In the past, documentaries have been released that have made considerable noise and that people talk about for weeks. For example, in the past I wrote an article about 'Fed up'; a documentary that told us that our diet was sickening, sugar was addictive, fat was bad and so on. As many of you know, there has recently been a new documentary on Netflix, which has also made a lot of noise: The Game Changers.
Many posts pass by on social media and many of my customers suddenly want to switch to a vegan diet after seeing this document, because that would be better. Of course I have mine to say about that, but let's say that I am definitely not against a vegetable or mainly plant-based eating pattern. I am convinced that it is literally vital that we eat more plants and plant-based food sources.
Misinformation is another story ...
What I am opposed to is luring people into a certain way of life under false pretenses, using incorrect information to scare people and making a vision plausible through fear and misinformation. Let that be exactly the case with 'The Game Changers'.
The choice not to use animal products, to organize your life according to intermittent fasting, or to use the keto diet is one that everyone can make for themselves and I have nothing against 1 of these choices. However, make this choice from the right information, with the right expectations; No consumption of carbohydrates is suboptimal for performance anyway. A diet without any animal products is very likely suboptimal for both health and performance.
That makes the choice to do it still fine, but keep in mind that you have to accept lesser results. The purpose of this documentary is that eating animal products is utterly absurd and that switching to a plant-based diet is not only healthier, but will also improve your performance. Examples are given during the docu and catchy punchlines used of which I would like to mention 2:
They asked me how I could be strong as an ox without eating meat. I replied "Have you ever seen an ox eat meat?"
Furthermore, in this document they find it an argument to quote that animals are only an 'intermediary'. Animals eat plants, we eat animals. The proteins would therefore come indirectly from plants to us via animals and we might as well be able to eat the plants ourselves and skip the intermediate step of the animal.
I would like to ask the makers of The Game Changers 2 questions:
- How many people have you seen with the same teeth as cattle, a ruminant reflex, the same bacterial colonies in their intestines optimized for processing and digestion of cell walls and plants, the same intestine length, a rumen, the same amount of stomachs?
- Then why don't we all live on sunlight, inorganic matter and water? Plants are only the intermediary.
Both examples (along with other statements from The Game Changers) are completely out of context and are absolutely no argument.
I want to continue to deal specifically with points from The Game Changers, which in my view are not much more than scare. As an expert, advising by fear is definitely not one of the strategies that you should or should be allowed to use to convince people of your point of view, and it is absolutely unfortunate that this happens anyway. Even if the message were correct, this way of communicating a point of view is reprehensible; perhaps the planet, human health or animal welfare thrives on consuming less meat, but then put this up as an argument. More about this later ...
Realize that so much research has been done on topics related to nutrition and health that there is always a study for every position that is in line with your belief or opinion. However, when you close your eyes for the rest of all investigations you are doing it cherry picking, as it is called. Nice if you like homemade cherry jam, less if you want to convince someone of your opinion and / or want to be taken seriously.
One of the points that The Game Changers wants to make is that a diet without animal products would be better for your health. But is that really true? In the paragraphs below, I will explore the points made, one by one, with substantiated arguments.
Before we go into that further, I want to ask you a question. People always say about supplements that they are not needed and that you need to get your needs out of your diet. Supplements can supplement, not substitute. That's why it's called a supplement, not a substitute.
A diet that necessarily needs supplements to meet all needs is therefore not a complete diet by definition. Agree?
Let people who follow a vegan diet have vitamin B-12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and iron regularly, to name a few nutrients. Is an inadequate diet a healthy diet? You can answer that question for yourself.
Meat is bad?
The docu creates the impression that the positions made are scientifically substantiated. For example, there would be evidence that meat consumption could lead to inflammation (and from previous articles we all know what the consequences might be), cancer and cardiovascular disease.
A research among the elderly, however, it appears that the addition of meat to their diet led to less inflammation, without having any negative effect on cholesterol and blood pressure. While older people are a vulnerable group, especially when it comes to vascular disease.
This result seems to be at odds with the position taken by The Game Changers, in which they dare to compare meat consumption with cigarette smoking. All other confounders (Variables that influence the outcome without the researchers knowing) for the sake of convenience, they are not included for a moment.
There are meta-analyzes (1, 2) done (a combination of studies among thousands, thousands of test subjects) that show that consumption of meat, even red meat, is not at all so bad for health. The better these studies were set up, the lower the correlation seemed to be. This of course does not mean that the average diet is healthy and that it does not matter whether you eat more meat or more plants. Almost everyone will be able to improve their health by eating more plants. However, the meat is not the culprit in this, but the poor intake of plant-based sources is. There is an essential difference here.
