Thanks to its testimonials and real-life examples, this documentary has a powerful impact. The combination of scientific studies and specific case studies is skillfully employed, making it accessible for people with a range of backgrounds and interests. The ideas presented are a good starting point for future inquiries and give direction for people who want to research the topic further.
Taking a comprehensive approach, it covers the impact of a plant-based diet on multiple levels, from that of the individual (e.g., physical strength, energy, stamina, heart, and muscle function) to the environmental and ethical one.
However, the movie doesn’t explore in detail what a plant-based diet should entail in order to lead to the health benefits it names. A “junk food” plant-based diet might cause the exact opposite results, even if it doesn’t include animal products.
A proper balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is essential both for physical and mental health. Unfortunately, this aspect is not covered in the movie at all.
Another drawback is that the testimonials and scientific studies presented sometimes refer to a vegetarian diet (no meat consumption but milk, dairy products, and eggs allowed) and sometimes to a strict plant-based diet (no animal protein whatsoever), without explaining the clear distinction between these. People without prior knowledge or those who don’t pay attention to the details might get confused or might mistakenly attribute certain benefits to the wrong type of diet.
Released in September 2019, The Game Changers received a 7.9 score on IMDb, 70 % on Rotten Tomatoes, and 92 % likes from Google users, and was described as an eye-opener and one of the best thought-provoking and inspiring plant-based documentaries to date.
It starts by presenting the injury suffered by James Wilks, a combative expert and winner of “The Ultimate Fighter,” and then follows his recovery process and his quest to find out what type of nutrition would contribute to optimum health and increased physical performance.
In an attempt to debunk the myth that “Meat makes you tough,” a series of scientific evidence and athlete testimonials are presented. Dr. Fabian Kanz (Forensic Pathologist, University of Vienna) studied the levels of strontium in the remains of at least 68 gladiators buried in Ephesus (Turkey) and showed that they ate a predominantly vegetarian diet. Nate Diaz (UFC Fighter) and Scott Jurek (Record Ultra-Runner) talk about their performance while eating a plant-based diet. Scott Jurek is the fastest person ever to run the entire Appalachian trail, with an average of 11000 feet ascent and descent every day — he has been eating a plant-based diet for almost two decades.
Dr. James Loomis (Sports Physician) challenges the idea that sports performance depends on the quantity of protein athletes consume, arguing instead that carbohydrates are the macronutrients most needed for physical activity. Despite the “meat gives you energy” trend started in 1800 by Liebig and picked up by the USDA in their dietary recommendations, the hypothesis that meat is the primary source of energy has been proven false. On the other hand, a diet low in carbohydrates can lead to chronic glycogen depletion, chronic fatigue, and loss of stamina.
Testimonials from vegetarian and vegan athletes such as Murray Rose (four golden medals), Carl Lewis (nine gold medals and the oldest man ever to win a gold medal), and Dotsie Bausch (8 times US cycling champion) show the considerable impact a meatless diet has on performance and endurance.
Question: How can you get as strong as an ox without eating meat? Patrik Baboumian’s answer: Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?
In response to the never-ending question, where do you get your protein?, a few studies are brought into the discussion that show that plant-eaters can get up to 70 % more protein than they need. Moreover, every plant contains the essential amino acids in different proportions, so as long as the diet is balanced and has enough variation, all of the body’s needs can be fully met.
Interviews and filmed training sessions with the Olympic weightlifter Kendrick James Farris (who broke two American records), Patrik Baboumian (one of the strongest men on the planet), Nate Diaz (UFC fighter) and Bryant Jennings (boxing — heavyweight category) support the idea that plant-based protein can reinforce and even increase performance.
The experiment run by Dr. Robert Vogel (Cochair of the NFL’s Subcommittee on Cardiovascular Health) together with the football players from the Miami Dolphins shows the direct correlation between meals and endothelial function (the capacity of blood vessels to open, which allows the blood to irrigate the muscles during exercise). After a meat-based meal, endothelial function is impaired for 6–7 hours, compared to plant-based meals, which have the opposite effect. Vegan and vegetarian diets also allow athletes to recover faster and bounce back more quickly between workouts.
Dr. Scott Stoll (Team Physician for the US Olympic team) advances the idea that the “package” in which a protein comes might be more important than the protein itself. In this regard, it has already been shown that animal proteins are associated with inflammatory molecules, endotoxins, and heme iron, which leads to soreness in joints, increased inflammation, and altered gut microbiome. Just 1 mg of heme iron was associated with a 27 % increase in the risk of coronary artery disease.
Thanks to the antioxidants, phytochemicals, minerals, and vitamins they contain, plant-based proteins have the opposite effect. Various research studies have shown that a plant-based diet can reduce inflammatory markers by 29 % in 3 weeks, making it the only diet capable of actually reversing heart disease.
These findings are supported by specialists such as Derick Morgan (NFL), who stresses the capacity of a plant-based diet to accelerate the healing process and improve the body’s response to injury, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. (Director, Heart Disease Reversal Program, Cleveland Clinic), Dr. Dean Ornish (Founder, Preventive Medicine Institute), Dr. Kim Williams (President, American College of Cardiology), Dr. Columbus Batiste (Chief Cardiologist, Kaiser Permanente Riverside), and Dr. Helen Moon (Hematologist, Keiser Permanente Riverdale).
