Since my recovery from kidney cancer in 2017, my wife Shirley and I have significantly altered our diet. We took a big leap when we went on a 60-day digestive reset diet to restore gut health in 2018. That led us to only eating wild-caught salmon, free-range, organic chicken, or grass-fed beef once a week. We weighed the plant-based diet pros and cons but hadn’t eliminated meat completely. Just like for most people, there was a time when we asked ourselves, is a plant-based diet healthy?

However, while on a trip to Dallas in October 2019 we watched a documentary in our hotel room that led us to eliminate meat from our diet altogether. Even though this is not a plant-based diet blog, it is a topic we write a lot about and for good reason.

The Game Changers on Netflix

The Game Changers on Netflix is executive produced by Academy Award winner, James Cameron (Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator, Titanic, Avatar) along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan. It is directed by Oscar winner, Louie Psihoyos. The Game Changers chronicles the journey of James Wilks, former UFC welterweight champion and elite Special Forces trainer, to find the best diet while recovering from torn ligaments in both knees. Although anyone would conclude it highly favors plants over meat and therefore is a plant-based diet documentary, it does address plant-based diet pros and cons.

Photo credit cineman.ch

The documentary presents Wilks’ search for answers in segments. It shows his interviews with accomplished athletes that have transitioned to a plant-based diet vs meat, and what they have accomplished since doing so. The film delves into concerns about a plant-based diet for athletes. It touches on historical information about the diet of early and ancient civilizations. And then presents modern scientific information to come to Wilks’ conclusion regarding plant-based diet pros and cons.

The Game Changers documents evidence of the diet of Roman Gladiators who were highly trained combatants. Through looking at bone density from recently discovered remains it was determined that their diet was predominantly vegetarian.

Plant-Based Diet for Athletes

Then it turns to more modern combatants such as MMA fighters Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz. McGregor makes it known that he eats meat at nearly every meal while Diaz eats a plant-based diet. Prior to their first fight, McGregor criticized Diaz’s diet heavily. However, after Diaz won the fight by submission, McGregor pointed to the fact that eating meat at every meal for the 2 weeks leading up to the fight wasn’t enough to keep up with the energy Diaz had that night.

Throughout the movie, it chronicles ultimate runner and plant-based eater, Scott Jurek. Jurek is known for extreme running victories such as the 135-mile run through Death Valley in California. This time Jurek sets out to break the record for running the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. Peaking into this 46-day odyssey throughout the documentary it culminates at the end with Jurek breaking the record by 3 hours.

Plant Protein vs Animal Protein

Attacking the longtime assumption that energy comes from protein, and specifically, animal protein (which is one of the plant-based diet pros and cons), is former St. Louis Rams and St. Louis Cardinals team physician, James Loomis. He states that energy comes from carbohydrates in the form of glycogen that is stored in the muscles. Not enough carbohydrate intake will lead to fatigue and loss of stamina. Carbohydrates come from plants while animal products have very little carbohydrates.

Wilks then shares how the belief that energy comes from animal protein started. Justus Von Liebig, a German chemist published a study in the mid-1800s that hypothesized that energy came from animal protein and that vegetarians were incapable of prolonged exercise. This concept was adopted by the USDA in the 1890s even though a subsequent study just a few years prior proved it was false and instead reported that energy came from plant-based carbs.

As Wilks states, by then it was too late. Von Liebig's theory became associated with the pros and cons of a plant-based diet. The U.S. diet was built around eating meat regularly. Although this comes out much later in the documentary, it’s worth noting here that U.S. meat consumption is 3 times the global average.

Lane in an Olympic sized swimming pool
Photo credit Pixabay

Plant-Based Diet and Olympic Champions

Quickly highlighted were other athletes that were plant-based dieters during their competition periods. Murray Rose won 4 Olympic Gold Medals from 1956 and 1960. U.S. hurdler, Edwin Moses won Olympic Gold medals in 1976 and 1984. Carl Lewis won 9 Olympic Gold Medals from 1984 to 1996 and claims that he was at his personal best at age 30 after turning to a vegan diet. Morgan Michell, 2-time Australian 400-meter champion shares that her energy level increased after turning to a plant-based diet. It’s also interesting that her Iron and Vitamin B12 levels also increased. The plant-based diet is often criticized for not providing enough of both.

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Throughout the film, Dotsie Bausch, best known as the oldest Olympic cyclist to win a medal, is featured. Bausch explains how she had far more strength and energy for the “massive, explosive power” needed in cycling after becoming a vegan. She points out that she was able to outwork her younger teammates in practice leading up to the Olympic Games which required 4 to 5 hours a day of cycling up mountains as well as strength training in the gym. Bausch was able to increase the weight on the leg machine from 300 to 585 pounds demonstrating that not only energy can be increased from a plant-based diet, but also strength from the protein in plants as well.

Bausch mentions that she was often questioned about a plant-based diet pros and cons and was proving critics wrong. Since retiring from athletic competition Bausch has become an outspoken advocate of plant-based eating.

