DO YOU WANT TO IMPROVE YOUR ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE, FEEL BETTER, PREVENT DISEASE AND LIVE LONGER?
Watch The Game Changers, a revolutionary new documentary about meat, protein, and strength.
Presented by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Lewis Hamilton, Novak Djokovic, & Chris Paul
The following is adapted from https://gamechangersmovie.com/The Game Changers tells the story of James Wilks — elite Special Forces trainer and The Ultimate Fighter winner — as he travels the world on a quest to uncover the optimal diet for human performance.
Showcasing elite athletes, special ops soldiers, visionary scientists, cultural icons, and everyday heroes, what James discovers permanently changes his understanding of food and his definition of true strength.
THE TRUTH IN NUTRITION
As a combatives instructor for the US military (including the US Marines, US Army Rangers, and US Navy SEALs), as well as a former UFC fighter, I see the human body as a powerful machine with the potential for excellence in many areas, including strength, speed, stamina, and recovery. Until I got badly injured while training, I never thought this potential had much to do with food, which I saw mainly as just calories and protein.
But, unable to train for six months after my injury, I started researching the optimal diet for recovery and stumbled across a study about the Roman gladiators which concluded that they ate little or no meat. This seemed really far-fetched to me since I was confident that animal protein was necessary to build muscle, sustain energy levels, and recover from injury. So I flew to Austria to meet the researchers who made this discovery and left convinced that the (Roman) gladiators — known at the time as Hordearii, or “the Barley Men” — really did train and compete on a plant-based diet.
This shocking discovery launched me on a five-year quest for the Truth in Nutrition, modeled after Bruce Lee’s Truth in Combat philosophy: “Research your own experience, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.” Beginning with this mindset, I put every preconception I had about nutrition to the test, traveling to four continents to meet with dozens of the world’s strongest, fastest, and toughest athletes, as well as leading experts on athletics, nutrition, and anthropology.
What I discovered was so revolutionary, with such profound implications for human performance and health — and even the future of the planet itself — that I had to share it with the world.
— James Wilks
For the vast majority of the population, nutrition and health are very confusing subjects. This confusion stems in part from the fact that most people look for information on these subjects online (1), where anyone with an opinion, regardless of their credentials, can pose as an authority and reach millions of people.Since most people aren’t trained in nutrition and/or don’t have the time to read or interpret the actual research, this means that the companies and self-proclaimed experts with the most advertising dollars and/or the savviest social media strategies end up influencing the most people.Making matters worse, countless studies are funded by food companies and lobby groups with the goal of making their product(s) seem ideal for athletic performance, weight loss and/or health. This “scientific research” filters down to doctors, who, in the United States, only receive an average of 20 hours of nutrition training during their entire medical education (2), and usually don’t have time to stay up to date on the most recent research. It also makes its way to dietitians and nutritionists — whose educational materials are also often funded by these same companies and lobby groups — as well as coaches, personal trainers, and other fitness/athletic professionals, who often base their recommendations on very outdated concepts.
“The formula works beautifully for people selling food. It works beautifully for people selling drugs to treat the diseases that bad food causes. And it works beautifully for the media, which can give us a new story about diet every day.”
DAVID KATZ, FOUNDING DIRECTOR OF YALE UNIVERSITY’S YALE-GRIFFIN PREVENTION RESEARCH CENTER
As a result, most people feel overwhelmed and confused by all of the conflicting nutritional information they come across — Are carbs good or bad? Is exercise the key to weight loss? Should I really put butter in my coffee? — bouncing from one fad diet to another, or simply giving up and going back to their old eating habits.
Despite all of the confusion in the general population, decades of research from the world’s most trusted research institutions, published in the world’s most respected scientific journals, have painted a very clear picture of which eating patterns tend to improve health and fitness, and which do not.
ANIMALS VS. PLANTS
The preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that an animal-based diet — where foods like meat, eggs and dairy are the foundation of most meals — decreases overall health, increases the risk of numerous diseases, and reduces our lifespans. Conversely, the more plants you eat, the healthier you tend to be, decreasing your risk of many major diseases while increasing the quality and length of our lives.
