Can Tom Brady’s diet help him win a Super Bowl?
Here is my professional opinion of his reported dietary intake including the “Alkaline Diet:”
During the past week the news headlines are giving us a bit of a much needed break from politics as they turn more attention toward the upcoming Super Bowl this Sunday. Two related headlines caught my attention as a registered dietitian with specialty interest and training in ancestral eating (eating the way our bodies are biologically programmed to eat) and personalized nutrition (helping people find dietary patterns that fit their personal and very individualized needs, even considering genetics). Here are the two headlines that caught my eye:
1. Scientists: Tom Brady’s diet is total BS, by Molly Shea, New York Post, January 30, 2017.
2. The ‘doctor’ behind the Alkaline Diet is facing jail time, by Amanda MacMillan, Fox News Health, February 02, 2017.
What does Tom Brady reportedly eat?
The New York Post (NYP) article references a story published at the Boston regional website, Boston.com, January 2016, where Tom Brady’s personal chef, Allen Campbell, was interviewed about the types of foods and cooking methods he uses to feed Tom Brady. Campbell is a big fan of plant-based diets. He has a website, rawbodyfoods.com, where the home page describes his culinary philosophy, “Nature has given us all we need to be at our best and Raw Body Foods simply combines those natural components to create wholesome, satisfying nut butters, protein bars and spreads that are low glycemic, vegan, gluten and soy free.” Campbell touts encouraging people to eat the foods they love the most without additives, processing, refining and ingredients you cannot pronounce. He advocates local, organic, non GMO foods and believes in making food choices that support the health of the planet.
Chef Campbell encourages people to eat the foods they love the most without additives, processing, refining and ingredients you cannot pronounce.
The NYP article also mentioned a Tom Brady interview in 2014 with Sports Illustrated where Brady mentioned that he eats seasonally (red meat and squash in the winter and poultry and fresh greens in the summer, as an example). He also reported that he follows an 80:20 rule of eating 80% of his food as alkaline-based and 20% as acidic-based to “”to maintain balance and harmony through my metabolic system.” This last statement appears to have led to a significant scientific debate and the title of the article for the NYP. The NYP article, as it attempted to discredit how Tom Brady eats, also mentioned the doctor (as in PhD) mentioned in the second article above and his ties to using the Alkaline Diet and harming people.
I aim to offer another professional viewpoint to how Tom Brady eats and provide you with some evidence that supports a diet with an emphasis on alkaline foods. Please realize that I do not endorse or agree with some of the potentially harmful practices used by Robert Young, PhD who is described in the second article. I take my nutrition expertise, training and credentials very seriously and strive every day to avoid harming my clients. However, I would like to show that basing a diet on plants (more alkaline) has benefits established by science.
Back to Chef Campbell; as a nutritionist I encourage my clients to eat a whole foods-based diet, sharing many of the same ideals as Campbell. Although, I differ from Campbell in encouraging healthy and sustainably raised animal protein, mostly cooked (raw, low mercury fish in sushi is fine, for example) where he seems to eat and encourage a more vegan diet. I also encourage about half of all vegetables and fruit eaten as raw and the other half cooked because there are different health benefits from both preparation methods where Campbell encourages en emphasis on raw. From the Campbell and Brady interviews I reference it appears that Campbell does provide animal protein for Tom Brady, as well as a mix of raw and cooked vegetables.
