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The Game Changers exposed Bad science, great propaganda

The Game Changers bloßgestellt Schlechte Wissenschaft, tolle Propaganda

The killer argument...or not

The metaphor was perfect. The scene? A fight between Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor. Vegans against carnivores. Plants fighting meat for nutritional superiority. It was an effective image that struck a nerve with the lay audience. Plant-based diets are for the strong, meat must be beaten. And plants have won.

But there's a problem. Diaz lost the rematch against McGregor. Was it because McGregor had also become a vegan? No. Was Diaz fed a porterhouse steak against his will? Was he injected with hemoglobin instead of electrolytes during his rehydration infusion? No.

The result of the rematch, just like the original fight, had nothing to do with the dietary preferences of the fighters involved. And while we're at it - aside from losing his second fight to McGregor, Diaz also lost to 10 other fighters...who weren't vegan.

What happened on "The Game Changers" was classic cherry-picking. You cherry pick the events, images or facts that support your point of view and ignore the ones that say otherwise. And that's something this movie (I'm not calling it a documentary) does for about 90 minutes.

I have to admit that it comes across as compelling, which isn't surprising for a movie coming from a genius storyteller like James Cameron. But this movie is misleading at best and propaganda at worst.

The REAL game changer...or not

Trivia time. Name 2 things that Georges St-Pierre (MMA), Usain Bolt (track and field), Mat Fraser (CrossFit), Michael Phelps (swimming) and Wayne Gretzky (field hockey) have in common?


  1. They were the best at their sports.
  2. They were fast food junkies.

Michael Phelps' daily dose of McDonalds is well documented. Usain Bolt loves his McNuggets and KFC, which he also ate daily during the Beijing Olympics. I myself saw Mat Fraser eating a Big Mac 30 minutes before the last event at the Northeastern Regionals in 2016. I was in the warm-up room with one of my athletes and Mat was just a few feet away as he ate his meat burger before dominating over everyone else.

As for Georges St-Pierre, I spent some time with him in Vegas when he was still sponsored by Biotest. I coached his coach and know many who worked with him. And Gretzky was pretty much like every other Canadian field hockey player - he grew up eating burgers and hot dogs.

I think it's pretty clear that the real key to athletic success is eating fast food, since more than 80% of professional athletes eat fast food.

It must be the saturated fat that helps increase testosterone levels, which has a positive impact on muscle growth, strength and competitiveness. In addition, the high sodium content of the food will help prevent dehydration and optimize muscle contractions. Fast food is very effective in preventing hyponatraemia (a sodium deficiency) - a serious condition that can lead to lack of energy, irritability, confusion, cramps and even seizures.

There are at least 1000 times more athletes who regularly consume fast food than there are successful vegan athletes. So fast food is clearly the better way to go.

Do you see how easy this argument is? Of course it's complete nonsense. Fast food is not optimal for athletes (or anyone else for that matter).

I should produce a documentary called "The REAL Game Changers" and show that fast food is superior for maximum athletic performance. I would probably have no problem finding sponsors.

Of course, it would be idiotic to try to convince anyone that fast food is not only acceptable, but even recommended for athletes. But that's exactly what cherry-picking does. It allows you to convincingly present an opinion as superior.

The same works with any dietary option: keto, meat-eater, vegetarian, intermittent fasting, vegan ketogenic diet, IIFYM, the average Western European diet, etc. You will find successful athletes in all these categories. And if you get the facts right, you can cobble together something just as compelling as "The Game Changers".

The truth is, I've seen the diets of the athletes I've coached (athletes from 28 different disciplines) and in most cases, these athletes excelled in spite of their diet - not because of their diet.

Note: I don't care if you are a vegan or want to become a vegan. You can do what you want with your life. I also don't care if you disagree with me and present valid scientific information to argue with me. I'll keep an open mind as long as you keep an open mind.

What I have a problem with is propaganda - playing on the ignorance of lay people to make money or promote an agenda.

