There are prominent vegan weight lifters

Game Changers: Fake or Fact? Analysis of the Netflix documentary about vegan nutrition

Who would have thought? The topic of nutrition has arrived in the age of streaming. With "The Game Changers", Netflix has ennobled vegan nutrition to pop culture and is primarily reaching a young target group. She now has a lot of questions. Like, for example: Is that all true at all?

He wasn't even known to ski fans. And then the Swiss Urs Kryenbühl swings sensationally in second place after the World Cup descent from Bormio, stands in front of the TV microphones and explains that since he saw "The Game Changers" he has completely done without animal products and has been vegan. “In skiing, nuances are often important. I thought I would try this once. It was the right step, ”beamed the young man. Instead of cheese and his favorite food, cordon bleu, there are now vegetables from the wok, potatoes and rice, and instead of cow's milk, almond milk. That was new food for the hype surrounding the US documentary "The Game Changers" (see info box). Revolutionary education in the streaming service Netflix or vegan propaganda film? The spirits are divided. Many blogs and experts are dedicated to the topic, which thanks to the high number of hits on the documentary and the sales-based website provides a lot of talking point for young target groups in school classes, sports clubs and all those interested in health. The subject is emotional, but criticism is pouring in. The documentary, which is spectacularly made and edited (the producer is none other than Titanic director James Cameron), is too striking and not scientifically accurate enough to state that vegan nutrition is superior to that made from animal products. Reason enough for SPORTaktiv to bring our experts to the table. “The documentary motivated me to take a closer look at the vegan lifestyle and a plant-based diet,” says sports and nutritionist Robert Fritz from the sports ordinance in Vienna. “I talked to a lot of people about the documentary and it got a lot of people to try it.

For some it worked, others weren't able to implement it. ”Before that, however, Fritz already had experience. “I have been looking after amateur and high-performance athletes who are vegan for years, and I can say that this way of life can absolutely be combined with high athletic performance. The documentary is much too sensational and tries to only color the topic black and white. ”For example, Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan (also co-producer) and many highly successful athletes like Strongman world record holder Patrik Baboumian presented the vegan diet as the main criterion for their success. Things like talent, training, tactics, luck or team spirit are hardly taken into account. For example, some Tennessee Titans football players are shown eating vegan, private meals and the relatively small group's newly acquired eating habits are then provided as an explanation of why the Titans team (around 50 people) made the play-offs "for the first time in ages" . "Not: Vegan is right and mixed food is wrong," says Fritz. “And vice versa, that's by no means true. Scientifically, however, it can be summarized that a balanced mixed diet and a well-considered plant-based diet are the same and do not really have any advantages for performance. ”Jane Bergthaler, dietologist specializing in sports nutrition, sums this up succinctly:“ One like the one shown in the film Increasing performance through nutrition is basically conceivable.

People deal with nutrition who have not done this before. That’s very positive.

Dr. Robert Fritz, sports and nutrition medicine

But to do this, someone would have to eat sausage rolls, lemonade and fast food beforehand and then switch to healthy, nutrient-rich food. As in the film, it's far too one-sided. "Which Fritz confirms:" The incredible successes of the athletes in the documentary are based either on an increase in the intake of carbohydrates or on the fact that they are subject to a placebo effect. Entering the competition with the thought that I am superior to everyone because I eat differently can mean the last few seconds needed for success. "The documentary fulfills the purpose of waking people up, says Fritz:" There are many problems in sport and due to improper nutrition in everyday life. "Train the Gut" is a term that was unknown in sport just a few years ago. I am always amazed at the high level of training and equipment with some athletes, but they have hardly dealt with their diet. There is a lot of potential in sport. ”The style of“ Game Changers ”, however, is a different chapter. "From a scientific point of view, it is actually terrible," Fritz judges rigorously.

