Did Game Changers Convince You to Go Vegan? Perhaps You Should Reconsider

In September 2018, a documentary called Game Changers was released on Netflix, and by the middle of 2019, people started asking me: “Have you watched Game Changers?”. I have been self experimenting with my diet since 2014, have tried many different ways of eating, and have spent countless hours researching health and nutrition, so many of the people who know me were keen to get my input on this new documentary. 

I watched the documentary, interested to see what all of the hype was about, and I must say, I was very underwhelmed. I think most people with a lot of health and nutrition research experience could see that Game Changers misrepresented a lot of the research papers that they cited as references, their best evidence was anecdote and the experiments they did are pseudoscientific and not backed by any controlled clinical research. I will try my best to break down these points and hopefully, this will show you why this documentary is not a game-changer at all.

The very first evidence brought up in Game Changers is the gladiator study. They do a visually impressive demonstration of how much strontium (which indicates plant consumption) there was in the bones of gladiators, which matches the written history of gladiators eating large amounts of barley and other grains, which Game Changers wants you to believe is evidence of ancient elite athletes being plant-based

If you fact check the paper that they cited, the paper actually talks about the gladiators being slaves and eating large amounts of barley and other grains to gain as much fat as they possibly could in order to improve their odds of survival in the arena (more fat helped protect gladiators against fatal cuts). 

Game Changers paints a picture of gladiators looking like Russel Crowe in the movie Gladiator and not the actual reality of gladiators being slaves, trying to get as fat as they could and having no say in what they got to eat. This is what misrepresentation is and it happens with many other papers cited during the documentary. I could go on and give you plenty more examples, but a quick google search for “Game Changers Debunked” will bring up plenty of other examples that other people have also picked up. 

For me, this clear misrepresentation of the scientific research set the tone for the rest of the documentary. Why would you fully trust any of their other claims if they are so deceptive on the very first segment of information they give you?

An anecdote is defined as a story that is significant to the topic at hand, using personal knowledge or experience. I have no problem with the use of anecdotes, and in my opinion, the documentary should have made its main focus the anecdotes of the athletes they featured instead of pretending to be scientific and objective. 

We just need to remember that anecdotes are still a story and stories can be false, true, or a mixture of both. A lot of times two different anecdotes about the same topic will conflict with each other and there is no way to figure out which one is the most accurate and it is difficult to fact check personal experience. 

I believe that the best thing to do is to make your own anecdote and experiment on yourself. Don’t be married to your ideas. You will be just fine if you change your mind on an idea you once held dear. Try something new and you might just surprise yourself. Game Changers featured a lot of great athletes that anecdotally attributed their success to their change in diet. 

In response to this, I can give you my own anecdote that when I went on a strict vegan diet in February 2020 (keep in mind that I was on a wholefoods paleo diet in January before going vegan), I observed a decline in my athletic ability. I was tracking all my athletic performances in field hockey and ultimate frisbee and after 1 week of going vegan, I was unable to run as far in a match as I was in January. 

I was also tracking my sleep and my body composition and both got worse very quickly. I was sleeping more, but getting significantly lower sleep scores and my lean muscle mass decreased by roughly 1 kg in 1 month despite carefully monitoring my macro and micronutrient intake. I do think that going plant-based is much better than a standard American diet, and this is a common theme in many of the anecdotes from the athletes in Game Changers. 

They were eating a lot of junk food and then they went plant-based and noticed an improvement. Would they have noticed an improvement if they were on a varied wholefoods diet before going plant-based? In my opinion, probably not. This is what happens with anecdotes. You won’t know what to believe if you listen to every anecdote, so experiment on yourself and search for your own truth.

Lastly, I would like to address the “experiments” done in Game Changers. Randomised Controlled Trials (RCT’s) are the basis for any good experiment, with Randomised Controlled Clinical Trials (RCCT’s) being the gold standard for nutrition research. Randomised controlled means that they randomly assign people into the experimental group (the people they test) and the control group (the people that do nothing in order to compare to the people tested). 

RCCT’s are the gold standard because they happen in a clinical setting, which levels the playing field of the experiment and prevents confounding variables from influencing the results. Game Changers did none of this in any of their experiments, which makes their results completely invalid. A good example is the night time erection experiment they did on three athletes. 

It is unlikely that anyone would be able to replicate the results found in the documentary with a proper trial. The first night a subject wears a new apparatus to bed should not count towards the results, because their body will still be adapting to the strange new thing attached to it. 

I would bet that if they started with the first night testing the vegan meal, they would have had the results swapped around and it would have made the meal with animal products look like the thing that improved their erections. 

Another example is the blood plasma experiment, where they drew blood and put it in a centrifuge to look at how clear the plasma is after eating either a normal chicken/beef burrito or a vegan bean burrito. The first thing to mention is that a burrito is by no means a health food. 

Second, I have seen a few different people do the same experiment with their blood plasma after eating a large meal of steak and eggs and their plasma was just as clear as the vegan burrito results in Game Changers. I have also seen other people eat avocado with olive oil on toast and getting cloudy blood plasma like the chicken/beef burrito results from the documentary. 

This just demonstrates once again that Game Changers was more concerned with furthering their own viewpoint rather than being objective and clearly communicating the truth of the matter at hand. I would trust my own personal experiment over any of the debunked experiments from Game Changers.

There are plenty of other details and examples of how the Game Changers documentary can be debunked, but I don’t think it is as effective to go over every single detail and I would rather provide a good overview of why you shouldn’t trust them as a source just because they seem scientific. So, if you are reading this and Game Changers convinced you to go vegan, don’t let the experimentation end. There are so many other things you can try that might teach you more about yourself than you expect.

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