Vegan / vegetarian healthier than meat?
A lot of scientific research shows that vegetarians or even vegans are generally in good health, at least better than the average person. From this you could draw the conclusion that a vegetarian / vegan diet is healthier than a diet that contains meat. The problem with this assumption, however, is that most vegans / vegetarians have made this lifestyle choice precisely because they are more concerned with their health. Their diet is not only different (higher in fiber, lower in calories, higher vitamin intake, ...) than the average population, but they may exercise more. Perhaps they sleep more (and we all know the far-reaching consequences of sleep and lack of sleep). Maybe they have a lower fat percentage. It is possible that they smoke less. They may drink less alcohol. Or maybe they take more time for relaxation and meditation ...
Do you see the problem?
Studies have been done that take into account all of these confounders try to keep.
- This research shows that vegetarians have a lower chance of developing cancer than meat eaters, but that fish eaters had an equally low chance.
- The following research shows no difference in the risk of death between meat eaters and vegetarians.
- This research even shows that a vegetarian diet is related to a lower BMI and lower alcohol consumption, but is also related to poorer health, more occurrence of allergies, cancer and mental disorders, a higher demand for medical care and a lower quality of life.
We can continue with this for a while, but it seems to be a clear story. Or rather, it doesn't seem clear to me at all. Research 1 says vegans are healthier, research 2 says there is no difference and research 3 claims that meat eaters are healthier.
If we look at where we come from, however, this can easily be explained. Man has always had a varied diet in all the years that we have been walking around on earth, from both plant sources and animal sources. Plants contain foods that animals sometimes do not contain and vice versa.
Nutrition and testosterone
Furthermore, in The Game Changers a few tests are conducted with Burritos and the effects on testosterone and Endothelial function. Anyone who understands anything about research knows that N = 1 provides no evidence at all. In addition, an important fact is forgotten in the documentary: namely that SHBG values were higher among vegans, so that the total amount of testosterone might be higher, but the amount of free testosterone (that your body can actually use) was comparable between the two groups. Incidentally, there is certainly evidence in the literature for a lower free testosterone level among vegans.
Another big point of this document is that a vegetable diet would not only be healthier (which it certainly does not have to be as shown in the above piece) would also be better for your performance. Take the example of an ox that never eats meat but is strong. The docu starts with a story about gladiators from ancient times and how these people usually had a diet rich in vegetable sources. I think this is a bit of a childish way to reinforce their point and attract attention. When you close your eyes and think of a gladiator, you probably see an extremely muscular and strong man in front of you. However, this image of gladiators was created by films, series and Hollywood and is therefore absolutely not a good source of facts. Anyway.
The reason for this predominantly vegetable-based diet for gladiators was not only to increase performance (although carbohydrates have an absolute performance-enhancing effect!), But to grow body fat and reduce costs. Muscle bleeds when you cut in it, fat a lot less. Fat gladiators were harder to get killed for that reason. In addition, gladiators were slaves and meat was expensive. The diet therefore had little to do with creating elite fighters.
They also cite a large number of athletes in the docu who perform well in their sport, on a vegan diet. Let's check them out piece by piece to see if the sketched image is that correct.
Connor Vs Diaz
It is suggested that Connor lost McGregor to Nate Diaz due to the difference in diet between the two: Connor ate a lot of meat, Nate ate a lot of vegetable food. The difference in body weight and size had of course nothing to do with this. in addition, the match-up wasn't really optimal for Connor either. Diaz has never been KO slapped and is very good on the ground, where Connor has indeed been choked.
Then a series of strength athletes pass by, from Olympic hitchhikers to strongmen. The strongman, Patrick, is almost brought out in The Game Changers as the strongest man in the world, while he is definitely not close to the top class.
By the way, he has not lived as a vegan, but as a vegetarian for most of his career (and can still enjoy the benefits of animal protein). Only later did he switch to a vegan diet, in 2011. By coincidence he has not set any great records since that time.
The Olympic hitchhiker, Kendrick Farris, is no longer breaking any personal records at the moment. By the way, he has built up most of his muscle mass and strength on a diet based on animal protein; His performance on a meat-based diet was better than on a vegetable-based diet in 2016, while his body weight is now higher.
