Opinion: Don’t knock the soy boys

Aeryn Kauffman, Columnist

Finally, a documentary on plant-based diets that isn’t animal torture porn. “The Game Changers” (2019) was released in September, after a long production time which tracked the journeys of several athletes eating strictly plant-based diets. The film caught two athletes setting new world records: Scott Jurek running the Appalachian trail in 46 days and 8 hours and Patrick Baboumian completing the “yoke-walk” at 1210 pounds across 10 meters. What do these guys credit their success to? Their diets.

“The Game Changers” was just as beautiful and well-produced of a film as expected. The documentary’s executive producers were James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, and others. It’s everything a documentary should be: pretty to look at, fully engaging, paced well, and with a British narrator, to boot. It avoids many documentary clichés, as well. It doesn’t appeal to emotion or put intense pressure on viewers. If you’re even slightly interested in the subject matter, it won’t disappoint.

Further, there are no on-screen animal deaths, making this vegan documentary unique.For vegan viewers, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. The films sticks firmly to athletic performance, delving briefly into environmental issues, then swiftly going back to nutrition.

It addressed every single stereotypical vegan rebuttal I could think of: protein, calories, energy, workout recovery, and then some. How about B-12? What about soy? The documentary covered those, too. What a relief it was to see extensive scientific research concerning diet and performance. 

Several prominent athletes made appearances in the film. Olympic silver medalist and 8-time U.S. National Cycling Champion Dotsie Bauschand Olympic silver medalist Dotsie Bausch, American record-holding weightlifter Kendrick Farris, and many more credit their vegan diets for their career success. How does the science hold up? Can a plant-based diet improve performance?

The short answer appears to be: it depends. The film has a lot of great academic sources which validate its claims. Simply running a Google search to fact-check the film won’t cut it, though. The misinformation on nutrition and exercise is abundant. You’ll need to check out academic sources.

It appears that the jury is out. Vegan diets are certainly proven to lower heart disease and diabetes rates, but only if you eat whole, plant-based foods. That means Boca burgers and fries are out of the picture, much to my chagrin. If vegans eat too many coconut-based products, your cholesterol can actually shoot higher than if you were to eat a standard American diet. It just seems that the sample size, vegan athletes, is too small to tell for sure. At least we can say with a degree of confidence that things won’t get worse, right? It’s a risk, but so is eating two steaks a day.

The film hits on a lot of hot-button topics that will leave documentary fans satisfied, if not from the perspective from the facts, then certainly from a filmmaking perspective. It leaves viewers feeling uplifted and empowered to make change and try something new instead of guilty and anxious. Athletes who see their role models in the film may feel inspired to try the diet to see how it affects their performance. I’ve got to say, seeing “beefy” vegan guys like bodybuilder Nimai Delgado (who has never eaten meat in his life) and boxer Bryant Jennings can inspire anyone to try it. Those are some soy boys you don’t want to mess with.

“The Game Changers” is now available to stream on Netflix.