This blog contains two responses to the Netflix film Game Changers from Bodyscan consultants Kevin Garde and Rob Webster. Kevin is a Nutritionist and Founder of PRISM Nutrition. Rob is a vegan bodybuilder and has his own consultancy Vegan Physique.
First of all, let me say that I greatly respect the ethical and environmental decisions of others, particularly those within the plant-based community, and I enjoy the passion of those who promote plant-based eating.
My general comments
The ‘Game Changers’ documentary rather successfully attempts to scare viewers into being vegan/plant-based with false health and performance claims. The narrator pitches the scene whereby it’s a plant-based versus animal-based war, implying that one cannot exist without the other.
The exaggerated machismo displayed throughout (from MMA fighters and celebrated gladiators to the pinnacle of manliness – male erections) targets men who may have associated plant-based/vegan diets as being inferior and/or not ‘manly’.
As is typical with nutritional propaganda, the documentary is riddled with cherry-picked data, pseudoscience and bizarre experiments to turn people against animal foods.
Are high quality plant-based diets superior for health and performance compared to a typical micronutrient-poor Western diet? Most likely.
Are high quality plant-based diets superior for health and performance compared to a high-quality omnivore diet rich in micronutrients? No.
Q1. The evidence seemed pretty overwhelming in favour of a plant-based diet, didn’t it?
Of course, the documentary was embarrassingly biased. The sole purpose of a Netflix propaganda documentary (Game Changers) is to scaremonger and convince viewers that a plant-based/vegan is superior for health and performance. It isn’t.
The documentary treats diet choices as a false dichotomy between a plant-based/vegan diet and an atrocious western diet (i.e. copious amounts of junk-food, processed meats and refined sugars). A documentary should provide views from both sides, present the totality of the evidence, and let viewers formulate their own opinions.
Q2. They had a very wide spectrum of qualified professionals in sports and nutrition and medicine who endorsed a PBD, aren’t you won over by them?
A wide spectrum? I disagree. Yes, there were plenty of celebrities and medical professionals (all of whom appeared to have an agenda) but few nutritionists.
Conflicts of Interest (edited from BioLayne.com):
- James Cameron, Executive Producer – Founder and CEO of Verdiant Foods, an organic pea protein company
- Suzy Amis Cameron, Executive Producer – Founder, Verdiant Foods
- Jackie Chan – Actor and vegan
- Arnold Schwarzenegger – Part owner of ‘Ladder’, a supplement company that sells some vegan products
- Dr. Dean Ornish – Author of Undo-it! Leads vegan retreats and sells online programs and developer of the Ornish Diet
- Dr. Aaron Spitz – Author, ‘The Penis Book’, a plant-based book on penile function
- Dr. Robert Vogel – Author, ‘The Pritikin Edge’, a plant-based book.
- Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn – Author, ‘Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,’ a plant-based cookbook
- Dr. James Loomis – Contributor to forksoverknives.com, which includes plant-based meal planning
- Dr. Kim Williams – Vegan cardiologist
- Dr. Columbus Batiste – Contributor to forksoverknives.com
Virtually all the ‘experts’ and medical professionals interviewed in the documentary promote/sell vegan products, books, or profit from veganism.
Q3. There seemed to be plenty of athletes in both strength and endurance who performed better and recovered better (including the presenter, an NFL team and the strongest man) on PBD, proof enough, surely?
Proof enough for what? That certain athletes can thrive on a high-quality plant-based/vegan diet? Sure!
While diet is important, it’s certainly not the only contributor towards improved performance. Genetics play a huge role!
Usain Bolt was reported to have eaten about 100 chicken nuggets before he broke the world record at the Beijing Olympics. Using a similar logic, should everyone now consume chicken nuggets to improve sprint performance?
Q4. What did the film NOT say?
- No mention of the potential negative effects associated with a lower quality plant-based diet
- If set-up incorrectly, it may lead to an increased risk of nutrient deficiencies, higher rates of bone fractures, and higher rates of mental health issues.
- Similar to any restrictive diet, however, this can be avoided with careful attention to diet quality and supplementation.
- A high-quality plant-based diet can exist with careful consideration and micro management
Listed below are some facts from an assessment of the totality of scientific evidence around dairy products and milk. Milk and dairy are associated with:
• Reduced risk of childhood obesity
• A neutral or reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
• Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly stroke
• Dairy products have been shown to improve body composition and weight loss during energy restriction
• Have a beneficial effect on bone mineral density
• More dairy is associated with less colorectal, bladder, gastric and breast cancer
• Evidence for prostate cancer risk is inconsistent
Including this evidence would have tarnished the narrative.
