Even people who hate football – or sports in general – are familiar with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, almost-universally viewed as the greatest quarterback of all time. 
(Oops – make that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. He left New England as a free agent in March of 2020.)
Some may not know the details of Brady’s professional exploits. They may not know about his celebrity lifestyle.
And they may never have heard the compelling personal story of Brady as an underdog who wasn’t even the permanent starting quarterback on his college team, almost wasn’t chosen in the NFL player draft, and had to fight his way to the top after beginning his pro career as the #4 option on a Patriots team led by a veteran all-Pro quarterback.
But they’ve undoubtedly heard of the Tom Brady Diet – and his controversial TB12 fitness program.
Tom Brady’s motivational backstory is worth reading in detail. But that’s not really our primary focus; we’re more concerned with the details, pros and cons of the Tom Brady diet.
To understand why so many people follow a diet based on the lifestyle of someone who’s “just a football player,” however, it’s important to understand why Tom Brady has become such an icon.
The Career and Credibility of Tom Brady
Over 20 years with the Patriots, Brady led the team to nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships, with his fourth-quarter heroics instrumental in most of them. He’s won three league Most Valuable Player awards and four Super Bowl MVP awards.
He is not only the winningest quarterback in NFL history, but considered by nearly every player and expert as the greatest who has ever played. Even the few who disagree with that assessment agree that Brady is the ultimate competitor.
Perhaps most amazingly, his last championship came when he was almost 42 years old – an age when most NFL quarterbacks have been retired for quite some time – and he has signed a new two-year, $50+ million deal to quarterback Tampa Bay until he’s nearly 45. His athletic success at his age is unprecedented.
If you weren’t aware of Brady’s exploits on the football field, you may be familiar with him because of his personal life; he’s been married for more than ten years to the world’s most successful supermodel, Gisele Bündchen.
And if you didn’t know that – you’ve probably heard of his well-known diet and fitness regime, known and marketed as the “TB12 method.” (Brady’s uniform number is #12.) The TB12 method focuses on pliability, hydration and an eating plan which is quite controversial among medical experts.
Despite the controversy, a number of professional athletes, and millions of people concerned about their health and wellness, have adopted Tom Brady’s diet and methods.
After all – as a star quarterback entering his mid 40s – it sure seems to work for him.
Will it work for you?
Tom Brady’s Lifestyle and Diet
Brady published his best-selling book, The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance (co-authored by his long-time trainer and business partner, Alex Guerrero), in 2017. Brady explains that the underlying principles of his method and lifestyle are based on a holistic approach to health, wellness, conditioning and recovery.
Many of the specifics involve muscle pliability, which Brady says is very different than flexibility. He argues that people’s muscles become short and dense with repeated use; pliability aims at making them softer, longer and more resilient through deep muscle workouts and training. In theory, that helps to prevent injury while maximizing performance – and there’s no argument that Brady has been able to accomplish both of those goals.
A number of diet guidelines are also an integral part of the TB12 method. In some ways, they parallel many other eating plans: a diet should be high in nutrients, enzymes and fiber, it should avoid ultra-processed foods, it should focus on plant-based foods with a minimal amount of lean proteins, and foods should be locally-sourced and organic whenever possible.
The goal of the Brady diet is to maximize nutrients while reducing inflammation, two benchmarks which would be hard for any dietitian to challenge. Brady says that approach increases available energy, prevents injury (particularly to the bones), boosts athletic performance, and minimizes recovery time after workouts.
However, the extent to which Brady suggests following those guidelines – particularly his strong belief that an optimal diet should be extremely heavy on alkaline foods – have created controversy and generated criticism.
What is an Alkaline Diet?
The Tom Brady diet is similar in many ways to eating plans like the Alkaline Diet, touted by celebrities like Victoria Beckman over the last decade. (In many ways, it’s close to a vegan diet and has much in common with the Mediterranean Diet, known to help fight heart disease.)
Brady’s diet is based on the belief that foods like meat, refined grains, sugar and processed foods cause the body to produce acid. That supposedly alters the body’s natural pH level (the balance between acidity and alkalinity) to make it “too acidic,” leaving the body vulnerable to injury, illness and disease. Some even tout this diet as effective at preventing heart disease and cancer.
An alkaline diet, the theory goes, lessens the production of acid, while offsetting excess acid and maintaining the body’s pH at optimal levels. That means relying mostly on alkalizing foods like fruits and veggies, legumes and nuts. Acidic foods like meat, fish and poultry, grains, eggs and dairy are to be mostly avoided under this diet.
Scientists have basically debunked the acid/alkaline theory behind the Brady diet, for reasons too complicated to go into here but explained well in Dr. Anna Cabeca’s blog. But since the diet emphasizes healthy foods like fruits and vegetables while banning unhealthy processed foods, it can show results in terms of weight loss and maintenance, and overall health. 