Here is a summary of what Tom Brady eats according to the Chef Campbell interview:
· About 80% vegetables, organic and the freshest available
· Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, beans
· About 20% lean meats such as grass-fed organic steak, duck, chicken and wild caught salmon
· Raw olive oil for drizzling and flavoring raw or already cooked foods
· Pink Himalayan salt
· Coconut oil as a fat for cooking
These are foods Tom Brady avoids or omits according to the interview:
· White processed foods such as white sugar, white flour and white rice
· MSG (monosodium glutamate)
· Coffee and caffeine
· Fungus (mushrooms)
· Fruit, other than bananas
· Nightshades or Solanaceae plant family; this includes plants such as tomatoes, tomatillos, white potatoes (not sweet potatoes), eggplant, gooseberries, goji berries, peppers and spices made from peppers such as paprika
Note from Tracey: Nightshades contain a wide range of plant compounds called alkaloids. The alkaloids in nightshades have been associated with arthritis through altered calcium metabolism. However, scientific research has not established that relationship for certain. Cooking nightshades can reduce alkaloid content by up to 50%. As a nutritionist, I occasionally have my clients trial no nightshades for three weeks while monitoring joint pain and swelling and then add them back in to see if there is noticeable change. About a third of my clients who have tried this have found relief by omitting or limiting and/or cooking nightshades. I imagine a guy who has been playing football for many of his 39 years of life has some joint pain. Perhaps Tom Brady finds relief from avoiding this plant family. I mention this because the NYP article states that science does not back Tom Brady’s omission of night shades from his diet.
Another consideration with the nightshades family that is backed by scientific evidence is the possible association with SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in the BCHE gene that may contribute to intolerance of foods in the nightshades family. If you have your genetic data available from a source such as 23andMe or Ancestry.com you can check to see if you have a SNP at this location: rs1799807.1 If you have a SNP at this location you might genetically be sensitive to nightshades.
You will also notice that according to the information provided by Chef Campbell, Brady avoids gluten, dairy and sugar. These three foods have also been associated with joint pain and inflammation. From my experience working with clients on an individual basis more than half find relief from joint pain and inflammation when these foods are omitted. In fact, I have clients who report that simple activities such as climbing stairs at home and getting up and down off the toilet become pain-free or much easier. I look forward to future studies validating what I see regularly in my practice. I have provided you with two references that show some association between gluten and joint pain/inflammation.2,3 The protein in dairy, namely casein, can be difficult for some people to digest which may lead to immune system and inflammatory responses. Sugar is tied to many inflammatory diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cancer.
I am not certain why mushrooms are on the “omit” list. I would like to ask him about this ommission. I also wonder about Tom Brady’s low fruit intake. This could be related to trying to eat a lower sugar diet in general, a dislike for fruit or trying to maintain a lower glycemic index response. I will sometimes recommend a low fruit intake to clients who are struggling with blood sugar spikes. More likely, I encourage 1-2 servings of low sugar fruits per day as a sweet treat at the end of meals and always consumed with a protein (in the meal is fine).
Why do we care what Tom Brady eats?
Not many of us can say that we are 39 years-old and able to physically perform well enough to be a quarterback heading to the Super Bowl. Tom Brady is an American sports legend as the beloved quarterback of the New England Patriots. He has accompanied his team to seven Super Bowls in the past. Certainly, Tom Brady has some athletic potential that many of us lack. However, it is worthwhile to explore his diet and lifestyle as we are learning more about the study of epigenetics (how diet and lifestyle affect genetic expression and our health). What I mean is that even if Tom Brady has remarkable genetic potential, he could harm that by consuming food that has poor nutrient density and adopting lifestyle behaviors that are harmful such as smoking, staying up late and, say, riding a bike without a helmet on the weekends.
Based on what I have read in the past several weeks about Tom Brady I applaud him. None of us are perfect, but, to me, it appears that Brady is attempting to honor what is good for his body, what will help him achieve his goals and dreams and is a great example to many regarding healthy lifestyle habits and behaviors. I have read that he drinks alcohol only occasionally, take days off to rest his body from over training, eats a lot of vegetables, eats sustainably raised meat and fish to support the health of the planet and gets a lot of sleep. How many of us could do better in these areas of health?
What might Tom Brady’s dinner plate look like?
Here is an example of what Tom Brady’s dinner plate might look like based on the descriptions above. I could be more accurate if Brady, or his chef were willing to give me a three to five day food journal of his intake for nutrient analysis, but this is my best guess, albeit he might need to eat TWO platefuls to provide the energy he needs for his high level of training . . . . .
Brady probably adds a healthy fat to this plate such as 1 tablespoon olive oil, ¼ cup raw nuts/seeds or ½ small avocado.