A Plant-Based Diet for Bodybuilding

More athletes are interviewed in The Games Changers. Kendrick Farris, a weight lifter who broke 2 American records and won the Pan-American games. And, Patrik Baboumian, one of the strongest men on earth who has multiple world records. The film shows Baboumian setting the Guinness World Record for lifting 1,224 pounds and carrying it 33 feet. Both world-class athletes are plant-eaters. Baboumian said that when asked, “How can you get as strong as an ox without eating meat?”, he replies, “Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?”

Plant based diet for building muscle
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To further the point of animals known for their strength and their respective diets, gorillas are about 9 times stronger than the average man yet eats a vegetarian diet mainly of bamboo shoots, stems, and fruits.

Plant-Based Diet and Recovery from Workouts

To this point, the documentary is demonstrating that many world-class athletes have found that they get more energy and strength for performance from a plant-based diet than when they ate meat. However, other than the research into the bones of the Roman Gladiators, no scientific evidence of the benefits or a plant-based diet pros and cons have been given.

We now are presented with a study of 3 Miami Dolphins football players who eat both meat and plant-based meals and then have their blood drawn to assess the fat content after eating these meals. It is shown that there is a higher fat content in the blood after eating meat which negatively impacts endothelium function (regulates dilation of blood vessels and blood flow) while eating plants improves endothelium function and blood flow. By aiding in blood flow, a plant-based diet can provide a quicker recovery from workouts because blood flow helps repair the damage done during a workout.

Plant-Based Diet Inflammation

Scott Stoll, a former U.S. Olympic team doctor explains what occurs in the body after eating meat. He states that animal protein contains inflammatory molecules such as New 5GC, endotoxin, and heme iron. Animal protein also changes the microbiome in the gut by increasing bacterial species that increase inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, reduces blood flow. Meat-based meals increase inflammation by up to 70%, increases soreness and delay recovery from strenuous exercise.

The film goes on to point out that plant-based protein, by comparison, is packaged with 64 times more antioxidants than animal protein. Iceberg lettuce has more antioxidants than salmon or eggs. Plant-based protein also comes with phytochemicals, minerals, and vitamins that reduce inflammation, it optimizes the microbiome in our gut, optimizes blood supply, and thus helps performance.  A plant-based diet can reduce inflammation by 29% in just 3 weeks. This reduction in inflammation made me think that there may be a correlation with a plant-based diet and arthritis relief.

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Plant-Based Diet Recipes

Throughout the film, we are allowed to learn about Derrick Morgan, an NFL player for the Tennessee Titans, and his wife and professional chef, Charity Morgan. Derrick started his research into plant-based eating while recovering from an injury and highly questioned the plant-based diet pros and cons. He eventually adopted a plant-based diet after seeing how quickly he recovered from his injury.

Charity is shown preparing plant-based meals for the team that are delivered to the team facility daily. It also shows her serving several Titans players plant-based dishes at their home on Sundays after the game. What we are exposed to here is that plant-based meals can look good and taste great too. There are many recipes we can get from The Game Changers website at www.gamechangersmovie.com that addresses another of a plant-based diet pros and cons.

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The Plant-Based Diet and Heart Disease

  • A plant-based diet optimizes the growth of blood vessels and stimulates the immune system
  • Animal foods increase plaque in arteries and increases the risk of coronary heart disease
  • The consumption of 1 mg per day of heme iron (heme iron is only found in animal products) increases coronary heart disease. A hamburger patty has 2-3 mg of heme iron. Chicken and tuna have more than 1 mg
  • If you get all your protein from plants, it can reduce the risk of heart disease by 55% and can reverse heart disease

To demonstrate the statement above regarding the reversal of heart disease, the film documents two scenarios. The first being Wilks’ 70-year-old father who had recently experienced a heart attack. He went on a plant-based diet after a lifetime of eating meat and received uplifting news about his condition after several months.

As well, a group of Brooklyn firefighters went on a 7-day plant and veggie diet. There probably isn’t a group that would question more plant-based diet pros and cons. However, the results were very telling. The average weight loss in the 7 days was 6.12 pounds demonstrating the benefits of a plant-based diet for weight loss. Blood pressure was down across the board and the average cholesterol count was down 21 points.

The Plant-Based Diet and Cancer

A diet high in animal protein will produce a 75% increase in the risk of premature death from all forms of cancer and a 40% higher risk of prostate cancer. It will triple the risk of colon cancer

What About the Primary
Plant-based Diet Pros and Cons?

Two main issues contained in the plant-based diet pros and cons is that most plants do not have the 9 essential amino acids contained in its protein, and plants do not have some important nutrients such as Vitamin B12.

Essential Amino Acids

The film makes the statement that “all plants have all essential amino acids” but doesn’t expand upon how this conclusion was reached. Others also claim that plants do have the makeup of all the essential amino acids. In our article, Overcome the Downside to a Plant-based Diet, we don’t agree or disagree with this statement. We simply show how you can overcome a lack of essential amino acids in plants if this information is incorrect.