For Bergthaler, "the source information is not on a high level, generally a problem in many media". Studies that are not studies are cited as sources, and subordinate clauses are exaggerated by experts into wisdom. The celebrity factor and quick cuts with dozens of graphics, percentages, rates of increase and terms such as TMAO, heterocyclic amines and N-glycolylneuraminic acid confuse and feign science. And scare-mongers: Meat eaters would have a 400 to 500 percent increased risk of cancer, for example prostate cancer, says the documentary. Total nonsense, say independent experts. In the film, an experiment aims to prove that a single hamburger can reduce blood flow by 27 percent and are 70 percent more susceptible to inflammation. A burrito experiment with three athletes on two days (one meat, one vegan) showed a completely different coloration of the blood plasma two hours later. The plasma after a vegan burrito was wonderfully clear. The erection experiment appears almost gaudy, but at least with a twinkle in the eye: The frequency and intensity of nocturnal erections were measured in three young athletes. On the night with a vegan burrito for dinner, the duration of erections in the three athletes increased by 300 to 500 percent. Excited giggling of the men in the documentary, since then regular discussion in virile men's groups. Studies on this? Nothing.

A good thing in itself. But Game Changers is radical. The points of criticism should be prepared well.

Jane Bergthaler, BSC MSC, dietologist specializing in sports nutrition

And yet with our experts, both excellent athletes, the positive aspect of the documentary prevails. “People deal with nutrition who have not done that before. It's not difficult, but you should know and understand a few basics, ”says Fritz. But it takes more than this documentary. “People shouldn't be so easily influenced by blogs or websites on the Internet. Serious literature is not always easy to find. And please do not seek advice from experts who already want to sell a product in the first conversation that you allegedly cannot live without who specialize in plant-based meat alternatives and vegan protein products. Bergthaler: “I think the seers have to know that, otherwise they will be blinded. Good, well-thought-out plant-based nutrition in itself is a good thing. Game Changers is radical, so you should analyze well and prepare the points of criticism. "

Fritz has seen many trends come and go in the past 15 years: paleo, high fat, low carb, no carb, ketogenic, now vegan. “For me, all trends have something positive in common: They make people think about nutrition. However, none of these trends caught on in the long term. ”Bergthaler agrees. “In general, I have a problem when nutrition is turned into hype or religion. The documentary is good when people rethink their eating and drinking decisions, happily pick up the wooden spoon and ask: How do I make a lentil stew? What is a chickpea curry? ”She describes herself as keen to experiment, tries everything and loves local superfoods such as flax seeds, oatmeal and blueberries. “I eat extremely little meat, maybe three times a year. But then I can eat a beef tartare or a medium rare steak if I like. ”Fritz is not a vegan either. “I avoid sugar, eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, and also like meat. But I have at least two or three days a week on which I eat a vegetarian diet - sometimes more. I think a plant-based diet makes sense, but eat less meat anyway. A vegan lifestyle would not be suitable for me. But I do not judge it in any way and support some athletes in implementing it successfully. "

The Game Changers
US documentary (2018) about the benefits of a vegan diet based on many examples from professional sports; Producer: James Cameron (including Terminator, Titanic, Aliens, Avatar). Accessible worldwide via streaming on Netflix since September 2019, seen in 190 countries, in Austria straight away in the top 5 Netflix documentaries.

Story: The documentary is told by the former English martial artist and elite soldier trainer James Wilks (41), who investigates the question of whether a sufficient protein intake, increased performance and optimal health can not be guaranteed with an exclusively vegan diet. In the film he meets celebrities, top athletes and experts who confirm his opinion. Contributors: i.a. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lewis Hamilton, Novak Djokovic, Patrick Baboumian.

Key message of the documentary: A meat-free, vegan diet makes people healthier, more athletic and reduces the risk of cancer.

Criticism: The documentary does not argue scientifically enough, with simplifications, abbreviations, showmanship, half-truths, twisted facts and bizarre conclusions.

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Jane Bergthaler, BSC MSC

is a dietician specializing in sports nutrition