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Film Review of The Game Changers

In my experience, it is a rarity to attend a film that ends with an audience of nearly 300 people clapping and whistling, but that is exactly what happened recently at the debut of Game Changers in a sold-out theater in Greenville, South Carolina.

Game Changers body builder

The Game Changers is a powerful new documentary about meat, protein, and strength that attempts to dispel the myth that real men eat meat.

Game Changers first debuted version 2018

I had the opportunity to see an unfinished version of The Game Changers documentary in February of 2018 at a plant-based conference where Rip Esselstyn, one of the executive producers and cast member, showed the film to a packed auditorium.

It was incredible, and the audience responded to the compelling rebuttal to the misconception that meat is macho with thunderous applause, whistles, and shouts.

Though I thought I knew what to expect with the finished film, the additional footage of athletes and professionals actually took it to a new level that I didn’t anticipate.

New film edited version

For its second edit, the documentary added martial arts legend Jackie Chan, NBA player Chris Paul, tennis star Novak Djokovic, and world race car champion Lewis Hamilton to its impressive list of executive producers, which also include Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, who produced films like Titanic, Avengers, The Abyss, and Terminator.

The film is directed by Oscar-winner, Louie Psihoyos, a former National Geographic photographer and filmmaker who directed and appeared in The Cove, which won over 70 awards globally including the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2009, and Racing Extinction, which aired in 2015 on Discovery Channel.

Real Men Eat Meat is a myth

In The Game Changers, former UFC champion and elite Special Forces trainer, James Wilks, sets out to demystify the myth that meat is necessary for protein, strength, and good health.

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 in 2011, 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 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

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Watch The Game Changers Trailer

Getting personal

About halfway through his research, Wilks’ father–an otherwise healthy, active, meat-eater–had a heart attack that led to emergency surgery. After the initial blow, Wilks’ shock turned to anger towards the meat industry that had been profiting off the very foods that he felt made his father sick.

This personal experience only fueled his determination to expose the truth that people are dying every day from preventable, reversible, food-borne illnesses.

Through an extensive and persuasive lineup of biometric screenings and interviews with professional and Olympic athletes, firemen, soldiers, doctors, and scientists, Wilks unearths the answers he originally set out to find. In the process, his determination became to share this life-changing information with the world.

After more than a thousand 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.”–James Wilks

spilled milk

Impacting the world

Not only is a plant-based diet good for health, Wilks discovered that it has a tremendous global impact as well.

Eating a plant-based diet is not just good for our health; it is good for Earth’s health.  In fact, ‘Shifting away from animal-based foods [could not only] add up to 49% to the global food supply without expanding croplands;’ but would also significantly reduce carbon emissions and waste byproducts that end up in our oceans and as seafood byproducts (Jalava et al, 2014).


If each and every person in the United States gave up meat and dairy products on one or more days of the week; ideally, all days of the week, we would save the environment from thousands of tons of carbon emissions.  In fact, in one year, animal husbandry creates as much carbon emissions as the entire transportation sector.


Similarly, by reducing our animal-based foods consumption, we would reduce our water use at least by half as animal husbandry utilizes more than 50% of fresh water.

UCLA ‘The Case for Plant-Based’

Game changers athlete cast members include:

  • James Wilks is a winner of Ultimate Fighter and elite Special Forces trainer
  • Patrik Baboumian, world record-holding Strongman
  • Rip Esselstyn, a former fireman and world-class triathlete who won the Masters National Championships in the 200-yard backstroke, setting the American record in the process. 
  • Dotsie Bausch, eight-time US National Cycling Champion
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, former professional bodybuilder, Arnold won Mr. Universe at age 20 and went on to win Mr. Olympia seven times.
  • Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans linebacker
  • Scott Jurek, Scott Jurek is one of the greatest ultrarunners of all time, having won most of the sport’s most prestigious events, including the 153-mile Spartathlon, the Hardrock 100, the Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathon, and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, which he won a record seven straight times. 
  • Lou Smith, former professional cornerback who played for the Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and San Diego Chargers. Lou currently trains professional athletes from the NBA, NFL, MLB, and UFC.
  • Nimai Delgado, professional bodybuilder
  • Morgan Mitchell,  two-time Australian 400-meter sprinting champion. She also represented Australia at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
  • Kendrick Farris, the only American weightlifter to compete in the last three Olympic Games
  • Lewis Hamilton, five-time Formula One World Champion
  • Bryant Jennings, American professional boxer and world heavyweight title contender with a professional record of 24 wins and 3 losses
  • Griff Whalen, a wide receiver who has been a member of the Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots, and Baltimore Ravens.
  • Mischa Janiec, fitness model, natural bodybuilder, and the co-founder of ProFuel