Vitamin B12

Regarding Vitamin B12 there is a consensus that one should supplement. Vitamin B12 in the past could be gotten from both animals and plants through the process of animals grazing, interacting with the soil, and drinking the natural water supply. But both the soil and the natural water supply are either depleted or polluted or both. Even farm-raised chickens are now injected with Vitamin B12. So even meat-eaters should supplement their Vitamin B12 as 39% of meat eaters are low in their B12 levels.

Our Recommended Vitamin B12

There are, of course, many different manufacturers of vitamins and supplements. We have tried many and spoken to people we consider experts on quality and the way the supplement is consumed for effectiveness. We have chosen the NOW brand of vitamins for most of our supplement needs. NOW provides a high-quality vitamin for a very reasonable price.

Vitamin C

However, meat-eaters should be conscious of their Vitamin C levels as there is only one source of Vitamin C and that is plants. Our bodies do not produce Vitamin C. You can get Vitamin C from many plant sources such as fruit. But we still use a Vitamin C supplement. We highly recommend the same for meat-eaters especially. And, we suggest using crystals for better absorption.

Plant-Based Diet and Decreased Testosterone

Another one of a plant-based diet pros and cons is that soy is often part of the diet. Soy is said to increase estrogen levels in men and therefore decrease testosterone levels. To counter this theory, 3 college athletes are fed meat and then plant-based meals before bed on 2 consecutive nights. Their erections were measured throughout sleep on both nights. All 3 young men had harder erections, more erections, and longer erections after eating the plant-based meal. This, although not stated in the film, would go to supporting the theory of increased blood flow when eating plants versus meat.

Other Statements Made in The Game Changers

  • There is no difference in testosterone levels with a meat or plant-based diet (further supporting the blood flow theory)
  • Studies show a 27% reduction in cortisol levels from a plant-based diet
  • A low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet reduces muscle while carbs and proteins from a plant-based diet promote muscle gain
Protesters warn about the damage to the planet
Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com from Pexels

The Impact on the Planet

The final part of this documentary focuses on several aspects of how our predominantly meat consumption diet affects the planet.

  • ¾ of all agriculture land in the world is used for livestock production
  • The livestock industry is the single biggest source of natural habitat destruction
  • Dairy, egg and fish farming uses 83% of the world's farmland yet provide only 18% of the world’s calories
  • Animals are grazers and need animal feed requiring more farmland and water supply. 2,400 meters of water is required to produce just one hamburger patty
  • 27% of freshwater consumption goes to animal production
  • Animals produce 50 times more waste than the entire human population
  • Shifting to a plant-based diet could reduce emissions by up to 73% and save 1 million liters of water per person per year

Watch The Game Changers on Netflix

If what is written here is at least eye-opening for you, we highly recommend you do your own research. Start by watching The Game Changers on Netflix. However, if you have already started eating more plants recently this may be enough to push you to strictly a plant-based diet like it was for us.

Making this change is not as difficult as you think. Eating vegetables and fruits can be just as tasty and satisfying as eating a steak as Arnold Schwarzenegger mentions in the film. For those of you that are stuck on the idea that man was meant to eat meat, it may be a bit harder to accept a plant-based diet. But if you now ask yourself the question, “is a plant-based diet good for you?”, you must agree that it is.

Plant-Based Diet for Athletes and Longevity

Growing up in New England, as in most regions of the United States, my family ate meat at nearly every meal. Something that might get my fellow New Englanders to pay attention is that 42-year-old former New England Patriot now Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback, Tom Brady eats a predominantly plant-based diet with fish. But fish only occasionally. No red meat or chicken. He is a big proponent of a high alkaline diet. Meat is very acidic yet vegetables and fruits are generally alkaline. Brady is currently the 4th oldest active player in the NFL. The top 3 are placekickers.

Another 42-year-old Boston icon is Bruins defenseman and Stanley Cup Champion, Zdeno Chara. Chara is currently the oldest active player in the NHL. He is known for stamina for his long shifts on the ice and overall ice time per game. Chara switched to mainly a plant-based diet in 2017 while he does occasionally eat salmon and eggs. These iconic athletes have weighed the plant-based diet pros and cons at a high level and have determined that they can defy the averages and play their sport much longer.

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Maybe Just Ease Into It

As Arnold Schwarzenegger says in the documentary, switching cold turkey is hard for most people. So, perhaps just be more conscious of the amount of meat you eat. Try to add more fruit and vegetables to your diet. If you’d like to do more reading about being healthy over 50 and beyond see How to Have Optimal Health.

By the way, Wilks made the switch to a plant-based diet and attributes his fast recovery from torn ligaments in both knees to that diet. In weighing the plant-based diet pros and cons most would conclude that there are far more pros than cons. The main con simply being the stigma around eating plants versus meat. The Game Changers presents a great argument for a plant-based diet.

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