Three examples of dishonest representations

The first problem I have with the movie is that it uses powerful imagery and intellectual shortcuts to prove its point. There are three primary places where this occurs. Let's look at these in detail:

1. the Strongman example

They show that Strongman athlete Patrik Baboumian draws his strength from plants. Patrick seems to be an excellent, definitely charismatic and excellent prime example of a vegan. But we have the same problem here as with the Diaz story.

Baboumian is very strong for sure, but a lot of strongmen are better than him. I'm friends with two of Canada's strongest men (Jean-Francois Caron, who came fourth in the World's Strongest Man competition, and Jimmy Paquet) and I can confirm that both of them - like most other strongmen - eat insane amounts of meat and eggs every day.

Baboumian is the exception. And as with everything in life, unless you are exceptional yourself, you should follow what works for the greatest number of people - not what has worked for an exception that is swimming against the tide.

2. the example with the blood samples

You have two people who eat either plant-based foods or steak. Then they took blood samples and surprise surprise, the meat eater's blood was thicker and darker. This is a powerful image and you can almost feel your arteries clogging up when you see this.

But of course the blood will be thicker. The same thing would have happened if the vegan had eaten avocados and almonds, which are obviously also vegan. After eating, the nutrients are digested, enter the bloodstream to be transported to their storage sites (muscles, liver, fat cells) or to be used as energy by muscles and brain. Test the blood once the nutrients are stored and everything will be back to normal.

Fatty acids are thicker than glucose (carbohydrates) and amino acids. It is not surprising that the blood appears thicker after a steak, as the fatty acids have to be transported to their storage sites. This has always happened in the body of anyone who consumes fat and yet humans have survived.

If I wanted to do the same thing to veganism that The Game Changers did to meat eaters, I would perform the same kind of blood test after a meal of grapes and rice versus lean chicken breast. But instead of looking at viscosity, I would test blood glucose levels.

If I tested that at the right time, the blood glucose levels after the vegan meal would be very high and on the verge of hyperglycemia. After the chicken meal, on the other hand, blood sugar levels would be in the normal range. I would then argue that a vegan diet can contribute to the development of diabetes due to the high blood sugar levels it induces.

I would, of course, be manipulating facts and taking an intellectual shortcut...just like the blood tests done on The Game Changers.

It is well documented that the body needs fatty acids to function optimally. This includes maintaining a healthy brain and nervous system. Also, the production of several vital hormones (including testosterone and estrogen) require cholesterol for their production. And don't forget that fat is needed for the absorption of certain vitamins.

If you need to eat fat to stay healthy and function optimally, then you will inevitably get the "thick blood" they show in the movie, because if you consume fat (even from plant sources), then it will sit in the bloodstream until it is stored or used.

3. the gladiator example

Another powerful argument used in the movie was the claim that gladiators ate a vegan diet and had excellent bone density. And of course we think of big muscles and very manly guys when we think of gladiators.

I believe that gladiators were fed a plant-based diet. They were slaves who trained to die. Why feed them more expensive meat, fish or eggs?

But here's the intellectual shortcut: a gladiator's life expectancy wasn't particularly long. This had nothing to do with their vegan diet, but with the potential dangers of their profession such as a sharp spear or a lion.

This means that they did not eat a vegan diet for very long. Most gladiators were soldiers who had been captured after a defeat. Most of them had probably followed a diet that included meat and other animal products (alongside fruit and vegetables) for most of their lives.

If you followed a mixed diet that included meat, fish, eggs and cheese for a period of 25 years, then were captured after a fight and fed a vegan diet for the next 18 months as a gladiator before dying in the arena, what would have the most significant impact on your bone density and muscle mass? Of course, the diet you followed for 25 years and not the 18 months at the end of your life.

How to correct the appearance of a suboptimal diet

Meat consumption is often subconsciously associated with strength. Conversely, vegans are often seen as weaker. This is why so much emphasis is placed on trying to show how effective a vegan diet is for building strength.

This is why they mention Patrick Baboumian and go into the impact of beet juice on bench press performance. The movie claims that a single dose of beet juice can increase bench press performance by 19%. Anyone who has experience with serious training knows how silly such a claim is.

