Why you should care
Because plants are powering more and more Olympic gold medalists, NFL and NBA players and UFC fighters.
If you want to perform athletically at a high level, you’ve got to treat your body like a Ferrari, explains Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Brady Oliveira, and that means pumping in premium fuel. According to a recent sports documentary, that fuel isn’t a steak at every meal; it’s plants.
Eating plants instead of animals is the best way to optimize athletic performance, claims the controversial and celeb-studded documentary The Game Changers, which has found a quiet but fervent following since its release a few months ago. The premise: A plant-based diet — and being mindful of not just how we’re eating, but what we’re eating — leads to a stronger athlete. Muscles work better, recovery is quicker and overall health improves.
But what this film isn’t about: adopting a vegan lifestyle. “Not all plant-based diets are vegan,” explains James Wilks, the film’s narrator and protagonist, who is a former pro MMA fighter. It’s about dispelling the myth that only meat can provide the protein necessary for performance. A plant-based diet, the film argues, might just be the answer to helping our health and the planet — a solution our meat-lusting society has been avoiding.
The takeaway? If you want to get stronger and happier, step away from the meat counter.
Wilks takes the audience on his journey to recovery after a debilitating injury, explaining how plant-based nutrition helped him and has also helped other athletes. The 86-minute film features interviews with scientists and well-respected experts, cameos of mouthwatering (plant-based, of course) food and even some surprises, like the connection between meats and erectile dysfunction. The takeaway? If you want to get stronger and happier, step away from the meat counter.
Released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and on Netflix in September 2019, The Game Changers engages a host of heavy hitters both behind (like James Cameron) and in front of the camera. It also leans on anecdotal evidence from some of the world’s fastest and strongest athletes, such as strongman Patrik Baboumian, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Dotsie Bausch, Scott Jurek, Lewis Hamilton, Morgan Mitchell and others — all of which are plant-based.
Oliveira’s been plant-powered since 2016, but since the release of The Game Changers, several other athletes have come out of the green closet. Wilks says that many elite athletes, including Olympic gold medalists, NFL and NBA players and UFC fighters, have been reaching out and asking for consultations with dieticians.
Unsurprisingly, the plant-pushing film has faced head-on criticism, such as accusations in publications like Men’s Health of false or misleading scientific evidence. And the doc was the subject of a recent four-hour debate on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast in which Wilks and author and health coach Chris Kresser battled over the validity of the film’s studies and data. In an Instagram post about the marathon discussion, Rogan said, “James knocked it out of the park, and defended himself and the film quite spectacularly. So much so that I’m actually considering taking the original breakdown of the film offline.”
Still, “the good thing is that it [the film] really did shine a light on being more plant based,” says Kathleen Oswalt, a predominantly plant-based registered dietitian nutritionist and co-owner of Eat Love Triathlon, especially when Americans “just aren’t eating plants.” However, she would have liked to see more focus on food variety in the film.
In October, The Game Changers became the best-selling documentary of all time on iTunes, a week after it was released, and it continues to be a top rental. Wilks says the doc’s mention of environmental consequences also makes it a “hot topic,” especially as younger generations are concerned about the planet and the environment. People “believe they need meat and animal products to be strong and healthy, but they don’t want to even entertain arguments or hear about these other things,” he explains.
And the plant-based industry is booming. A recent study shows that U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods have increased 11 percent over the past year, and that market is valued at $4.5 billion.
So whether you’re looking to get an energy boost in 2020, have Arnold’s arms or simply be part of the meat-free trend, The Game Changers aims to show there are advantages to eating with intention and giving that Ferrari the fuel it deserves. Bring on the jackfruit tacos.