Tom Brady’s famously strict diet has captured the curiosity of fans and gym-goers alike for years. It has been the subject of many a diet review. It is no wonder then that when the New England Patriots quarterback announced the release of his book of diet and fitness secrets that it quickly climbed to the #2 spot on the New York Times Best Sellers list. The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance promises to shed light on Brady’s nutrition regime, healthy lifestyle, and offer a blueprint for others to follow in his footsteps.
The idea that you can use the strategies of an accomplished athlete to attain even some of their physical prowess is an amazing hook. Tom Brady’s diet – heavy on vegetables, light on meat, excludes white sugar, gluten, and most fruit – is promoted as being clean and anti-inflammatory, with the ability to accelerate injury healing and propel its followers into the arena of super sports prowess. Well… maybe not that last bit. But that last bit is really what we’re after, no?
The real question is – does his approach have merit? Could you introduce aspects of Brady’s regime and enjoy the same benefits? If this diet allows the GOAT to dominate in his sport (at an age when most of his cohort have long since retired to the anchor desk), can it give you the same boost in your general well-being?
Let’s break down a few aspects of his diet to see if they hold up to scrutiny.
Diet Review: The Diet Overall
When taken as a whole, the diet is fantastic in its promotion of vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. It gets a thumbs up from this regard, as it ensures ample fiber and lots of great veggie-based micronutrients and antioxidants. A diet high in vegetables and adequate in protein also helps keep daily caloric intake in check. If there is one thing to take from Brady’s diet and translate to yours this is it: eat more vegetables. Eat tons of vegetables. For Brady, vegetables reportedly make up 80% his diet.
That being said, eating sufficient calories can also be a struggle for athletes. Without enough calories, it’s hard to gain and maintain the muscle mass that is essential when you’re trying to hurl a ball 70 or 80 yards down the field. With Brady sitting at a reported 202 kg (or 225 lb) for his 1.93 m height, it appears that the diet can also provide enough to sustain a high–performance athlete. Do note though, that this is a rudimentary judge of his diet’s caloric adequacy and a more in-depth analysis of body composition and food records would be better. Most of us are not going to train at this level, but in case we do – we’ll have the energy to get us to the next combine.
The Alkaline/Acidic Mystery
The proposition that one should follow a high alkaline, low acidic diet is where the TB12 Method goes off the rails. A common criticism of the alkaline/acidic food mix is that many aspects of it are based on questionable science.
The diet is promoted to include 80% alkaline foods and 20% acidic foods. (So-called acidic foods include meat and dairy.) Believers in this approach feel that these foods promote disease growth by making the blood acidic. In reality, the pH of the food you eat will not significantly change the pH of your blood. Think of digestion logically; all the food that you eat goes to your stomach and gets bathed in hydrochloric acid for digestion. The pH of your food isn’t going to matter much at this point.
The TB12 Method suggests gluten-free diet adherence. Gluten free is the new low carb which was the new low fat which was… and so on.
Gluten-free diets are required for those with Celiac disease (affecting 1% of the population) and potentially for another small group who are gluten sensitive (6% of the population). They are also for those who have a confirmed wheat allergy (another 1–2% of the population). For most other people, you can slot this diet under fad.
Like Brady, many athletes avoid gluten because they believe this practice will alleviate gastrointestinal issues, reduce inflammation, and act as an ergogenic aid. There is no evidence that following a gluten-free diet is beneficial for non-Celiac athletes – in fact, in a 2015 study on cyclists (published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise), researchers found that gluten had no effect on gastrointestinal distress, inflammation, or athletic performance for non-Celiac athletes.
So why make your diet harder than it needs to be? Gluten-free diets require the elimination of many nutritious and easily accessible carbohydrate choices.
Organic foods are those grown without the use of pesticides. Though they will likely still have some pesticide residue, the levels are lower than in non-organic foods. Organic foods also have some mild benefits with regards to slightly enhanced micronutrient levels and omega-3 fatty acid levels and lower cadmium levels.