This basic but powerful conclusion has been reached via many fields of research, including epidemiology (population studies), nutritional biochemistry (how food affects the body), and biological anthropology (which includes the study of what humans are ‘built’ to eat). We dig deeper into these subjects in Optimizing Health.
The same underlying mechanisms that impact health (including blood flow, oxidative stress, inflammation, and hormone levels) also affect athletic performance, sexual function, body composition, cognitive function, and many other areas that play a major role in how we look, feel, and function. We discuss how food’s powerful influence over these mechanisms can affect athletics and fitness in Maximizing Performance.
WHOLE VS. REFINED
Another consistent nutritional principle is that whole foods tend to be healthier than processed/refined foods. We prefer to use the term ‘refined’, since processing a food could simply mean chopping or cooking it, whereas refining a food typically means removing some or much of its nutrient content. For example, chopping a beet is technically ‘processing’ it, but ‘refining’ a beet into table sugar requires stripping away the fiber, folate, potassium, iron, and vitamin C, leaving only sugar. The same applies to the production of oils, white flours, and so on, where fiber and other key nutrients are removed in the refining process.
Refined foods can also include added ingredients, such as the preservatives found in processed meats, or the artificial flavors and colors found in candy.
THE GAP IN UNDERSTANDING
While most people understand that sugary drinks like soda, fried foods like potato chips, and refined flour products like white bread or pastries are definitely not ideal for optimizing health or fitness, few people understand that a diet based on animal foods — whether whole (like chicken breast and eggs) or heavily processed (like bacon and cheese) — is of far greater concern than misguided fears like “eating too many carbs”. And even fewer understand that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows that choosing a diet centered around a wide variety of plants, especially in their whole form, is the single most powerful tool we have for the prevention, treatment, and even reversal of many of our most common diseases.
While nutrition can be a very confusing subject, researchers from a wide range of scientific disciplines agree on some very basic principles of what the optimal diet for performance and health looks like. This diet centers around plants with an emphasis on a wide variety of whole foods, whenever possible.
As clearly demonstrated in The Game Changers, a rapidly increasing number of world-class athletes are taking advantage of this knowledge and experiencing dramatic improvements in their performance as a result, smashing records and stereotypes along the way. While some people mistakenly believe that all of these athletes have personal chefs and/or superior genes, the reality is that there are also tens of millions around the world from all walks of life experiencing similar benefits, helping them look, feel and perform at their very best.
Hard-working muscles run primarily on glycogen, a form of carbohydrate stored in our liver and muscle. Carbohydrates, which come almost exclusively from plants, also provide our brain with its primary and preferred fuel — glucose — which helps us stay sharp and focused during intense training sessions and competitions (1).
Performance-based diets built around meat and other animal products often provide dietary fat at the expense of carbohydrates (2-5). Unlike carbohydrates, fat can’t produce energy fast enough to meet the demands of intense exercise, so diets that sacrifice carbohydrates typically impair high-intensity performance (1). Low-carbohydrate diets, including the ketogenic (keto) diet, have been shown to cause so much fatigue that they even affect our motivation to begin a training session, let alone finish it (6-8).
Protein can also be used as a fuel source, but it’s highly inefficient, wasting 20-30% of each calorie as heat (9).
All told, carbohydrates are the ideal source of energy for optimized performance, whether it’s doing squats, playing football, or running a marathon.
And as we’ll discuss later in Getting and Staying Lean, despite the common misconception that “carbs make you fat”, unrefined carbohydrates — like those found in whole plant foods, including oats, sweet potatoes, and bananas — are consistently associated with decreased body fat, another advantage for most performance goals.
INCREASED BLOOD FLOW
Efficient blood flow is another cornerstone for optimized performance, since blood is how oxygen and vital nutrients reach the cells in our muscles, brain, and the rest of our body, while also helping to eliminate waste (10).
