What a Dietitian REALLY Thinks About Tom Brady's Diet
Lots of athletes follow specific eating regimens, but most don’t make headlines. Yet, Tom Brady’s diet is one of continuous intrigue for athletes and non-athletes, and has even been featured in publications like Men’s Journal, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and Business Insider.
Is it the NFL player’s picturesque life with supermodel Gisele Bundchen that makes people want to know more? Or is there solid science behind his diet principles that we should all be following?
To dig a little deeper, I started reading Tom Brady’s 2017 book, The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance, which explains his approach to nutrition, health, and training. I quickly realized that Tom’s diet isn’t that different from other ones out there. In fact, it’s essentially a combination of anti-inflammatory eating and an alkaline diet, packaged with a heavy emphasis on eating primarily organic, local, and seasonal foods. His philosophy is that a body must be fueled properly to support workouts and to minimize inflammation “to achieve your peak performance.”
What Can You Eat on Tom Brady’s diet?
Major emphasis is placed on eating vegetables (except for nightshades), as well as fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and other plant foods. The eating plan is “plant-heavy” but not totally vegetarian since meat, poultry and fish are all included—just in smaller amounts than the typical American diet, and they only make up about 20% of his total food intake. All produce should be organic, when possible, and washed. Meat and poultry should be organic, grass-fed, and free of hormones and antibiotics, and fish should be wild.
Here's what's off-limits or should be greatly limited, due to their inflammatory effect in the body:
Gluten and refined carbs like bread, snack foods, cereals, pastas
Trans and saturated fats
Dairy like milk, cheese, and yogurt
Nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and bell peppers
Excessive caffeine and alcohol
Processed foods and added sugars
Along with the guidelines above, Brady advocates for eating a diet that is 80% alkaline and 20% acidic. This comes from the popular theory that when foods are consumed and burned for energy, they either have an acidic or alkaline effect on the body’s pH. Proponents suggest that consuming more acidic foods has an overall acidic effect on the body which increases an individual's disease risk. By choosing foods with an alkaline effect, the body’s overall pH is closer to neutral—reducing inflammation and disease risks.
To do this, Brady’s book advises choosing lower-acid produce, and eating produce raw or lightly steamed to have “an alkalizing effect” on the body. Foods vary as to what pH effect they have when eaten and their categorization isn’t necessarily intuitive. Here's a sample from Brady’s book:
Highly Alkaline Foods: Broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, spinach, sweet potatoes, zucchini
Highly Acidic Foods: Strawberries, pineapple, oranges, salmon, beef, chickpeas, walnuts, yogurt, soybeans
Is It Worth the Effort?
Combining anti-inflammatory and alkaline eating ends up creating a pretty restrictive eating plan—not to mention one that requires a good bit of thought. Is this planning and food choice restriction worth all the effort when it comes to health and performance? I decided to compare some of Brady’s diet recommendations to current research to see.
Brady’s Diet Recommendation #1: Anti-Inflammatory Eating
You can’t see it or measure it well, but low-grade inflammation within the body has been linked to increased risk or progression of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and autoimmune diseases. Cutting out key diet inflamers like refined carbs, processed foods, added sugars, foods high in saturated and trans fats is key, and replacing them with lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, and healthy fats and oil is recommended to reduce inflammation. Brady’s plant-heavy, whole food-focused diet does just this, and these changes would benefit most everyone, pro-athlete or not. (See more here: Eat to Beat Chronic Inflammation.)
Worth it? Yes!
Brady’s Diet Recommendation #2: Avoiding Dairy
Brady suggests that dairy products be avoided due to their inflammatory effect on the body and suggests the nutrients in dairy aren’t worth the calories. This is true if Tom’s talking about frequent bowls of ice cream, but not necessarily for low-fat milks and yogurts. In fact, dairy products have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect in most people, particularly yogurts with good bacteria. While intake should be moderate to keep saturated fat in check, there's no reason to avoid this source of calcium, vitamin D and protein unless you have an allergy or sensitivity which can trigger inflammation when consumed.
Worth it? Probably not, unless you have a dairy allergy or sensitivity.
Brady’s Diet Recommendation #3: Avoiding Nightshades
Nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes are often blamed for arthritis inflammation due to their compound solanine. However, there’s no conclusive research that proves nightshades trigger inflammation. These veggies are packed full of anti-inflammatory nutrients, so don’t avoid nightshades—unless eating a specific one triggers pain or inflammation symptoms. If it does, the issue likely isn’t the nightshade family, but rather a sensitivity to one which can be eliminated.
Worth it? Probably not, unless you’ve noticed negative side effects after eating one.
Brady’s Diet Recommendation #4: Follow an Alkaline Diet
Brady advises making sure the majority of food choices have an alkalizing effect on the body to reduce acidity and potential inflammation. Some have suggested that alkaline diets can decrease cancer risk or growth, as well as other diseases. However, this stems primarily from research looking at individual cells in varied pH environments in a lab. There are no studies directly linking foods that have an acidic effect in the body with cancer, and there’s limited research to suggest eating a more alkaline diet has much impact on inflammation or health at all. In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research says that “the acidity or alkalinity of foods is not important” in terms of cancer prevention.
Worth it? Nope!
Pushing the body to extremes routinely takes a toll on the body, particularly the immune system, and triggers inflammation. Because of that, Brady admits that he goes to greater extremes with his diet to limit inflammation in his body. Takeaways from Brady’s diet that I think are worthwhile for all to consider are increasing anti-inflammatory foods and decreasing inflammatory ones, as well as increasing the percentage of diet that comes from plants.
But I can’t say that all of his guidelines are necessarily worth the effort or supported by science. What Tom Brady is eating obviously seems to be working for him (and I’m guessing having a chef prepare meals according to the guidelines helps a lot!). For the average person who works out regularly, his regimen is pretty restrictive, and in my opinion, more so that it really has to be.
Articles by Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD originally published in Cooking Light on April 27, 2018. See link : Here's What a Dietitian REALLY Thinks About Tom Brady's Diet.