In light of the recent Netflix film ‘Game Changers’, we thought it would be advantageous to highlight key factors that came about from this film, both positives and negatives.
To summarise, the film sensationalises the benefits of athletes in following a vegan (or plant-based) lifestyle, yet fails to use robust, scientific literature to support their theories and instead uses anecdotal reports.
As Accredited Practising Dietitian’s we have been promoting fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole-grains for years. Research continually supports the benefits for integrating plant-based choices into our diet as they assist in maintaining a healthy heart and assist in cancer prevention. This is due to their abundance of phyto-nutrients (plant nutrients), vitamins and minerals, which promote antioxidant benefits at a cellular level. Plant foods also provide a rich source of dietary fibre, known to protect us from colorectal, stomach, prostate and lung cancers as well as improving and supporting a healthy microbiome for overall immune strength.
In fact, veganism can be quite detrimental to one’s health, let alone athletic performance if not planned appropriately:
Once we begin to eliminate key food groups, an individual’s macronutrient and micronutrient intake is significantly compromised. Not enough energy can result in weight-loss, increased risk (or recovery from) injury if you are an athlete and disruption to hormones
Not instigating a guided plant based diet can put at risk serious nutrient deficiencies over time including B12, Zinc and Iron.
Achieving optimal nutrition and high-performance doesn’t solely originate from a single diet food or nutrient, it’s about the synergy of different nutrients from foods and applying these into our every-day lifestyle.
Unfortunately, whilst there were positives we can take from this film, such as many scientific reasons to why we should eat more plants, the film cherry picked their athletes and used subjective reports to confirm their theories. Every individual/athlete is different, where energy and macronutrient requirements need to be periodised to suit one’s training and competition loads. A ‘plant-based’ diet doesn’t have to be quite restrictive as a vegan diet, it can still involve small, modest amounts of meat, poultry, fish, seafood and dairy. On an athletic level, there is no robust or large-scale study that portrays veganism and improved athletic performance.
Key Points to consider before diving into a fully plant-based diet:
Be mindful, the removal or restriction of even one key food group can lead to severe nutrient deficiency if not appropriately replaced. Guidance from an Accredited Practising Dietitian to find suitable substitutions should be sought out which are individualised to an every-day lifestyle, considering the types, amounts, distribution and timing across the day and aligning these with personal goals.
Fibre– whilst increasing plant-based foods is great, dietary fibre will be indirectly increased, which when an individual is not use to a higher fibre diet can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Particularly, for athletes or general gym goers, this can disrupt one’s performance during training or competition and again can compromise energy needs due to fibre’s satiating effects on the body, not ideal for optimal performance or growth.
Time and thought is necessitated to ensure an individual is achieving a wide variety of foods that encompasses all available nutrients required for your personal goals and nutritional needs. This involves a new knowledge of available products and how to integrate them in a sustainable manner.
Building muscle mass and achieving optimal strength and recovery requires a diverse range of foods that covers a complete spectrum of amino acids (building blocks of protein) daily. This is briefly touched on in the film, however what they fail to mention is the physiological difference in achieving optimal MPS from different protein sources.
In particular, leucine is a crucial amino acid involved augmenting new muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and is largely found in our animal based foods. It can be sourced from-plant based foods, with soy being the highest comparable food source (i.e. legumes, tofu, tempeh), however we need to eat a lot more to achieve similar results as it is not as efficient in the body.
Overall, the film portrays a positive underlining message, however the communication needed to be based off more informed and robust science. The film needed to focus more so on the benefits for integrating a healthy balance,, with emphasis on whole plant based foods, rather than mis-guiding individuals to restrict all animal-based foods to achieve best health, especially when such claims are not supported by adequate science.