Just as the experiment conducted on three NFL players in The Game Changers revealed, a single animal-based meal can quickly thicken our blood (11), which slows down the flow of oxygen and the nutrients blood transports to the areas that need it most, including the muscles we use during exercise (12). People who avoid meat experience the opposite effect, since plant-based meals allow blood to remain fluid and flow quickly to its destination (13).
Adding insult to injury, animal-based meals can cripple our arteries, preventing them from fully opening to allow for increased blood flow. Research has shown that just two hours after eating a heavy animal-based meal, arteries can constrict by 40%, essentially causing a traffic jam. The calorie-matched plant-based meal allowed them to open freely for quick, easy transit (14).
But it isn’t just the lack of “baggage” in plant foods that help keep our blood flowing quickly; there is also a common ingredient found in plant-based foods like spinach, lettuce, carrots, and beets that actually signals our blood vessels to open, allowing more blood to flow through at a faster pace (15). This ingredient is nitrates which, unlike the cancer-causing nitrates in cured meats like bacon (16), serves another important function.
IMPROVED MUSCLE EFFICIENCY
The energy reserves our muscles use for intense training or competition are limited, and when we run out, we’ve reached the end of line. The more efficiently our muscles work, the further these energy reserves can take us.
In addition to encouraging our arteries to expand, the nitrates found in plant foods also allow our muscles to contract more efficiently, sparing their energy reserves and allowing them to accomplish more work with the same amount of effort (17). This translates into measurably better performance, whether it’s lifting weights at the gym, playing football, or running sprints (18).
REDUCED INFLAMMATIONInflammation is our bodies’ natural immune response to injury, foreign invaders, or even exercise. In its acute form, like after spraining an ankle, coming down with a bacterial infection, or recovering from a workout, inflammation is an immediate and necessary part of the healing process. Left unchecked, or further intensified, inflammation can prolong healing time from injuries or sickness, and also increase soreness and swelling, slowing recovery between workouts and competitions.
Chronic inflammation often begins with the same cellular response, but shifts in nature when the immune system fails to heal the injury effectively, eliminate the foreign invaders, or continues to respond to a threat that no longer exists. Once it reaches this stage, inflammation often begins damaging healthy tissues, including muscles and joints (19).
Taking all of this into account, unnecessary inflammation can have a significant negative impact on our physical performance (20).
Fortunately, diet can be a powerful tool to get us through acute inflammation faster and combat chronic inflammation as well. But it can also have the opposite effect.
Animal-based diets fall into the latter category. Extensive research has shown that meat and other animal products contain (or lead to the formation of) a wide range of pro-inflammatory compounds and molecules, including bacterial endotoxins, trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), nitrosamines, heterocyclic amines (HCAs), N-Glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (21-25). If these words sound scary, you’re right: the damage they inflict can be severe, with research showing that a single hamburger can increase measures of inflammation by 70 percent (26).
Plants fall on the opposite end of this spectrum, coming naturally packed with high doses of anti-inflammatory compounds, including thousands of powerful antioxidants. The contrast between these two classes of food is dramatic, with plants having on average 64 times the antioxidant content of animal foods (27). This helps explain why switching to a plant-based diet can help reduce measures of inflammation by 29 percent in just three weeks (28).
Not surprisingly, numerous studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory nature of plant foods can help decrease soreness, reduce muscle damage, and support recovery — all of which contribute to improved performance (29-33).
Eating plants also combats the inflammation caused by animal foods (26,34). Therefore, decreasing animal foods while increasing plant foods has a dual effect: it not only replaces pro-inflammatory compounds with anti-inflammatory ones, but also frees up the beneficial plant compounds to address the inflammation caused by exercise, injury, and sickness (35).
The reduction in both acute and chronic inflammation reveals why so many plant-based athletes, including those featured in The Game Changers, report reduced DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), quicker recovery times after workouts and competitions, faster healing from injuries, reduced tendonitis and joint pain, improved immunity, and significantly increased career longevity.