For the regular consumer, eating sufficient healthy foods like fruits and vegetables trumps the organic aspect of these foods. Put simply: organic food is expensive. Don’t avoid buying fruits and vegetables if you can only afford non-organic varieties. The benefit you gain from eating these will far outweigh the negative aspects. To reduce pesticide residues on produce, be sure to wash and scrub them well. For lettuce, remove and discard the outer leaves.
Some of you may prefer to mix and match organic with conventional produce. In this case, choose non-organic for produce where you don’t usually eat the outside (e.g. oranges and bananas).
Himalayan Pink Salt
Tom Brady eats some fancy salt. Himalayan pink salt to be exact. This salt… is salt. The only real difference between Himalayan pink salt and regular table salt (other than the cost) is that pink salt is not iodized. But Iodine is a micronutrient that is essential to human health and development.
Way back in the 1920s, North America started to supplement salt with iodine to reduce the incidence of goiter, or the enlargement of the thyroid gland. Turns out those countries who today routinely iodize their salt also enjoy some pretty stellar cognitive benefits over those who do not fortify their salt. (If you’re interested, read more here, and if you want to delve deeper into the mysteries of Himalayan pink salts versus other varieties this is a great read.)
If you’d like the iodine without using added salt – not to worry, iodine is also found in seafood, milk, and dairy. Regardless, there’s no practical reason to break the bank on salt.
It seems that Tom Brady’s fruit–free diet (except bananas) may be more of a preference than something he has been told to follow. Even so, the need to have a diet that is low fruit or fruit free is a common misconception that should be addressed.
Fruits are a wonderful source of carbohydrates for athletes. They do, of course, contain natural sugar – but seated within a balanced diet this sugar is not a problem. They are also an excellent source of antioxidants and fiber. And let’s not forget that they offer a delicious way to curb your sweet tooth.
There is a popular movement claiming benefits from eliminating dairy from your diet. Dairy is blamed for any number of ailments including weight gain, osteoarthritis, mucus production, and even cancer. To date, the evidence seems to point to dairy foods as being helpful for weight reduction, reduction of osteoarthritis symptoms, with no correlation to mucus production. There is no evidence that dairy is counterproductive in an athlete’s diet if they do not have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance.
Milk offers a great combination of protein and carbohydrates, which is fantastic for refueling. It is also jam-packed with vital nutrients like calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. In Canada, milk is also fortified with vitamin D. Those with lactose intolerance can also often eat a range of dairy products (like yogurt and hard cheeses) that are lower in lactose.
Brady does well here in trying to avoid added sugar. It would probably serve us all well to limit the amount of sugar we eat. Health Canada and Heart and Stroke guidelines suggest we limit sugar to less than 5% (maximum of 10%) of daily calories. Is it better to use brown sugar or honey? No – these are sugar, too. Whether your added sugar comes from white or brown sugar, honey or maple syrup, it is still important to limit them within the daily guidelines.
We’re not talking sunglasses at night here; we’re talking a particular type of vegetable family that includes eggplant and tomatoes. Those who promote this diet believe that nightshades are inflammatory. This is a myth. There is no scientific evidence supporting this notion. Continue with your pasta arrabbiata – those cooked tomatoes have excellent cardiovascular health benefits.
Diet Review: Is it Feasible?
This is the question with any diet you follow. A diet will only work if you can make it a habit. Tom Brady has a personal chef to plan his meals, grocery shop, and cook for him – most of us aren’t that lucky. Also, for Brady, keeping up his physical fitness and well-being is his job. This is not to be underestimated and is a fantastic incentive to stay on track.
If you’re wondering what following the TB12 Diet is like, read this hilarious synopsis from GQ.
If you’d like to try this diet – be aware that it does avoid and limit large groups of foods like dairy, bread, some grains, and fruit. It also unnecessarily restricts other healthy foods, like nightshade vegetables. The diet may require more work to ensure you’re meeting your requirements for calcium, vitamin D, and iron.
I think the diet is best adopted in its general spirit. Choose a diet that includes more vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fewer processed foods and limited sugar.
Nutrition planning is integral to achieve your optimal athletic performance. Gazelle Nutrition Lab delivers one-on-one or group nutrition counselling and consulting to both recreational and high-performance athletes. In addition, the Gazelle Blog is a free resource for healthy recipes and health tips. Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch!