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science nutrition blog

science nutrition <strong>blog</strong>

By Steve Blechman


            I have been an advocate of the Mediterranean diet (fish, extra virgin olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and lentils) for over 20 years for achieving optimal health, weight loss and prevention of degenerative diseases including heart disease and cancer.  A documentary called “The Game Changers” is a movie about the benefits of a vegan, vegetarian/plant-based diet for athletes. The film was produced by the highly acclaimed Academy Award-winner James Cameron. “The Game Changers” has had a big impact, reaching millions of viewers and created a lot of awareness, and falsely argues that an animal diet including meat, dairy (which includes whey protein), eggs and fish has a negative effect on athletic performance— and that you don’t need animal protein for optimal muscular development or growth. Nothing could be further from the truth, based on the latest scientific research. “The Game Changers” makes statements that are extremely misleading, citing small poorly designed studies and presenting only one side of the facts and scientific literature. Also, very controversial sources were interviewed, and the movie is more like a marketing ploy to promote the Green New Deal, and the vegan/vegetarian movement. The film interviewed several medical doctors and vegetarian athletes, providing a distorted view of the truth!

            An article published in Men’s Health on September 16th 2019 was entitled, “This New Documentary Says Meat Will Kill You. Here’s Why It’s Wrong.” The article noted, for example, “Its entire concept [was built] around, a study he came across that reported Roman gladiators didn’t eat meat.” Also, the study that movie cited wasn’t “actually a study.” The report said, “It’s a short narrative by Andrew Curry, a contributing writer to Archaeology, a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America.”

            James Wilds, a former MMA fighter, states in the movie, “And when it comes to gaining strength and muscle mass, research comparing plant and animal protein has shown that as long as the proper amount of amino acids are consumed the source is irrelevant.”

            This statement is untrue when it comes to bodybuilding and building muscle you need to consume a sufficient amount of protein to enhance muscle growth. Bodybuilders need to consume a sufficient amount of protein daily to enhance muscle growth. Optimum muscle building nutrition promotes muscle growth and a response to intense strength training by increasing and activating the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathway; mTOR increases muscle protein synthesis while reducing protein breakdown. The branched-chain amino acid leucine is most abundant in animal proteins (whey protein is the richest food source of leucine) and lacking in vegetable proteins. The muscle-building benefits of leucine also increases mTOR.                      

Below are the muscle-building benefits of leucine:

- Leucine is the key anabolic trigger to protein synthesis.

 - Increases in muscle protein synthesis are dependent on leucine concentration.

 - 5 grams of leucine can increase the anabolic effects of protein synthesis when eating less protein, which is ideal on a ketogenic diet.

 - Research has shown 6.25 grams of whey protein with 5 grams of leucine is equivalent to at least 25 grams of whey protein, as found in AML™ THERMO HEAT® FAT BURNING PROTEIN.

 - Anabolic resistance in people over 40 can be overcome by consuming greater quantities of leucine.

 - Leucine and not total protein content of a supplement is the primary determinant of muscle protein anabolic responses in healthy older people.

 Research has shown that pure leucine is more anabolic than protein in food!

 - Leucine is the key amino acid for enhancing the mTOR pathway that regulates cell growth and protein synthesis.

 - Leucine has many benefits: powering muscle growth, preventing muscle loss and enhancing recovery.

           Research has clearly shown that vegetarian diets are less anabolic than animal proteins and lower mTOR! Vegetarian diets also lower insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), an anabolic hormone that also activates growth hormone (GH) action.          

           Vegetarian diets also can lower testosterone (especially when combined with high-intensity long duration aerobic exercise) and increase estrogen levels. The journal Endocrine Practice reported in May 2008 about a case of gynecomastia related to the ingestion of soy products. Also reported was erectile dysfunction and decreased libido. Lab tests showed a 4-fold increase in the estrogen hormones estrone and estradiol levels. Many plants including soy provide phytoestrogens and potential endocrine disruptors and functions similar to estrogen.

            Meat is also the richest natural source of creatine, an inhibitor of myostatin that can promote muscle growth and enhance exercise performance. Plants do not contain creatine. Plus, meat is the richest source of the amino acid tripeptide carnosine. Carnosine is the most important lactic acid buffer in muscle. Carnosine is also not present in plants; only in animal products.

            It was recently reported in the journal Nutrients on August 7, 2019 that plant protein has less of muscle building and anabolic effect due to lower digestibility and essential amino acids, including the branched-chain amino acids, especially leucine.

            The standard for measuring protein quality is called the digestible indispensable amino acid score (DIAAS). Animal proteins such as meat, milk (including whey protein) and eggs have higher DIAAS values than plant proteins (British Journal of Nutrition, February 24, 2020).

            Another beef I have with “The Game Changers” is how it covered several athletes, powerlifters and strength athletes that converted to vegetarianism. Were their enhanced athletic performances and feats of strength the result of their vegetarian diet, as the movie suggests? There was never any mention in the film if these athletes were drug tested for performance-enhancing drugs and anabolic steroids!

            Bottom line: my real beef with “The Game Changers” is not that they are promoting the vegetarian diet and lifestyle for better health— that’s fine. The science supports that, but “The Game Changers” only provides one side of the facts and presents a point of view that is misleading and not based on good peer-reviewed scientific research.



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  2. The Game Changers (2019) movie, produced by Andrew Curry and James Cameron.
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