You say you are worried that Brady isn’t drinking any milk or eating cheese or high protein Greek yogurt? The NYP article mentioned this concern. Dairy products are not required to provide adequate dietary calcium. For example, did you know that a large majority of all dark skinned people in the world have a dairy intolerance? How do they get enough calcium and have strong bones if they can’t drink or eat dairy products? There are other foods that provide calcium. Here is a list showing good plant sources of calcium:
Good Sources of Calcium4
(150mg Calcium per serving)
o Unsweetened almond milk – 4 FL oz.
o Dark leafy greens – ½ cups cooked
o Chia seeds – 2 TBSP
o Sesame seeds/Tahini – 2 TBSP
o Canned sardines with bone – 2 oz.
o Almond butter – 2.5 TBSP
o Blackstrap molasses – 2.5 tsp
o Broccoli – 1.5 cups steamed
I would like to add a small serving of a low-sugar fruit to this meal for Brady to be eaten at the end to slow down the absorption of the natural fruit sugars. Low sugar fruits include berries, melon, grapefruit and granny smith apples.
What about a more alkaline diet? Could it possibly be healthy?
The headline of the NYP’s article suggests that Tom Brady’s diet, as determined by scientist’s is “total BS.” From what you have seen so-far, do you agree? Can you imagine how he would perform if he consumed the standard American diet high in processed and fast foods and less vegetables, protein and healthy fats? Would his chances of being in the Super Bowl on Sunday be the same? No one can say for sure, but it certainly makes me wonder.
The NYP article states, “The most baffling tenet of Brady’s regimen is his adherence to an alkaline diet . . .” Remember the quote above from the 2014 Sports Illustrated article where Brady was quoted as saying his goal in following a more alkaline diet was to, “to maintain balance and harmony through my metabolic system.” The article did not mention that he made any other specific claims. I understand that Robert Young, PhD, who is described in the Fox News article and might be going to jail for causing harm to people has been known to take a very extreme and radical stance on the Alkaline Diet. What if Tom Brady is using a more moderate approach to this diet? We don’t know for sure without asking him directly. I would like to point out what we know about a diet that is more alkaline in nature.
What does acid/alkaline balance in the human body mean?
The human body requires that our circulating blood maintains a tight balance between acidity and alkalinity, also known as acid and base balance. The unit of measure is referred to as pH. The pH of blood is under tight control from several mechanisms in the body, keeping the blood as close to a pH of about 7.4 as possible (which is slightly alkaline). Higher than 7.4 is more basic or alkaline. Lower than 7.4 is more acidic. The kidneys and lungs are primary organs that help regulate the acid/base balance in the body and they do a very good job unless disease is present. When the human body veers just a little bit away from a pH of 7.4 it can go into crisis and even death. Diet has not been proven to be able to sway the blood level pH because the kidneys and lungs help get rid of excess acid when they are working well.
A high acid load coming from the diet is first managed by the kidneys. This is a simplified example, but the kidneys can buffer high acid foods using bicarbonate and calcium producing carbon dioxide that is excreted as waste through the lungs and acidic products that are dumped in the urine. Certain foods are higher in acid than others. High acid foods include dairy, egg yolks, meats, grains and grain products and fish. Low acid or alkaline foods include vegetables, fruit, beer, wine and egg whites.
An acid load can also come from a diet that is very high in sodium or salt and too low in potassium. When I was in graduate school at Colorado State University I took a couple of courses on ancestral eating and the evolution of the human diet from Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet. We studied renal acid load and high sodium load paired with low potassium intake and consequences such as possible bone loss associated with the modern Western diet. We looked at evidence that our ancestors long ago ate diets with less renal acid load. As an example, Strohle et al studied 229 hunter-gatherer societies and found that as the plant to animal food ratio has declined over time the acid burden on the body has increased- especially with the increased intake of processed foods and a decreased intake of vegetables and fruit.5
S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner are thought to be the originators of the Paleolithic nutrition concept. They, along with Loren Cordain have led the way researching this topic. Eaton and Konner published a review of 25 years of this dietary concept in 2010 stating, “anthropological evidence continues to indicate that ancestral human diets prevalent during our evolution were characterized by much lower levels of refined carbohydrates and sodium, much higher levels of fiber and protein, and comparable levels of fat (primarily unsaturated fat) and cholesterol.”6 This eating pattern doesn’t seem too far off from the dietary intake described by Chef Campbell for our super star Super Bowl quarterback, Tom Brady.