And that’s what often happens when you follow the Tom Brady diet.
Specifics of the Tom Brady Diet
While Brady collaborated with his trainer on much of the TB12 method, he worked with his personal chef, Allen Campbell, on the accompanying meal plan. Campbell tells the Boston Globe he had been a restaurant chef until he got together with Brady and Bündchen and found they had similar views on plant-based diets and locally-sourced whole foods. The partnership, and the diet, evolved from there.
We’ve already touched on several of the keys to the Brady diet, which include:
- Fresh, organic, seasonal foods which are locally sourced; vegetables should be raw or steamed lightly.
- A diet that’s 80% alkaline, with only 20% acidic foods.
- Lots of fiber and essential fatty acids.
- Small portion sizes, intelligent snacking and no eating within three hours of bedtime.
- Water, water, water. (Brady suggests adding his own trademarked electrolytes.)
There is one other set of rules which involves the whole acid/alkaline thing, and it deals with allowed combinations of foods.
- Vegetables should always be eaten together with protein or carbs.
- Meat, fish, poultry and dairy should not be eaten at the same time as carbs.
- Fruit should only be eaten by itself, not with other food groups.
- No water during a meal; you should drink it 30 minutes before eating and 60 minutes afterward.
There are supposedly scientific reasons for those rules, but it’s not really necessary to get into them. The specifics of the diet are more important.
- Vegetables: These are the most important ingredients in Brady’s eating plan. They should be organic and locally-sourced, and of course, alkaline rather than acidic. Broccoli and cauliflower, kale and spinach, avocado, squash and sweet potatoes are among the acceptable choices. Legumes like peas and beans are fine, too. Among the veggies to avoid: bell peppers, eggplants, potatoes and tomatoes, all known as “nightshade” vegetables; some people (including Brady) believe nightshades promote inflammation. Mushrooms, soybeans and corn are also on the “bad” list.
- Fruits: They’re also important and preferably organic/local. Apples, blueberries, mango, papaya (we’re not sure how many people can find local mangos or papayas) and peaches are among the good choices. Acidic fruits like oranges and raspberries are out. (Brady doesn’t eat strawberries either, but not because of their dietary properties – he just doesn’t like the smell. )
- Proteins: Red meats which are high in saturated fats should be avoided, as should processed meats and soy. Lean meats and poultry can be eaten in moderation as long as they’re pastured, grass-fed (where applicable) and organic and contain no antibiotics or hormones, but wild-caught fish and seafood are Brady’s preferences for protein. Halibut, tuna (fresh, not canned), wild salmon, clams and shrimp are on his list; unfortunately, lobster is an acidifying food. Eggs are fine if they’re cage-free and organic.
- Dairy: Sorry, it’s completely out on this diet, because Brady believes it promotes inflammation. Most dairy products are loaded with calories and low in nutritional value, too. Nut butters and milk substitutes like coconut, rice or almond milk are fine, but not soy milk. No yogurt, either.
- Grains: Brady’s diet recommends staying gluten-free with whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, oats and quinoa. White flour is out, as are foods like white rice and any carbs containing white sugar (or any added sugar at all). Speaking of white sugar, substitute stevia, coconut sugar or raw honey instead.
- Oils and Fats: A lot of the fat we naturally consume is in the foods already discussed, but generally speaking, saturated and trans fats are to be avoided (as is butter). Skip canola oil as well; Brady claims it turns into trans fat, although experts largely disagree . Extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil and other nut oils are allowed.
- Spices and Seasonings: Most fresh herbs and spices are good for you, and good for seasoning food on this diet (although paprika is a no-no). Other compliant ways to season food are with hummus, guacamole, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, low-sodium broths and vegan mayo. No ketchup, BBQ sauce and soy sauce, though.
- Other Foods to Include: Brady recommends superfoods like acai, goji berries and maca root; organic nuts and seeds; and whey protein powder, protein bars and shakes (he has his own TB12 line, naturally) to his diet.
It’s probably needless to say, but forget about the packaged foods and snacks, ice cream, cake and the other stuff which tastes great but isn’t “healthy.” To satisfy your sweet tooth, try a fruit smoothie instead. Foods containing MSG and added salt are also forbidden.
And don’t forget the H2O. How many glasses of water? Think of total ounces instead; divide your body weight by two, and drink an equivalent number of ounces of water each day. (For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, drink 100 ounces of water a day.) As you’d probably guess, that’s a lot more than researchers suggest . It seems to work fine for the best quarterback of all time, though.
An anti-inflammatory diet makes sense to most medical professionals, as does one that’s heavy on fruits and vegetables and low on fat.
The Tom Brady Diet may go too far and make some assumptions that aren’t backed up by science – but as healthy diets go, it’s on the right track.