The vegan bodybuilder, Nimai Delgado, has only competed once since switching to veganism.
But we not only discuss strength athletes, endurance athletes also come by
Novak Djokovic, the tennis player, tried it as a vegan for 2016 year in 1, to which he returned due to injuries and poorer performance. Currently, he mainly uses a 'plant-based' diet and not so much a vegan diet.
Tim Shieff, the freerunner, has discontinued his vegan lifestyle due to 'health issues'.
Scott Jurek, the ultra marathon rider, has indeed set a record as being vegan. However, this record has been crushed by a non-vegan.
The performance of Morgan Mitchell (sprinter) has plummeted since his switch to the vegan diet and is now running 400 meters slower than before.
Incidentally, this is not a surprise at all, if you are a bit familiar with proteins and amino acids. (You may skip the next paragraph if you have had chemistry and biology, but it is important to understand the piece below.)
As you may know, proteins are made from amino acids; a number of amino acids are essential (that is, our body needs to ingest them through food because it cannot make them itself from other nutrients) and some of these amino acids are not essential.
Complete protein is protein that contains (sufficient of) all essential amino acids. The amino acid profile of animal proteins usually scores a lot higher than that of vegetable proteins and therefore corresponds more to our body protein.
Gelatin, for example, is animal protein, but is hardly interesting for muscle building, because the amino acid profile for no meter matches the amino acids that are essential for us.
The more the amino acid profile matches, the more efficiently this protein can be used for muscle building, for example.
In addition, it is not only about the presence of all essential amino acids, but also about the fact that these amino acids are present in the right proportions.
Vegetable vs animal protein
In The Game Changers it is pretended that vegetable protein is in no way inferior to performance and muscle building of animal protein. This research however, shows that animal protein is absolutely superior when it comes to muscle building.
This research shows that milk and milk products are superior to soy when it comes to muscle building (despite the fact that soy, unlike many other vegetable protein sources, has a good, complete amino acid profile). This too research shows that whey protein is more effective in building muscle protein than soy, just like this research.
From this we can therefore conclude that the amino acid profile definitely matters and that animal proteins for muscle building and performance are superior to vegetable protein sources, or at least not inferior.
How much does an athlete need?
Furthermore, James in The Game Changers claims that the recommended daily intake of protein is around 50 grams per day. This may be true for an average passive person with an office job and zero exercise, but definitely not for an athlete.
For years there has been an image on the internet that compares broccoli as a protein source with meat. The Game Changers does the same with peanut butter and meat; apart from the fact that they completely ignore the fullness (or more the lack thereof) of protein from peanut butter, the calories and grams of fat obviously do not match at all.
I want to end with the suspicion expressed in The Game Changers about financing research from industries that are the subject of the investigations. For example, investigations where dairy comes out positively would have been funded by the dairy industry and it is of course good to approach such investigations with some caution. However, it would have been so fair if they had been named James Cameron in the same breath has invested millions in pea protein. Or that Schwarzenegger has released a vegetable protein supplement. Or that studies that would provide evidence of positive health effects of a vegan diet, cited in this document, are founded by, you guessed it, companies that have an interest in this.
Something with a pot and a kettle.
So everybody on meat?
A big story, from which you could conclude that this entire document is not going well.
Is the conclusion that we can connect to this that a vegan diet is complete nonsense?
I don't want to go that far. As I said in the beginning, I have nothing against vegans or vegetarians. Now that I think about it, I live almost completely vegetarian myself (out of ease) in the last few weeks.
It would only have been nice if the approach of The Game Changers had been fairer and more correct; for example from an environmental point of view. It is certainly a fact that animal husbandry is highly polluting, uses a lot of water and is not very efficient per kilo of protein produced. The choices we make as consumers can have an absolute good impact on animal welfare, environmental pollution and the depletion of raw materials.
This, of course, goes much further than not eating meat; Doing seasonal locally sourced shopping could contribute. Choosing meat that takes animal welfare into account could make a good contribution. Taking the plane less often and certainly not looking for a distant destination every summer could make an extremely good contribution (flying is really VERY polluting people). Working more at home could make a good contribution. Taking a bike or walking more often could make a good contribution. Live closer to your work. Separating waste. Be more careful with your things. Do not leave all lights on in the house. To recycle. Less shower time. Throw away less food. And so we can continue for a while.
There is nothing wrong with choosing less animal products. But make this choice based on the right motivation.
Jan Willem van der Klis