Heck, you can use steroids for three weeks and it's still unlikely that you'll increase your bench press performance by 19%. But a single serving of beet juice is supposed to do that? Wow, amazing. We know this is a misinterpretation of the science, but to the average, non-exercising person, it sounds very appealing.

And even if the whole thing were true, beet and its juice are not limited to vegans. I know it sounds unimaginable, but you can eat beet AND still be a person who eats beef or chicken. Shocking, isn't it?

That's a consistent theme throughout the movie - they pit plants against meat. But aside from a small minority of people, most of us meat eaters also eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes and other plant products. You don't have to exclude plants from your diet if you eat meat.

All of the benefits of plants mentioned in the movie can also come into play in a meat-eater's diet.

The tooth argument

This point has nothing to do with muscles, strength or athleticism, but in The Game Changers it is claimed that our ancestors were vegan. This is simply wrong. All you have to do is look at our teeth.

We have 20 flat molars and premolars to crush food. We have 4 canines that are there to tear food apart and 8 incisors to cut food. This is the dentition of an omnivore - even if we don't have vampire-like fangs.

It is well documented that we evolved as omnivores. We were hunter-gatherers and we have been for at least 150,000 years. Although it is true that some humans lived without much meat, the opposite (humans living without vegetables) can also be found (e.g. Eskimos).

One of the reasons that we humans have survived all these years and have become the dominant species in the world is our ability to adapt. And that includes the ability to adapt to different food sources, including meat.

Nutrition and hormones

You are passionate about training and changing your body. You read up on the internet to be smarter than the average exerciser and you're probably aware of the importance of multiple hormones when it comes to building muscle and losing fat. Likewise, you'll probably be aware of the importance of controlling the stress hormone cortisol if you want to maximize your gains - especially if you're not using steroids.

The movie The Game Changers hasn't forgotten you, they mention that plants reduce cortisol levels, but even that is a distortion of the facts. The more appropriate sentence would be "Carbohydrates lower cortisol levels."

And that is correct. One of the main functions of cortisol is to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. If blood sugar levels drop too low, cortisol will raise blood sugar levels by mobilizing stored glycogen.

If you eat any form of carbohydrate, you will raise your blood sugar levels. If blood sugar levels are normal or high, then your body needs to release less cortisol.

The problem is not to say that carbs lower cortisol levels - the problem is to imply that only vegans eat carbs. Pretty much all the valid science in the movie applies to anyone who eats plants - not just vegans.

And when the documentary says that a plant-based diet will lower cortisol levels and raise testosterone levels, this is a misinterpretation of the science.

If someone eats very low amounts of carbohydrates, their cortisol levels will turn out higher (to maintain blood sugar levels). And over time, excessive cortisol production can lower testosterone levels. Why? Because both are produced from the same hormone of origin: Pregnenolone. The more cortisol is produced, the more pregnenolone is used and the less is available to make testosterone.

I agree that low carbohydrate diets can increase cortisol levels. For this reason, I would not recommend a very low carbohydrate diet for people who lead stressful lives and already have high cortisol levels.

The study they use has shown that increased carbohydrate intake will lower cortisol levels and increase testosterone levels. This is true. Since more carbohydrates lead to higher blood sugar levels and more immediately available energy, there is less need to release cortisol to mobilize stored glycogen. However, the study did not use a vegan diet. It only looked at the effects of increased carbohydrate intake on hormone levels.

  • It was not shown that a plant-based diet per se will increase testosterone levels and decrease cortisol levels.
  • It has been shown that adding carbohydrates to a low carbohydrate diet will increase testosterone levels and decrease cortisol levels.

Say I follow an "omnivorous" diet. If I increase my carbohydrate intake from 50 grams per day to 250 grams per day, while continuing to eat animal foods, then I will also experience positive hormonal effects.