Overall, I was disappointed as I felt a massive opportunity went begging. That is, promote the benefits of a high-quality plant-based diet without demonising animal products. It doesn’t have to be either/or.
Take-home: most people would benefit from eating more plants.
The documentary certainly fits with my own experience of eating plant-based for the last 4-plus years. Whilst I am a fan of scientific methodology, science and studies can only go so far in providing rules of how our bodies will respond to certain ways of eating. There are studies which will support every hypothesis, and so for me the most important factor in determining how effective a way of eating will be, is how effective it actually is i.e. testing it out.
There is no use a diet being good on paper but not in practice. Fundamentally the topic of nutrition cannot be reduced to a 90-minute Netflix documentary, and the truth, which is it depends on the individual, doesn’t make good TV. Of course the documentary is therefore sensationalised, nevertheless it does make a good case for increasing our overall consumption of plant-based foods.
Reliance on anecdotes
In the movie there is perhaps an over-reliance on anecdotes. Any well-produced Netflix documentary will do quite well at convincing people they will experience the same results as the individuals mentioned. It’s important to remember that no one particular diet is going to work for everyone. And the only way to know if you will do well eating a particular way, is through empirical evidence i.e. giving it a try. Any study can cherry-pick data to suit a particular bias, so the only definitive way to know if something will work for you, is to try it out. Based on how your body responds, you can adapt accordingly. Whilst plant-based has worked for me and clearly worked for these people, that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.
Is performance more psychological, or physiological?
It would be possible to find individuals at the top of their game who eat an omnivorous diet. It’s difficult to assess causation or correlation between diet and performance. Once an isocaloric omni vs plant-based diet has been matched in terms of the micronutrients, the factor that will determine how well someone will perform is more how hard they are willing to work, not how hard they are able to work. You can get strong eating plants for sure.
You can also get strong eating an omnivorous diet. We can see examples of individuals who have thrived eating plant-based, but they have also thrived because they are hard workers and psychologically can push themselves to the extreme. Work ethic is a mental attribute and not one determined by diet.
Are the individuals displayed representative of the average person eating plant-based, or more genetic outliers? Some people can smoke for their entire life and not get lung cancer, despite the science indicating that smoking causes it. There will always be outliers, hence there is no one size fits all.
Nutrition is only permissive
Nutrition on its own does not stimulate strength increases or performance enhancements. Training is what stimulates adaptation. The individuals displayed clearly are able to train very well on a plant-based diet and this is what has stimulated their performance improvements. Not everyone will perform better eating plant-based. People should eat in a way that allows them to perform best, regardless of whether that’s an omni or plant-based diet.
Will a DEXA scan be a game changer for you?
A Baseline DEXA body scan will reveal your body composition (fat, muscle and bone) in great detail and follow-up Progress scans will monitor changes in that composition. Anecdotally, we have found that many clients who are vegetarian or vegan tend to have lower levels of body fat than most, but that is typically because vegetables are filling (satiating) and not calorie-dense.
But body composition (certainly fat storage) is about how much you eat (in terms of calorie content) rather than the type of food. Our constant refrain to Bodyscan customers is “you can eat as healthy as you like but if you eat too much of it you’ll put on fat.” One overweight vegetarian was a case in point – we discovered in the post-scan DEXA consultation that she was eating more than 2000 calories a day just in nuts. As you can read here, some ‘healthy’ foods, such as nuts are highly calorific – between 600-700 calories in just 100g. Putting her DEXA results in our calorie calculator was an eye-opener for her.
If you are considering changing to a plant-based diet, a DEXA scan at the moment of change, followed by a series of monitoring Progress scans, is a good way to see how the change in diet affects your body composition. For this, we recommend a package of scans which are valid for a year – you get better value the more scans you prepay as shown on our pricing page. We recommend that any pair of before-and-after DEAX scans ‘bookend’ a consistent regime – eg, from the moment you change to a new diet to a later point in time when you are still on that diet (and maybe about to change tack again). If the period between two scans is not consistent in terms of diet and exercise, then it is nigh impossible to know what worked and what didn’t.
For example, if you book a Bodyscan appointment two months before you change to a plant-based diet and a second scan two months after you changed, then the results will be measuring a four-month period of two completely different nutrition plans. For more guidance, contact our customer support at [email protected]. We look forward to seeing you soon!