Call it an Alkaline Diet or a Paleo Diet or an Ancestral Diet or even a Whole Foods Diet. In my professional opinion, Tom Brady is eating a nutrient dense diet that is certainly not harming his athletic performance nor his health as evidenced by his Super Bowl opportunity this Sunday. The original question was, can Tom Brady’s diet help him win a Super Bowl? I say, yes, his diet and healthy lifestyle certainly contribute to having a competitive edge!
I would like to end this article by listing some conclusions found by Gerry Schwalfenberg in an article published in 2012 reviewing benefits of a diet that is higher in alkaline foods like vegetables (take a look again at the plate diagram above). I did not touch upon each of these items specifically since I am noticing that this article is getting rather long. But, I feel this list is worth mentioning so you can see another educated perspective of a diet that is more alkaline. There may be benefits, after all. After reviewing many books and scientific studies on the Alkaline and Ancestral Diets, Schwalfenberg summarized the following five conclusions:7
1. An alkaline diet lacks evidence that it is bone protective from the standpoint of calcium balance.
2. Higher intake of vegetables and fruits support a better potassium to sodium ratio which may be bone protective and may reduce muscle wasting and decrease risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
3. An alkaline diet may improve cardiovascular health, memory and cognition.
4. The diet may increase magnesium inside the cell where it helps activate Vitamin D which has many health benefits.
5. Higher alkalinity may support the function of some chemotherapy drugs that work better with a higher pH.
I am a conventionally trained dietitian with specialty training in the Paleo Diet, Autoimmune Paleo Diet, Integrative and Functional Medical Nutrition Therapy and Nutrigenomics. My focus is in helping my clients find their own personal and optimal dietary pattern. It seems, at least for this stage in his life, Tom Brady has found his optimal diet. His exact dietary pattern might not work for you, but it is built on a healthful template.
This article represents my professional views and experiences that come from many hours in graduate level courses, workshops, reading hundreds of scientific articles, reading many books and most importantly, from the lessons taught to me by all the wonderful people who have entrusted their nutritional well-being to my care. I have assisted many people in improving health outcomes such as lowering blood lipid markers, decreasing inflammatory markers, lowering blood sugar, improving IBS symptoms, decreasing fatigue, losing weight and more using an ancestral diet template. I absolutely love my job!
Many controversial topics have been brought up in this article. I appreciate the mental challenge of continued dialogue and look forward to all the future scientific studies that will help validate what I see anecdotally on a daily basis. Your comments are welcome as long as they remain professional.
I wish you best health, ~Tracey
1. SNPedia, https://www.snpedia.com/index.php/Rs1799807, accessed on 02/03/2017
2. Franeková L, Sedláčková M. Bone and Joint Involvement in Celiac Disease. Gerontorheumatology. 2017:261-267. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-31169-2_22.
3. Santos SCAD, Lioté F. Osteoarticular manifestations of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten hypersensitivity. Joint Bone Spine. 2016. doi:10.1016/j.jbspin.2016.09.007.
4. USDA Food Composition Database, https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/nutrients/report?nutrient1=301&nutrient2=&nutrient3=&&max=25&subset=0&offset=400&sort=c&totCount=8161&measureby=g, access on 02/03/2017
5. Strohle A, Hahn A, Sebastian A. Estimation of the diet-dependent net acid load in 229 worldwide historically studied hunter-gatherer societies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;91(2):406-412. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28637.
6. Konner M, Eaton SB. Paleolithic Nutrition. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 2010;25(6):594-602. doi:10.1177/0884533610385702.
7. Schwalfenberg GK. The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence That an Alkaline pH Diet Benefits Health? Journal of Environmental and Public Health. 2012;2012:1-7. doi:10.1155/2012/727630.