Nutrition is a complex science with a lot of nitty-gritty details to it. Understanding all of it requires a lot of research which most of the athletes simply don’t have time for. Diving into various areas of human physiology tends to raise even more questions, which is why most people get frustrated. And that’s where nutrition documentaries can become very useful.

I know it because I was just like most athletes – too focused on the physical side of things.

In fact, back in my competitive student years I had a feeling that my diet was not perfect. Yet, I didn’t have the courage to test different strategies and find the most optimal one. All what mattered to me was how hard I trained and whether I was consistent.

After one particularly ‘volatile’ season I had enough. I’ve put in a lot of effort during that year and felt I was in my best condition. But it wasn’t so smooth – I had a lot of small illnesses throughout the year that forced me to take unwanted training breaks and start all over.

So, after the season I started to play around with nutrition and test out stuff I read in books or saw in nutrition documentaries.

That had a huge effect on my health, athletic ability and self-confidence. And I’ve come a long way in my nutrition journey since then. From an inexperienced teenager doing an overnight kayak marathon on nothing but pure will to completing an Ironman on a largely plant-based diet 10 years later.

Nutrition documentaries for athletes

Documentaries are great at putting together and combining all relevant and important points in a single message. With such complex area as nutrition, it’s very helpful to see a big picture and understand how everything works together in our bodies.

The best part is that after getting a general understanding athletes can research further any topic they are interested in.

Documentaries usually explore and bring attention to several different areas, so that viewers can make their own decision.

Seeing a big picture was what really clicked for me in terms of nutrition. After I started to watch nutrition documentaries I started to understand much better how body’s internal processes work, how training affects it, what our body requires and, most importantly – how what we eat affects us.

Best nutrition documentaries
Nutrition documentaries are great at providing a lot of information across various areas of well-being.

Athletes can benefit a lot from optimizing what they eat. Personally, I believe nutrition documentaries is a good launching pad to start that journey.

Below I’ve put together a list of documentaries that had the biggest effect on me as an athlete.

#1 What the health

What The Health movie website

This documentary sheds light on the impact of animal protein on people’s health and how a plant based diet can help prevent and even reverse chronic health conditions (like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, etc.). It also uncovers some frightening truths about how animal protein puts a lot of stress on our bodies through toxins and inflammation.

What made What The Health click for me is how top level athletes thrive on a plant based lifestyle. Making the connection between animal protein and stress levels was the driving force for me to stop eating meat. I did it right after watching the movie – just a couple of months before NYC marathon – and quickly felt the positive impact on my energy levels, recovery time and, as a result, athletic performance.

Since watching the movie I suggested it to some of my friends and people I coach. A large part of them either went vegetarian or greatly reduced their meat consumption after watching the movie.

#2 The game changers

The Game Changers movie website

The Game Changers is a documentary produced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Novak Djokovic, Lewis Hamilton and half a dozen other very famous athletes. The movie breaks down the myth that athletes must consume meat and animal products to get strong, fast and endure.

Documentary follows the story of an ex-MMA fighter on his road to recovery after a leg injury. In the process he discovers the benefits of a plant based diet and how athletes can use it to their advantage. What I enjoyed the most about the movie was that it features athletes from all possible sports. And the comparison of certain health indicators between meat eaters and plant based athletes was really eye-opening.

Among others, the movie also features Rich Roll – an ultra endurance athlete who is one of the most popular advocates for plant based athletic lifestyle. He has become a role model for me and by listening to his podcasts I became confident that such lifestyle can work for my athletic needs.

#3 Forks over knives

Forks Over Knives movie website

This documentary also explores the effects of consuming animal protein on the human body. It shows how dependence on animal proteins stimulates the growth of various chronic diseases and how people get used to treating those effects with pills instead of preventing with food.

The film shows how animal products and processed foods cause over-eating and addiction due to their lack of nutrition and high content of fat, sugar and salt. Forks Over Knives follows real patient stories on their quest to transition to a plant based diets and shows how they succeed in improving their health and remove the dependence on pills

What really opened my eyes were the studies on how quickly the effects of a Western diet (meat, processed food, etc.) can change the whole nation’s health and make it sick in a matter of decades. As such, the film emphasizes the importance of including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes in the diet.

This movie helped me understand that the body primarily demands nutrients, not calories. So, during my Ironman training I focused as much as possible not on carb- and protein rich foods for recovery, but rather on fruits and vegetables.

#4 Supersize me

Supersize Me on Netflix

This documentary is a very sobering evidence of destructive power of fast food. The film follows Morgan Spurlock as he eats nothing but McDonald’s food for an entire month. He checks in regularly with the doctor to track his physical health, but, as you might expect, results aren’t great.

Many athletes focus only on the caloric content of foods and, as a result, turn to fast food to refuel. This movie is a good experiment that shows how that is a poor choice not only for athletes, but also for regular people.

The most sobering fact for me was that after a couple of weeks on this ‘diet’ his body starts to demand fast food. He wakes up with a hangover-like symptoms that go away only after he eats at McDonald’s again.

Even though the body is used to something it doesn’t make it right.

Changing nutrition habits is not an overnight process. It takes several weeks to change the microbiome in the gut and affect body’s response to new food. Which is why for many people who eat a lot of sugary foods it’s hard to switch to vegetables right away.

Running & Triathlon coaching

#5 Eat, fast and live longer

Eat, Fast and Live Longer on Dailymotion

Personally, I used to think of fasting as something unpleasant and even unhealthy. However, this nutrition documentary (produced by BBC2) shows how controlled fasting is actually good for the body.

In particular, the movie discusses how fasting allows the body to take a break from the constant process of food processing we put it through daily. Also, during the process of fasting the body maximizes production of the Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which speeds ups adaptation processes and benefits athletes.

After watching this documentary I’ve taken a deeper look at how elite endurance athletes eat and train. Turns out many use either intermittent fasting or fasted training to improve their endurance and metabolic condition.

#6 Cowspiracy

Cowspiracy movie website

Originally directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn this movie about the environmental effect of animal agriculture eventually caught the attention of Leonardo DiCaprio who became the environmentalist and UN Messenger Of Peace. He got involved in the movie and worked hard to make sure more people see it. And for a good reason.

Cowspiracy mainly discusses the negative effect animal agriculture has on the environment. It shows why despite dairy being unhealthy and inefficient way to feed our bodies its consumption only continues to increase. The movie uncovers how marketing and lobbying from animal agriculture industry is so strong that we don’t even get the full picture of how food is grown and how we are manipulated to consume more of it.