You probably recognize a pattern here. The movie uses either emotion, powerful imagery or intellectual shortcuts to prove its point. And when they mention solid science, it's not directly related to a vegan diet, just to eating carbohydrates or plants in general. The benefits will be the same if you add these plant-based foods to a diet that includes animal products.

What the movie doesn't tell you ... conveniently

When presenting your opinion, it's always more important to talk about potential shortcomings of your point of view than to make people believe that your approach is perfect. Recognize the shortcomings of your position, but also alleviate the fear of those you are trying to convince. That is true greatness.

But The Game Changers movie doesn't do this. It doesn't fit the business, I guess.

The truth is that a vegan diet can also have significant drawbacks. The most obvious and well-documented is a vitamin B12 deficiency. This deficiency can lead to problems such as fatigue, weakness, dizziness, lack of energy and vision problems.

It can also negatively affect the methylation cycle, which uses B vitamins to produce methyl donors. If your methylation cycle is ineffective, this can lead to serious problems such as depression, anxiety and fatigue.

Not surprisingly, more and more studies show that vegans are at higher risk of depression and anxiety disorders (e.g. Matta, J.; Czernichow, S.; Kesse-Guyot, E.; Hoertel, N.; Limosin, F.; Goldberg, M.; Zins, M.; Lemogne, C. Depressive Symptoms and Vegetarian Diets: Results from the Constances Cohort. Nutrients 2018, 10, 1695.). Vitamin B12 and in particular its influence on the methylation cycle are the main reason for this.

Another major problem of a vegan diet is a lack of choline in the diet. Choline is essential for the production of acetylcholine - a key neurotransmitter involved in creativity, memory, coordination and learning. A lack of choline in the diet will lead to lower acetylcholine levels.

The main sources of acetylcholine are animal by-products. Here are some choline-rich foods and their choline content per 100 grams:

  • Liver: 431 milligrams
  • Eggs: 226 milligrams
  • Steak: 104 milligrams
  • Salmon: 90.4 milligrams

Of the non-animal foods, only almonds contain a moderate amount of choline, but at 52.5 milligrams per 100 grams, they also contain just over a tenth of the amount of choline found in liver. Most plant foods do not provide significant amounts of choline. Broccoli is one of the few plants with some choline (40 mg per 100 grams).

There is also a real risk of EPA and DHA deficiency as plant sources of omega-3 need to be converted to EPA and DHA and the body does not have large amounts of the enzymes responsible for this conversion.

The argument against these 3 possible deficiencies is that you can always supplement vitamin B12, choline or EPA and DHA. However, the latter is problematic for vegans as they are often against fish oil as it is an animal source.

But can a diet where supplementation is necessary to avoid deficiencies be optimal at all?

Strangely, the movie doesn't mention any of the vegan influencers who had to give up their vegan diet because they started to develop serious health problems. Yovana Mendoza, a YouTube and Instagram star with over a million followers, is a famous example.

She had to start including animal foods in her diet to save her health. The same happened to other famous vegan influencers like Alyse Parker, Bonnie Rebecca and many others. It's not all sunshine and rainbows.

But it's not all bad either

The movie is to nutrition what CrossFit is to training with weights. Even though CrossFit is taken to an extreme that can lead to problems, its popularity has led to many good things. It has made squats, deadlifts and the Olympic weightlifting exercises more popular than ever before. It has also made being in shape a trend.

Perhaps The Game Changers could have a similar positive effect. The movie could lead to people eating more vegetables and plant-based foods. Even though I believe that not eating meat at all is a mistake, eating more plants is certainly a good idea.

The movie could also make people more interested in learning about nutrition. A lot of people start with CrossFit and then move on to powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting or even bodybuilding. Something similar could happen with food.

However, despite these positive influences, the overall message and strategy of The Game Changers make the movie little more than a propaganda tool.

If you are vegan for ethical reasons (such as animal welfare), then I respect your choice. However, if you are doing it to optimize your health, then you should think twice about this. Eating "real food", which means more plants but still some animal foods, is still the healthier option.

"The best dietary strategy is to eat like a vegan, but with some meat."


By Christian Thibaudeau

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