Call it The Game Changers effect. In the one year since the documentary about plant-based athletes first debuted, more professional athletes, including NBA and NFL stars, and Olympic hopefuls, NCAA stars, and weekend warriors alike have chosen to make the switch to a plant-based diet for performance. They're doing it for better stamina, quicker recovery times, and to fight inflammation and come back from injury. The movie underscored that plant-based diets have been shown to enhance endurance, strength, and stamina and to lower inflammation and help in injury prevention and recovery time between workouts, among the pros.

Before the film first premiered in New York and Los Angeles last September, going on to become the number one pre-ordered documentary on iTunes, it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, where The Beet’s Elysabeth Alfano sat down with James Wilkes, the co-producer, and two other members of the cast, including the strongest man alive, Patrik Barboumian, to discuss what makes athletes choose to plant proteins for performance and optimal fitness.

The Game Changers was executive produced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, James Cameron, tennis ace Novak Djokovic, Formula 1 racecar driver Lewis Hamilton and NBA All-Star, Chris Paul, all plant-based athletes. Paul credits his diet for letting him play as well and competitively as others half his age, and Djokovic says going plant-based helped him cure his asthmatic symptoms that used to make it hard for him to breathe during matches. T

he sports world hasn't been the same since the film’s September 2019 release, as more college coaches report an increasing number of players coming to them saying they want to go plant-based for performance. "They want to do what the pros are doing because they want to be one someday," says Coach John Shackelton, strength and conditioning coach for Villanova men's basketball. Meanwhile, in the pros, players are elongating their careers on plant-based diets, like Tom Brady, who at 43 is the oldest starting QB in the league, and they're recovering from surgeries and achieving new levels of performance after injury, like Patriot's QB Cam Newton.

James Wilks, along with Former NFL Football Player Lou Smith, Strongman Patrik Baboumian and Founder of the International Anti-Poacher Foundation, Damien Mander sat down with The Beet why they went plant-based and made the film.

Wilks on What Prompted Him to Create the Film and the Myths About Meat


Elysabeth: Tell me about your entire journey from researching about going vegan and being sort of shocked about it and then being angry about what you thought you knew.

James: "Right. Well, I didn’t go into it with any preconceived notions or even looking into the vegan diet.

"I literally got injured, tore both of my knees, and had six months where I thought “what could I do with my time?” So, I started researching diet for optimal recovery and performance and that’s when I came upon the study for Roman Gladiators: 68 skeletons that were analyzed, the only known burial site in the world, and from the strontium-calcium analysis and the radioisotope analysis, they could tell that they were eating almost exclusively plants and that sort of blew my mind. I thought “that can’t be true” and so, you know, spent all of this time, about one thousand hours in the first year, reading peer-reviewed science on nutrition and that’s when I sort of unearthed: That we’ve really been lead to believe this myth, that we have to have meat in order to be healthy, strong, and athletic, and eat other animal products as well, and it’s just simply not true.

"And that sort of sent me on this journey basically and then the more I uncovered how we’ve been marketed to and lied to by the industry, that’s when I realized- I just started getting quite angry about it because not only is it affecting people’s performance but more importantly it’s affecting people’s health. The leading chronic diseases: Heart disease, cancer, and diabetes largely are impacted by what we eat. So, it’s pretty aggravating."

Elyzabeth: The first myth of meat is that you need meat to be strong and right behind that is you need milk for your bones. So both of those are completely false but the other myth is you if you eat a lot of meat you're really a manly man. Those tell me about that myth.

James: "The real-men-eat meat myth is a core underlying myth under this. It's based on identity and this myth that we've been sold. And not only is it not necessary but the very foods that men think are making them stronger are actually weakening them and killing more men. It's actually killing more people. It really is the world's most dangerous myth. And of course it's affecting our planet in a negative way."

Elysabeth: I think it’s really interesting to note that you’re saying that there’s a myth about a manly man eats a lot of meat. Very directly in the film, you say that (meat) actually decreases sexual desire, performance, etc. which I think is very interesting.

James: "We actually did an experiment with Dr. Aaron Spitz who’s the lead delegate of Urology for the American Medical Association and we had already done an experiment with the Miami Dolphins showing how you could reduce blood flow for two to eight hours if you ate an animal-based meal. So, when I met Dr. Spitz, I said “will this affect sexual performance?”  He said “absolutely,” not only do men have increased Prostate Cancer risk the more animal foods they eat, but also the blood flow (is restricted) to their penis where there are some of the smallest arteries in the body.

"So, we did an experiment with some college athletes, or Dr. Spitz did, and we documented that. And there were significant changes to circumference and rigidity of erections and the duration of erections, as well, simply based on a single meal. That can last for up to eight hours. And what do you do after six hours? You eat again. So, you’re in this constant state of what’s called endothelial dysfunction, which also leads to erectile dysfunction."

Champion Vegan Strongman Patrik Baboumian, age 61

Elysabeth: Tell me what is the most that you have ever lifted and why you think you can do that.

Patrik: Well, the most I’ve ever lifted over my head would be two hundred kilograms which is four hundred fifty [pounds], something like that. And the most weight I ever moved was a fire engine that was twenty-two metric tons.

Elysabeth: A fire engine?

Patrik: Yeah, you’re pulling it like a horse ,so you’ve got it on your back and you just walk with it.

Elysabeth: Now how is that physically possible?

Patrik: So, the sport that I’m doing is called Strongman and you have to have a lot of training and of course, I have the advantage because of my diet. That it helps me being able to compete against guys who are much bigger than I am. I’m not very tall and most of the strongmen are much taller than I am, but I’m recovering very fast because of my diet and everything so that gives me the edge to be able to kick some ass against those guys.

Former Sniper Turned Anti-Poacher Damien Mander on Being a Real Man

Damien: "You ask us men and we picture ourselves and I think we are pictured as, you know, defenders and those that should protect the vulnerable. And animals in our society are the most vulnerable that we have, you know, and if there’s anyone in this world that should be protecting the vulnerable, it should be us guys.

"We should be leading from the front and I think that’s what being a real man is. It’s not about doing all this macho sh*t. It’s actually about acknowledging what’s true and being honest to that. For me, it’s an ethical decision.  I don’t want to f*@k with something that can’t defend itself, you know? Why would you want to do that?

Elysabeth Alfano is a plant-based expert for mainstream media, breaking down the plant-based health, food, culture, business and environmental news for the general public on radio and TV. Follow her @elysabethalfano on all platforms.

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