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The Game Changers: Is it time for a root and branch review of dietary advice given to athletes?

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New Netflix documentary The Game Changers provides compelling evidence of the benefits of adopting a predominantly plant-based diet. The more high-profile athletes make the conversion, and attest to the move having fuelled their success, the more profound the implications for the sports sector and for sports coaches.

We are fed so much tosh and nonsense about our diets that I was sceptical to say the least as I settled down to watch the new Netflix documentary The Game Changers.

In the weeks since the biggest-selling documentary of all time on iTunes has been released on the on-demand streaming service, it has received rave reviews and caused quite a commotion.

I must confess, it was a complete revelation. Yes, it presented a one-sided argument, but it also provided a wealth of compelling evidence of the benefits of adopting a predominantly plant-based diet.

Whether you were totally sold or stubbornly brushed it off as a well-funded marketing ploy to convert waverers who love their meat to veganism, there can be no denying that, even if there are only crumbs of truth to some of its boldest claims, the growing movement could have profound implications for the sports industry and for sports coaches everywhere.

It was billed as a “quest to find the optimal diet for human performance and health”, and carried a disclaimer in the opening credits: “The statements expressed are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice”.

But what if the cornerstone of modern dietary guidelines (the nutritional value of meat) is founded to some degree on myth and perpetuated by misinformed advertising campaigns aimed at reinforcing the demand for animal products?

You can certainly understand the confusion of consumers. How many times are the findings of one study adjudged to be unreliable and quickly countered by a separate research study claiming the opposite to be true. Which team of academics do we believe and trust? Certainly not industry-funded studies, which “are four to eight times more likely to have a conclusion in their favour for their product”, according to The Game Changers producer James Wilks.

The historical, cultural and even sexual misconceptions about meat that the documentary attempts to lay bare, didn’t just make a believer out of me (I am two weeks into my own plant-based experiment), I discovered in a fascinating chat with Born Barikor at the UK Coaching Awards that he too is an enthusiastic convert.

If you haven’t heard of Born, he is the CEO and founder of Our Parks, which delivers free, group exercise classes led by qualified instructors to city parks throughout London and across the UK (you can listen to his UK Coaching podcast on how to create an engaging coaching environment here).

He has also recently embarked on a period of self-experimentation, and was looking forward to testing the growing body of research that claims switching to a plant-based diet can improve recovery time from injury and provide the building blocks for improved strength, endurance and all-round athletic performance.

As a coach, mentor and motivator, and a fitness fanatic, he is keen to discover if there are clear and obvious benefits to switching to a plant-based diet.

Plant-based proteins: Success on a plate

According to the documentary, the average plant-eater gets 70% more protein than they need.

“The protein you get from eating a steak or hamburger came from the plants that the cow ate. All proteins from meat comes from plants – and cows, pigs and chickens are just the ‘middle men’.”

The documentary also refutes the myth that plant-based proteins are inferior: “It is a fallacy that plant-based amino acid strings that make up proteins are incomplete. Every single plant contains all the amino acids in varying proportions.”

So, could the documentary spark a seismic shift, or is it a vegan-lobby conspiracy?

Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Lewis Hamilton and world champion track and road race cyclist Lizzie Deignan are among a growing number of high-profile world-class athletes, of every shape and size and representing every kind of sport, who say the move to a plant-based diet has fuelled their success.

Imagine if a top Premier League football team conducted their own intensive experiment, putting their players on meat-free, dairy-free diets. And imagine if it worked.

By swapping the supposedly inferior variants of amino acid chains found in animal products for the higher-grade proteins found in plant-based food, imagine it helped facilitate increased strength and endurance and resulted in markedly improved performances, diminished rates of injury and quicker healing times?

You can take my anecdotal evidence with a pinch of salt, or an entire handful if you like, but two weeks into my experiment, the signs are promising. Training times on my road bike have improved and I am finding running longer distances noticeably easier. The power of the placebo effect perhaps?

If there was a paradigm shift in dietary advice given to athletes, how might this impact on the coaching industry I wonder, bearing in mind the boundaries that coaches must work within in terms of providing nutrition advice?

And if all coaches should be doing is passing on general guidance on healthy eating rather than giving detailed or prescriptive advice, how might they proceed if they themselves are experiencing major performance gains from switching to a predominantly plant-based diet?

Has anyone you coach ever come to speak to you about converting to a plant-based diet?

Please let me know your thoughts below.

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Comments (4)


In the interests of balance, I would recommend downloading the following Joe Rogan Experience podcast, where nutrition expert Chris Kesser – a Paleo Diet advocate – attempts to debunk what he believes are bogus claims made in the documentary, while The Game Changers producer James Wilks mounts an impassioned case for the defence. The debate begins at the six-minute mark.


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I would wait for long term vegan athletes to come through. A film produced by someone who has just invested heavily in a pea protein business is not necessarily to be trusted.

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Lizzie Deignan is vegetarian, not vegan, and eats fish. Djokovic is not vegan. Lewis Hamilton is looking like he's going through depression since becoming vegan (of course he may have been that way before!)

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Very glad you shared the Chris Kresser podcast, Blake as that is a cracker if this sort of topic interests you! I really enjoyed the Game Changers documentary and have been eating plant based for two years now but am in the process of changing to a Paleo diet. No matter what your stance is, I think what is important to remember is is that there isn't a one size fits all approach and everyone will have different dietary needs - including coaches themselves and the athletes they coach so do your research about what is right for you! What I'd like to stress is that whether you eat meat or not, all of your dietary day-to-day choices are important and we should all be choosing to eat quality whole unprocessed foods.

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