encouraged, especially for males, to donate blood as often as possible. Research has shown that individuals who have heart disease are at higher risk for cancer if iron levels are higher, so it is a good idea to try to “iron dump” or donate blood often.39

In fact, a new paper was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine suggesting changes to current red meat dietary guidelines due to research showing little evidence that its consumption leads to disease. 40

 

The Game Changers Argument 7: Our Brain Is Desperate for Glucose – Meat Isn’t Good for That

The geneticist, Dr. Mark Thomas, makes the claim in The Game Changers that glucose is the only fuel source the brain can use and it is starving for it. This is scientifically untrue. 41

The human brain can use ketones for fuel and has actually been shown to prefer ketones over glucose in many cases. Due to the relatively small size and polarity of ketones, they cross the blood-brain-barrier and provide rapid energy to the brain. 42

In fact, the use of ketones (endogenously or exogenously) has been explored for therapeutic benefits in neurodegenerative diseases and brain injury. Our brain can not only use another fuel source, but it prefers too– and that fuel source is ketones. There are numerous studies that prove the positive benefits of ketones on brain health. 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

Furthermore, following a plant-based diet is associated with high carbohydrate intake. Numerous studies have linked increased carbohydrate intake and decreased B12 intake to neurodegenerative disease and impairments in brain health. 50, 51, 52, 53, 54

At least after this argument, it is said that vegetarians need to supplement with vitamin B12. It is said that meat-eaters need to supplement as well, but in reality, most meat-eaters consume enough vitamin B12.

 

The Game Changers Argument 8: Meat Consumption Reduces Erections and Firmness of the Penis

Dr. Aaron Spitz, the author of The Penis Book, conducted a small, uncontrolled experiment on three college athletes to try to prove that meat consumption influences male sex hormones.

These athletes were fed burritos, either meat or plant-based, and then wore a device that measured erections and firmness of the penis. This experiment was obviously conducted for shock value. They saw an increase in erection time after the plant-based burrito consumption.

Again, there are so many flaws in this experiment – no control group, no randomization, no other factors considered.   The men consumed the meat-based burrito on the first night and then the plant-based burrito on the second night. Likely what happened was that the men became more comfortable wearing the device the second night and then slept better and experienced an increase in erection time because the sleep quality improved.

It is also claimed that consumption of cow’s milk caused an increase in estrogen and a decrease in testosterone levels; however, in this study, the participants were drinking a high amount of milk from cows that were pregnant.55 In fact, soy (a common vegetarian alternative to milk) has been shown to increase estrogen levels and potentially decrease testosterone levels., 56, 57

 

The Game Changers Argument 9: Carb-Consumers Gain More Muscle Mass

The idea that you need to consume high quantities of carbohydrates to increase muscle mass is outdated. They cite the study called Efficacy of ketogenic diet on body composition during resistance training in trained men: a randomized controlled trial.58  While this study does show that the normal carbohydrate group did gain more muscle mass than the ketogenic diet group, they fail to mention that the ketogenic group also lost more fat mass and visceral fat mass.

If you look outside of this study, you will find plenty of research confirming you can gain muscle mass on a ketogenic diet. Just look at the research from Dr. Jacob Wilson59, Rachel Gregory60, Dr, Mike Roberts61, Jordan Joy62, Simon Chatterton63 and myself (just to name a few). It has been proven time and time again that you can build just as much muscle on a well formulated low carbohydrate diet.

The Game Changers then uses a study from Dr. Jordan Joy, Dr. Jacob Wilson, and myself to make the claim that rice protein is just as good as whey protein. They took our study completely out of context. We even state in the paper that “plant-based proteins contain approximately 6-8% leucine, and in low doses, they do not increase muscle protein synthesis compared to animal-based proteins, which contain approximately 8-11% leucine.” 64

We even cited two studies to show that at low doses, animal-based proteins can trigger muscle protein synthesis, whereas plant-based cannot. Knowing this, in our study, we tested high levels (48 grams) of plant and whey proteins to ensure muscle protein synthesis could be triggered. The goal of the study was to see what happens after you hit the leucine threshold of three grams, regardless of the protein source. 64

 

The Game Changers Argument 10:  Meat is a Greater Contributor to Carbon Emissions than Transportation

These statistics are startlingly incorrect. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has produced data showing agriculture as a whole only account for nine percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, whereas transportation accounts for 29%. Cattle-based farming only accounts for a small portion of this 9% and has very little impact on overall environmental health. 65,66,67

Furthermore, cattle are not the water hog they are portrayed to be in the documentary. Check out these infographics from SacredCow that explain the real statistics behind the environmental impact of meat consumption.

the game changers beef water requirementsThe documentary also misconstrues the impact of feed for livestock: 68,69,70

the game changers protein Instead, we should be focusing on limiting unnecessary transportation and electricity emissions. I 100% agree we need to work on saving our environment, however we should focus on Walk to Work Wednesday’s instead of Meatless Mondays.  For more specific information on carbon emissions and the effect of cattle emissions and exact studies, check out our article: Amazon Rainforest Fires and the Environmental Impact of Meat.

