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Can diet be a Game Changer for student athletes?

Updated: Jan 5, 2022

What if diet was the one of the key factors that set apart an athlete from all the rest? Gave him or her a competitive advantage in both sport and recovery? Would it be worth it to try it? Game Changers dives into the questions to uncover some positive evidence!

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Our own Shruti Katragadda sat down to review the new movie everyone's talking about. Here's her review!

Good Fats vs. Bad Fats

In the film, three college football players from the Miami Dolphins were brought in to participate in an experiment. They were provided two meals, one that contained meat and one that was plant-based.

The test

With the exception of one player receiving a plant-based meal both times due to already being a vegan, the other two players were given a plant-based meal only one time. Two hours after each meal, their blood was drawn to see the effects their meals had on their body’s endothelial function.

The results

For the two players that ate both the meat and plant-based meals, the results were clear. Their blood was cloudier due to the type of fat content found in animal foods, indicating that their endothelium was not functioning at its best - which may lead to heart disease in the future. This is in contrast to their blood presenting as clear from the vials that were tested after eating the plant-based meal.

Fat in general is not the culprit

The vegan player still had fats in both his meals, his were just plant-based. So his blood still had fat content in it, but his blood came back clear indicating that his blood was flowing at a good rate. It’s important to make sure the fats you do add to your diet are unsaturated fats, such as the ones found in avocados, and cut back on foods containing saturated fats, such as those found in animal products.

It’s not necessary to include unsaturated fats in every meal, but making small changes such as topping your salad with an olive oil based dressing instead of a processed packet of ranch, or opting for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with some dark chocolate (dark chocolate contains antioxidants and protein too!) instead of ice cream to curb your sweet tooth, are small behaviors that will begin to add up very quickly. 

Plant-Based Protein

It’s important for athletes to make sure that they’re getting protein in their diets given their active lifestyle. A theme that’s touched on throughout the film is how different the narrative surrounding meat is compared to that surrounding plant-based products, and how meat is pushed onto athletes more aggressively than others starting from a young age. They’re told that they have to consume meat if they want to be strong and built to last, but no one really tells them that they can do the same on a plant-based diet - and in fact, plant-based diets can aid in enhancing performance and reducing recovery time. 

Easier than you think

The good news is that you don’t have to worry about packing every meal you eat full of complete proteins. So long as you get in the appropriate amount that matches your lifestyle, that’s all that matters. Quinoa is a complete protein that you can easily opt for in place of rice. Rice is common found in a lot of dishes from stir-fry’s to Mexican food, Indian food, soups/salads, etc. If you were to put quinoa in place of rice in these options, it’s easy to ensure that your body gets enough complete proteins. Tofu is also a complete protein that’s a popular meat substitute in many many vegan dishes. 

Plant-Based Transitioning

Due to the existing sentiment in the sports world that states that the only way an athlete can become invincible and strong is through eating meat, it already serves as a deterrent for many people to try plant-based food. They think they’ll be stuck eating nothing but salads, unfulfilling foods and just not look forward to meal time in general.

Food is medicine?

These were all common concerns for Derrick Morgan as well, a linebacker for the Tennessee Titans that looked to transition to a plant-based diet to aid in the recovery process between games. He was scared that he would have to treat it as taking your medicine; ignore the taste and just do it because it’s good for you. However, his wife would make still make him his favorite foods, just a plant-based version, so the transition wouldn’t feel like so much of a burden or compromise. Derrick could still have Mac and cheese and chicken wings, just plant-based. Eventually, he even got his team members to make the transition despite them being skeptical in the beginning. 

The challenge

For many athletes out there, especially those who didn’t grow up vegan or vegetarian, it will be difficult to go from eating meat regularly to eating absolutely no meat at all. There are delicious plant-based options out there, but transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle is just as much about your mindset as it is about nutrition.

Set yourself up for success

If someone ill informed about the offerings of vegan food goes into it thinking they’ll have no options but bland salads, they’re already setting themselves up for failure. Instead, a more realistic way to go about it could be doing what Morgan did; start with turning your staple favorites into plant-based variations and once you master those, expand your palette. Don’t be so concerned about making sure your every meal is packed with spinach or kale in the beginning. With time, you’ll learn about ingredients and their benefits and what you like and dislike. Like Morgan said, going plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean you have to cut corners on taste or satisfaction. It is about finding what works for you. And don’t forget, seasonings are your friend! 

Another great resource:


Author: Shruti is a current intern and recent graduate from The University of North Texas holding a bachelor’s of business administration degree in marketing. She has a passion for digital marketing, with a focus on social media, and advertising. In her free time, she enjoys baking, watching movies, and going on hikes. 

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