Physician cast members include:

  • Dean Ornish, MD is the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and was the first researcher to prove that severe coronary heart disease can be reversed by comprehensive lifestyle changes. He was appointed by President Obama to the White House Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health, and appointed by President Clinton to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy.
  • Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., MD is an American physician, Olympic gold medalist and founder of the Heart Disease Reversal Program at the Cleveland Clinic. A former president of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons, Dr. Esselstyn is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. Kim Williams, MD is the Immediate Past-President of the American College of Cardiology and the James B. Herrick Professor of Heart Research and Chief of the Division of Cardiology at Rush Medical College.
  • Kim Williams, MD is the Immediate Past-President of the American College of Cardiology and the James B. Herrick Professor of Heart Research and Chief of the Division of Cardiology at Rush Medical College.
  • David Katz, MD, MPH is the founding director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Immediate Past-President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and Founder/President of the True Health Initiative. Dr. Katz previously served as Director of Medical Studies in Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine and currently holds an appointment as an adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine.
  • James Loomis, MD is a board-certified internist who served as team physician for the St. Louis Rams and the St. Louis Cardinals. He is currently Medical Director at the Barnard Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and also serves on the clinical faculty of the department of internal medicine at Washington University School of Medicine.
  • Columbus Batiste, MD is the Chief of Cardiology at Kaiser Permanente Riverside and Moreno Valley Medical Centers.
  • Helen Moon, MD is a hematologist and oncologist at Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center. James Loomis, MD is a board-certified internist who served as team physician for the St. Louis Rams and the St. Louis Cardinals. He is currently Medical Director at the Barnard Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and also serves on the clinical faculty of the department of internal medicine at Washington University School of Medicine.
  • Terry Mason, MD is Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Public Health, Cook County. He was formerly the Chief Urologist at Mercy Hospital and the Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
  • Aaron Spitz, MD is the lead delegate of urology for the American Medical Association and also directs the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Orange County Urology.
  • Scott Stoll, MD is a board-certified specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation who serves as team physician for the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, after competing in the 1994 Olympics as a member of the USA bobsled team. He also co-founded the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference and The International Cardiovascular Summit.
  • Robert Vogel, MD is the Co-Chair of the NFL Subcommittee on Cardiovascular Disease and a preventive cardiologist at the University of Colorado Denver, where he is a Clinical Professor of Medicine. Dr. Vogel also served as Director of Cardiology at the University of Maryland and as the President of the Association of University Cardiologists.
  • Walter Willett, MD, Ph.D. is the Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, and the Chair of the Department of Nutrition, at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Other cast members include

  • Rob Bailey, MA, MSc is the director of Energy, Environment and Resources at Chatham House. He was also the head of Economic Justice for Oxfam and the lead author for the UNEP’s Sixth Global Environmental Outlook.
  • Nathaniel J. Dominy, Ph.D. is a Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College.
  • Fabian Kanz, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Forensic Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna.
  • David Katz, MD, MPH is the founding director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Immediate Past-President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and Founder/President of the True Health Initiative. Dr. Katz previously served as Director of Medical Studies in Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine and currently holds an appointment as adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine.
  • Tim Lang, PhD is a professor at City University London’s Centre for Food Policy and has also served as a consultant to the WHO, FAO and UNEP. He was a Commissioner on the UK Government’s Sustainable Development Commission and was also on the Council of Food Policy Advisors to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
  • Johan Rockström, Ph.D. is a professor of Environmental Science at Stockholm University and executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Johan has also served as executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute.
  • Mark Thomas is a human evolutionary geneticist and Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at the Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London.
  • Christina Warinner, Ph.D. is a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, a Research Affiliate of the Molecular Research Group at the University of Zurich, and a W2 Group Leader at Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  • Richard Wrangham is Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University.
  • Damien Mander is a former Australian Royal Navy Clearance Diver and Special Operations Military Sniper who now serves as Founder and CEO of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.
  • Chef Charity Morgan is a Le Cordon Bleu certified chef.

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Additional information

  • UPDATE: Available on NetFlix beginning Oct. 16th!
  • For those considering having their children watch this documentary, please note that it does contain some strong language and adult content.
  • Plan to stay until after the credits roll at the end because there are about 15 minutes of additional footage from James Cameron and others.

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Brad Beldner

Tuesday 17th of September 2019

That was the best movie. I saw it last night with 5 friends.