Most guys my age can’t keep up with their grandchildren; my grandchildren can’t keep up with me. Lucious Smith (Former Cornerback NFL, 60 years old, has eaten a plant-based diet for more than ten years)
The movie introduces Rip Esselstyn’s new program for firefighters. Given the fact that the number one killer of firefighters in the line of duty is heart attacks, Rip (former firefighter and professional triathlete) developed a seven-day rescue challenge that is based on a vegan meal plan. An additional testimonial from Arnold Schwarzenegger supports the idea that bodybuilders and professional athletes don’t need animal protein.
Dr. Walter Willett (Chair of Nutrition, Harvard University) brings the health impact of meat consumption into the discussion along with the fact the human cells tend to rev up and multiply much faster under the influence of meat-based amino acids. Research studies have shown a 40 % higher risk of prostate cancer associated with dairy consumption as well as a trifold increase in colon cancer for the vegetarians who add one serving of chicken or fish per week to their diet.
In response to allegations made by nutritional programs that rely heavily on meat protein (e.g., the Paleo diet), a series of anthropological arguments are brought to light:
According to Dr. Richard Wrangham (Chair of Biological Anthropology, Harvard University), people relied on plant-based foods in ancient times because they were more accessible than meat. This finding is supported by Dr. Nathaniel Dominy (Professor of Anthropology, Dartmouth College), who showed that human teeth are not built for meat-eating.
Dr. Christina Warinner (Archeological Geneticist, Max Planck Institute) asserts that archeological records are biased toward meat consumption because bones and stone have been preserved throughout the years as opposed to plants, which decay rapidly. As a result of current technological advancements that allow the investigation of microscopic fossils of plants, archeologists who have revisited Paleolithic sites have discovered abundant evidence of plant consumption. The conclusion that early humans ate mostly plants is also supported by the fact that we have a longer digestive tract suitable for fiber digestion, our inability to produce vitamin C, and our trichromatic vision.
Dr. Mark Thomas (Geneticist, University College London) argues that the most efficient way to get glucose (the main substance that supports brain function) is to eat carbohydrates.
The main arguments against the idea that people need meat to get vitamin B12 include the following: meat-eaters are also deficient in this vitamin and animals can’t produce this vitamin either, but together with water and soil dirt they take in the bacteria that can provide it. Because of excessive use of antibiotics, chlorine, and pesticides, these bacteria are destroyed most of the time, which means that both animals and humans need to take B12 supplements.
Despite commercials that prompt people to “eat like a man” and suggest that meat consumption leads to increased force and masculinity, Dr. Aaron Spitz (Lead Delegate, American Urological Association) shows in a televised experiment that the hardness and duration of an erection increase up to 300 % after a plant-based meal compared to after a meat-based one.
Scientific studies show no difference in the male sex hormone "t" levels of meat-eaters compared to those of vegans. On the contrary, the estrogen content in the dairy has been shown to increase men’s estrogen levels while decreasing their "t-level".
The impact of a plant-based diet on bodybuilding is discussed in comparison with a low-carb diet, featuring the testimonial of the bodybuilder Nimai Delgado.
This section discusses the way marketing companies use healthy athletic people in advertisements to promote unhealthy behaviors and lifestyles. Dr. Terry Mason (Cook County Department of Public Health) draws a parallel between the tobacco and meat industry’s marketing strategies, and how both industries focus on creating confusion and on funding studies aimed to deny the evidence.
Exponent Incorporated is given as an example of a company that has designed studies for more than 50 years in order to challenge the health risks of substances such as asbestos, arsenic, and mercury, and has also been involved in meat promotion.
Dr. David Katz (Founding Director, Yale University, Prevention Research Center) points out that the current situation benefits the food industry (which makes people sick), the drug industry (which supposedly develops drugs and treatments to cure the diseases), and the media industry (which always has contradictory topics to debate).
Damien Mander (Retired Special Operations Sniper) talks about the “flexible morality” of people who fight to protect endangered species but still eat animal meat. Rob Bailey (Research Director, Energy, Environment, and Resources, Chatham House) discusses the massive implications meat consumption has on diversity. Since producing animal feed requires vast amounts of land and water, animal husbandry has become the primary source of habitat destruction.
These ideas are emphasized by Johan Rockström (Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre) and Tim Lang (Professor of Food Policy, City University of London), who draw attention to the issue of water depletion and water pollution (e.g., the farm animals in the US produce nearly 50 times more waste per year than the country’s entire human population). If a country like the US, where the meat consumption is three times higher than the global average, would switch to a plant-based diet, the agricultural emissions would be reduced by 73 % and one million liters of water per person per year would be saved.
After following Rip Esselstyn’s dietary program for seven days, the firefighters have a medical check-up and share their experiences. The most noticeable main effects include a significant drop in cholesterol levels and weight loss, along with people’s bewilderment at how varied, easy to follow, and tasty a plant-based diet can be.
The documentary wraps up with several testimonials from the athletes as well as some experiences drawn from James Wilks’s personal life and concludes that most diseases are not determined by genetics and that they can be prevented or even reversed by eating a healthy diet.