James Wilks knows a thing or two about building muscle and achieving optimal physical performance. Some might know him as an Ultimate Fighting Champion. Others, notably members of the United States Marines, US Army Rangers, and US Navy Seals, know him as an elite combative instructor.
Most will recognize him for his star-studded film The Game Changers, a documentary released in 2019 on Netflix that, as its name suggests, transformed the narrative around sports nutrition, namely by dispelling myths that elite athletes must consume animal products to stay in top shape.
Wilks—who also narrated the James Cameron-produced film—is now taking that message to the next level with the launch of Fyta. The Greek word for “plants,” Wilks’ new protein brand is inspired by Roman gladiators, who consumed a predominantly vegetarian diet.
“After The Game Changers was released, I received countless recommendation requests for convenient and delicious protein products that met international standards for optimized athletic performance, health, and sustainability,” Wilks tells VegNews. “The problem was, I couldn’t find any.”
“So I assembled a team of world-class sports dietitians and food scientists and got to work,” he says.
What he created was the brand’s flagship Fyta Elite Plant Protein that dissolves easily and can be incorporated into people’s daily lives in versatile ways—from adding to a workout shake to mixing into pancake batter for a protein boost.
But where do gladiators get their protein in 2023? It turns out, from the byproducts of beer.
Changing the sports nutrition game with barley protein
The new Fyta plant protein features an ingredient called EverPro, an upcycled barley rice protein that has its beginnings in the beer-making process of the world’s largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev).
So how does beer turn into workout fuel? AB InBev created sustainable business EverGrain to develop a technology that enables it to extract the proteins and fibers from brewing grains to create nutrient-rich ingredients.
After working on the process for five years, EverGrain is now turning circularly sourced barley into ingredients that can be used in a variety of food and beverage products, such as protein shakes and bars, bread, and barley milk.
EverGrain’s flagship product, EverPro, is the base for Wilks’ Fyta protein—along with ancient, soil-regenerating lupin bean—and represents a full-circle moment for the elite athlete.
“In my own quest for the optimal diet for athletic performance, I discovered that the Roman Gladiators were commonly known as ‘Hordearii’ (Latin barley men) because their diet centered around barley and beans,” Wilks says.
“As our sports nutritionists and food scientists tested hundreds of ingredients and combinations, we came across EverPro, a highly sustainable protein made from upcycled barley that also turned out to be the most soluble and digestible plant-sourced protein of its kind,” he says.
And using this ingredient instead of milk proteins such as whey has environmental benefits, too.
“Not only is EverPro better for the planet than other proteins—20 times more sustainable than whey—it’s also American-grown and processed in a world-class facility approved for baby formula production, meeting the highest quality standards,” Wilks says. “So both the ingredient and the partnership were a fantastic fit.”
The new Fyta plant protein is available in three flavors: Café Latte, Caramel Vanilla, and Creamy Chocolate. Which does Wilks like best? “My favorite is Creamy Chocolate, which makes my morning coffee taste like a mocha.”
And AB InBev is not the only beer giant looking to repurpose its beer byproducts into vegan products to make its business more sustainable. Competitor Coors parent Molson Coors also tapped into the lucrative plant-based milk business last year with the launch of Golden Wing, a malty vegan milk made with the same barley it uses for beer.
‘The Game Changers’ sequel
Wilks’ new Fyta brand is the latest way he is changing the sports nutrition game. What’s next? A sequel to The Game Changers is in the works thanks to The SpringHill Company, a production company owned by sports-marketing expert Maverick Carter and NBA legend LeBron James.
Both Maverick and James will join the original cast of elite athletes, including Wilks, to pick up where the first film left off, building upon the message that animal products are not necessary for optimal athletic performance.
“One of the biggest takeaways from the film was that animals are just middlemen for protein that we can get directly from the source: plants,” Wilks says.
“Plant protein is not only great for athletic performance and human health, it’s also far better for the planet,” he says.
Fyta recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Wefunder to give consumers a chance to invest in the plant-based future of sports nutrition.