PLANTS FOR THE WIN
Whether you’re a competitive athlete, weekend warrior, or someone who simply wants to feel and perform better in the gym, at work, or at home, eating more plants and fewer animal foods can provide powerful advantages. As we’ll see in Optimizing Health, eating a diet centered around plants can also have a dramatic effect on our health.
For more on the effect plant-based eating can have on specific areas of performance and fitness, please visit Gaining Muscle and Strength, Going the Distance, and Getting and Staying Lean.
(1) Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Mar;48(3):543-68.
(2) Kanter M. High-quality carbohydrates and physical performance: Expert panel report. Nutr Today. 2018 Oct;53(1):35-9.
(3) Masson G, Lamarche B. Many non-elite multisport endurance athletes do not meet sports nutrition recommendations for carbohydrates. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016 Jul;41(7):728-34.
(4) Clark M, Reed DB, Crouse SF, Armstrong RB. Pre- and post-season dietary intake, body composition, and performance indices of NCAA division I female soccer players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Sep;13(3):303-19.
(5) Jenner SL, Buckley GL, Belski R, Devlin BL, Forsyth AK. Dietary Intakes of Professional and Semi-Professional Team Sport Athletes Do Not Meet Sport Nutrition Recommendations — A Systematic Literature Review. Nutrients. 2019 May;11(5):1160.
(6) Butki BD, Baumstark J, Driver S. Effects of a carbohydrate-restricted diet on affective responses to acute exercise among physically active participants. Percept Mot Skills. 2003 Apr;96(2):607-15.
(7) Keith RE, O’Keeffe KA, Blessing DL, Wilson GD. Alterations in dietary carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake and mood state in trained female cyclists. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1991 Feb;23(2):212-6.
(8) White AM, Johnston CS, Swan PD, Tjonn SL, Sears B. Blood ketones are directly related to fatigue and perceived effort during exercise in overweight adults adhering to low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss: a pilot study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007 Oct;107(10):1792-6.
(9) Westerterp KR. Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004 Aug;1(1):5.
(10) Barnard ND, Goldman DM, Loomis JF, Kahleova H, Levin SM, Neabore S, Batts TC. Plant-based diets for cardiovascular safety and performance in endurance sports. Nutrients. 2019 Jan;11(1): pii: E130.
(11) Vogel RA. Brachial artery ultrasound: a noninvasive tool in the assessment of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins. Clin Cardiol. 1999 Jun;22(6 Suppl):II34-9.
(12) Naghedi-Baghdar H, Nazari SM, Taghipour A, Nematy M, Shokri S, Mehri MR, Molkara T, Javan R. Effect of diet on blood viscosity in healthy humans: a systematic review. Electron Physician. 2018 Mar;10(3):6563-70.
(13) Ernst E, Pietsch L, Matrai A, Eisenberg J. Blood rheology in vegetarians. Br J Nutr. 1986 Nov;56(3):555-60.
(14) Bae JH, Bassenge E, Kim KB, Kim YN, Kim KS, Lee HJ, Moon KC, Lee MS, Park KY, Schwemmer M. Postprandial hypertriglyceridemia impairs endothelial function by enhanced oxidant stress. Atherosclerosis. 2001 Apr;155(2):517-23.
(15) Domínguez R, Cuenca E, Maté-Muñoz JL, García-Fernández P, Serra-Paya N, Estevan MC, Herreros PV, Garnacho-Castaño MV. Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes. A systematic review. Nutrients. 2017 Jan;9(1):43.
(16) Cantwell M, Elliott C. Nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines from processed meat intake and colorectal cancer risk. J Clin Nutr Diet. 2017 Dec;3:27.
(17) Mosher SL, Sparks SA, Williams EL, Bentley DJ, Mc Naughton LR. Ingestion of a nitric oxide enhancing supplement improves resistance exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Dec;30(12):3520-4.