 

Additional Considerations

Dean Ornish controversy

Everything that this man says in the documentary is extreme. At one point in the documentary he claims “People who eat a diet that’s high in animal protein have a 75% increased risk of premature death from all causes and a 400 -500%  increased risk for death from most forms of cancer, prostate, breast, colon cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes “.71 The problem with this study like many longitudinal studies like it, is that it relies on someone surveying what they ate over the course of 18 years. These researchers looked at a database of what an individuals said they ate on average (and let’s be honest, most people don’t know exactly how many calories and the macronutrients they eat each day) and compared it to all causes of death. That literally includes lung cancer from smoking and trauma from a car accident. Not to mention, prostate, colon, and breast cancer are all highly heritable meaning that genetics plays a large role and was not taken into consideration. Furthermore, in the acknowledgments you can see this study was conducted and funded by a company with equity invested in a company that sell plant-based “scientifically-backed” meal plans/programs and foods.

Dean Ornish himself has been highly criticized for inflating and misconstruing data from other researchers to try and fit his agenda to help sell his products  (there is even a whole section just dedicated to his controversy on his wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_Ornish).

Melinda Wenner Moyer, a scientific writer for Scientific American, wrote a length rebuttal about all of these ill-practices. Rather than re-has what she has to say, I highly recommend you take a look at her article breaking down all of his scientific blunders. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-almost-everything-dean-ornish-says-about-nutrition-is-wrong/

At the very beginning of this article, I highlighted the effects of documentary bias and how many individuals highlighted in this video had a monetary stake in the plant-based agenda. Here are some examples:

  • It was already mentioned that Dr. Dean Ornish is a highly controversial figure who sells plant-based books and programs.
  • The documentary was directed by James Cameron, who also happens to own a pea protein company.
  • Jame Cameron’s wife appeared on Oprah encouraging fans to be completely plant-based at least one day.
  • Robert Vogel is another individual who sells a book called The Pritikin Edge that focuses on the benefits of a plant based diet.
  • It was mentioned that Dr. Aaron Spitz was the author of The Penis Book, but it should be known that this book heavily focuses on a plant-based diet for male reproductive health.
  • Rip Esselstyn is the son of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a man who sells programs and other various forms of media promoting a plant-based diet.

Firefighters

The histological images shown in this portion of the documentary were extremely misleading. Rather than explaining the differences in the arteries, Rip Esselstyn says one artery is a clean artery and the other is from “decades eating meat and dairy diet”. This is a ridiculous statement. The first artery is a healthy artery and the second is of an atherosclerotic artery. This damage to this artery was not directly caused by meat and dairy consumption. Not to mention, these arteries look like they are from entirely different locations on the body. Look at the images below. They probably look like really unhealthy arteries too, in comparison to the first image Rip showed. No– they are perfectly healthy arteries taken from the spermatic cord and an arcuate artery respectively. Different areas of the body have wildly different histological looks. 72

As for the biomarkers that were significantly changed in the firefighters, this was a poorly controlled study. On top of changing their diet, they subsequently reduced total caloric intake and began exercising more. This is what caused the weight loss, which subsequently caused reductions in cholesterol biomarkers. Any individual who is overweight or obese will see similar reductions in mass and cholesterol is they drop their caloric intake and increase energy expenditure. For example, these studies below detail how a diet that is almost the exact opposite of plant based (ketogenic diet– high fat, typically high meat intake) can reduce body fat mass and cholesterol and improve cardiovascular biomarkers. 73, 74, 75, 76, 77

 

Conclusion

Let me make one thing very clear.  I am not anti-vegan.  I’m anti-propaganda and pro-context because without it, people can misconstrue what is actually being stated.  The goal of this article is to show the evidence that this documentary omitted or failed to provide context for.  I would hate for people to see The Game Changers and then switch to a plant-based diet without being informed on actual effects, proper dietary supplementation needs, etc.

Our goal is to help you be the healthiest version of yourself, and not suffering from sarcopenia and frail bones at an early age because of low-quality amino acid intake, and limited vitamin and mineral supplementation.

It is actually possible to do a plant based ketogenic approach and I sat down and discussed this with my friend Dr. Will Cole on my podcast (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxZAfyOuTsk)

If you’d like to learn more about the environmental impact of meat consumption, check out my What The Fat podcast episode where I speak with Amanda Radke here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ef08JGkKubQ

I must say, I did laugh hysterically at this little clip our videographer put together from a recent interview Arnold did talking about the documentary… (https://www.instagram.com/p/B37968_gkIW/)

At the end of the day, I think both vegans and omnivores can agree on one thing – more whole goods and less processed junk.  Let’s work towards a healthier world by starting there.

 

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