A shocking new documentary will change the way you think about meat

27 January 2018

 

There is Dotsie Bausch, a seven-time U.S. national cycling champion who, at 39, was the oldest cyclist to ever qualify for the Olympics, not to mention return home with a silver medal. There is Patrik Baboumian, the former Germany's Strongest Man who holds multiple world records, including lifting a staggering 1,213 pounds over his head. There is one of the greatest ultramarathoners of all time, Scott Jurek, who ran the Appalachian trail in 46 days, eight hours, and seven minutes—three hours faster than anyone else at the time, and months shorter than the average hiker. There are Roman gladiators, gorillas, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, all of whom have two things in common: superpower strength, and a plant-based diet.

"When I first saw the study that indicated Roman gladiators were eating almost exclusively plants, I thought it had to be bs," says James Wilks, a special forces trainer, winner of The Ultimate Fighter, and the star of The Game Changers, a new documentary set out to debunk the myth that meat is necessary for protein, strength, and good health through an exhaustive—and persuasive—lineup of tests and interviews with pro athletes, soldiers, and scientists. "After thousands of hours of research, [I realized that] everything I thought about nutrition—eating meat and eggs and milk for your bones—was totally untrue . . . I was shocked."

What was once a passion project for Wilks, a way to recover as quickly as possible after an injury took him out of the ring and onto the couch, with plenty of time to poke around the Internet, swiftly became a personal mission. About midway through his research, his father, a healthy, active meat eater, had a heart attack and required emergency surgery that left him with two stents and few options. Wilks's shock quickly morphed into anger, directed towards a meat industry that, he says, has been profiting off the foods that may increase risk for preventable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

And so, Wilks called in the big guns. "I liken it to a MMA [mixed martial arts] fight, with three rounds," he says of the six-year filmmaking process, which started with a Craigslist-bought handheld camera and eventually led him to an award-winning documentary team that includes director Louie Psihoyos (The Cove), executive producer James Cameron, and writers and editors that are responsible for the likes of An Inconvenient Truth, Chasing Ice, and the non-commercial, fact-based website NutritionFacts.org. The result is a groundbreaking picture, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, that follows top athletes and regular people alike across four continents for the pursuit of truth in the name of protein. Here, the five most fascinating facts surrounding a plant-based diet.

The Clear Protein Winner Is . . .
"I knew there was protein in plants, but I always thought it was incomplete, that you couldn't get the amino acids that your body requires," says Wilks, who says the largest study ever done between plant eaters and meat eaters found that vegans get 70 percent more protein than they need. "And that's just regular people eating regular, plant-based foods—not [professional] athletes." What's more? According to the cochair of NFL Cardiovascular Health, Dr. Robert Vogel, a plant-based meal improves the body's endothelial function, which allows for more blood to flow in the body, a key advantage for any athlete-in-training who is consistently damaging, repairing, damaging, repairing their muscles. Vogel gave one plant-based meal and two meat-based meals to three Miami Dolphins, and results showed the veggie eater had a crystal-clear blood sample, as opposed to the carnivores, whose results came back cloudy. Meaning, if a single meal can affect blood flow, what can a lifetime of eating meat for meals do?

A Plant-Based Diet Doesn't Make You Skinny
According to the film, as long as you are getting the appropriate amount of protein and amino acids, achievable on a plant-based diet, there should be no difference when it comes to gaining strength and muscle mass. "The source is irrelevant," says Wilks. For proof, look to Kendrick Farris, the American record-holding weight lifter who qualified for three Olympic teams and won the Pan Am games all while on a plant-based diet. Germany's Strongest Man, Patrik Baboumian, is a burly body type with a long brown beard and a snarling voice who can carry more than 1200 pounds, the weight of a horse, over his shoulders. "Someone asked me, 'How could you get as strong as an ox without eating any meat?' " he recalls in the documentary. "And my answer was, 'Have you ever seen an ox eat meat?' " With more endurance than ever, he also broke four world records after turning to a no-meat lifestyle. "When I stopped eating meat, I got stronger and bigger," he says.

The Original Paleo Diet Was a Veggie Feast
Anecdotally and scientifically, it's all there. But a closer look at history will also prove the benefits of an all-plant lifestyle. The ever-popular Paleo diet, which relies heavily on the idea that humans were built to eat meat, is based on archeological records in the '30s that showed a bias towards stone preservation—a seemingly perfect tool to eat meat with. But, in the last decade, an abundance of microscopic fossils found in plants were discovered, proving their worth among our early human ancestors. Furthermore, say scientists in the film, humans don't have specialized genetic, anatomical, or physiological adaptation to meat consumption, proven by the fact that we have distinctly longer digestive tracts than carnivores, allowing for hard-to-process plants and fibers. We also can't produce vitamin C, which is found in plants, and our teeth, square and low, look nothing like those of carnivores, which are sharp and pointy. The proof, says Wilks, is right there in your mouth.

"Real Men Eat Meat" Is a Myth
It's a master plan, says former California governor and Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger, dreamt up by the meat industry and delivered to society in the form of commercials and advertisements starring George Foreman by a grill and NBA All-Stars such as Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal chowing down on a Big Mac courtside. Not unlike what big tobacco did with Babe Ruth, who eventually died of cancer at the age of 53, the meat industry has created doubt surrounding the link between meat and high cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure due to paid researchers such as Exponent, Inc., which first made a name for itself by defending big tobacco. They claimed in the '70s that there was no link between meat and cancer, although hundreds of studies proved otherwise. "When we dug, we realized this 'real men eat meat' myth is underlying it all," says Wilks. "There is not a stigma for a female eating a tofu salad, but there is for a man, generally, when his friends are eating steak and potatoes." Not to mention, says Dr. Aaron Spitz, the lead delegate at the American Urological Association, the more meat men eat, the quicker they lose their libido. As stated in the film, a plant-based diet can increase testosterone levels by 20 percent in as soon as 10 days.

Perfect Your Carbon Footprint
The effect livestock production, the industry built around breeding, raising, and slaughtering cattle, has on the environment is widely known—but is it understood? According to Rob Bailey, research director of energy, environment, and resources at Chatham House, about three-quarters of all agricultural land is used for livestock production. "It imposes a huge cost on biodiversity, and we're on the cusp of the sixth great global extinction," he says. The biggest source of habitat destruction, because of its requirement for vast amounts of land and resources and water, is the livestock sector. In the U.S. alone, more than half of fresh water supply is used to produce animal food. Perhaps even more incredible? Every year, farm animals produce 130 times more waste than the entire human population combined. In fact, livestock is responsible for 15 percent of global, man-made emissions, which is equivalent to all the emissions from all the forms of transport in the world (planes, trains, automobiles, ships . . .). Meaning, if you had to choose between a hybrid car or living on a plant-based diet, scientists say trading in your meat for veggies would be most effective.

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