(18) Domínguez R, Maté-Muñoz JL, Cuenca E, et al. Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on intermittent high-intensity exercise efforts. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Jan;15:2.
(19) Beavers KM, Brinkley TE, Nicklas BJ. Effect of exercise training on chronic inflammation. Clin Chim Acta. 2010 Feb;411(11-12):785-93.
(20) Baker ME, DeCesare KN, Johnson A, Kress KS, Inman CL, Weiss EP. Short-term Mediterranean Diet improves endurance exercise performance: A randomized-sequence crossover trial. J Am Coll Nutr. 2019 Feb;13:1-9.
(21) Erridge C, Attina T, Spickett CM, Webb DJ. A high-fat meal induces low-grade endotoxemia: evidence of a novel mechanism of postprandial inflammation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Nov;86(5):1286-92.
(22) Harte AL, Varma MC, Tripathi G, McGee KC, Al-Daghri NM, Al-Attas OS, Sabico S, O’Hare JP, Ceriello A, Saravanan P, Kumar S, McTernan PG. High fat intake leads to acute postprandial exposure to circulating endotoxin in type 2 diabetic subjects. Diabetes Care. 2012 Feb;35(2):375-82.
(23) Hever J. Plant-based diets: A physician’s guide. Perm J. 2016 Jul;20(3):15–082.
(24) De la Monte SM, Tong M. Mechanisms of nitrosamine-mediated neurodegeneration: potential relevance to sporadic Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2009 Aug17(4):817-25.
(25) Ricker MA, Haas WC. Anti-inflammatory diet in clinical practice: A review. Nutr Clin Pract. 2017 Jun;32(3):318-25.
(26) Li Z, Wong A, Henning SM, Zhang Y, Jones A, Zerlin A, Thames G, Bowerman S, Tseng CH, Heber D. Hass avocado modulates postprandial vascular reactivity and postprandial inflammatory responses to a hamburger meal in healthy volunteers. Food Funct. 2013 Feb 26;4(3):384-91.
(27) Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, Bøhn SK, Dragland S, Sampson L, Willey C, Senoo H, Umezono Y, Sanada C, Barikmo I, Berhe N, Willett WC, Phillips KM, Jacobs DR Jr, Blomhoff R. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutr J. 2010 Jan;9:3.
(28) Sutliffe JT, Wilson LD, de Heer HD, Foster RL, Carnot MJ. C-reactive protein response to a vegan lifestyle intervention. Complement Ther Med. 2015 Feb;23(1):32-7.
(29) Tarazona-Díaz MP, Alacid F, Carrasco M, Martínez I, Aguayo E. Watermelon juice: potential functional drink for sore muscle relief in athletes. J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Aug 7;61(31):7522-8.
(30) Trombold JR, Reinfeld AS, Casler JR, Coyle EF. The effect of pomegranate juice supplementation on strength and soreness after eccentric exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jul;25(7):1782-8.
(31) Hutchison AT, Flieller EB, Dillon KJ, Leverett BD. Black currant nectar reduces muscle damage and inflammation following a bout of high-intensity eccentric contractions. J Diet Suppl. 2016 Aug;13(1):1-15.
(32) Bowtell JL, Sumners DP, Dyer A, Fox P, Mileva KN. Montmorency cherry juice reduces muscle damage caused by intensive strength exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Aug;43(8):1544-51.
(33) Howatson G, McHugh MP, Hill JA, Brouner J, Jewell AP, van Someren KA, Shave RE, Howatson SA. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Dec;20(6):843-52.
(34) Moreira Alves RD, Boroni Moreira AP, Macedo VS, Bressan J, de Cássia Gonçalves Alfenas R, Mattes R, Brunoro Costa NM. High-oleic peanuts: new perspective to attenuate glucose homeostasis disruption and inflammation related obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014 Sep;22(9):1981-8.
(35) Campbell TC. A plant-based diet and animal protein: questioning dietary fat and considering animal protein as the main cause of heart disease. J Geriatr Cardiol. 2017 May;14(5):331-7.