At the ripe National Football League age of 39, Tom Brady is heading to his seventh Super Bowl. Even more remarkably, outside of torn knee ligaments that sidelined the New England Patriots quarterback for most of the 2008 season, the guy never misses games due to injury.
Brady credits his durability to an exercise regimen that keeps his muscles “pliable” and a restrictive diet that he and his supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen both follow religiously. The diet frowns upon the usual suspects — sugar, simple carbohydrates, and processed food — but it also shuns stuff that most nutritionists consider healthy, including apples, berries, tomatoes, and mushrooms.
“Eighty percent of what they eat is vegetables and whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, beans,” the couple’s personal chef Allen Campbell told Boston.com. “The other 20 percent is lean meats: grass-fed organic steak, duck every now and then, and chicken. As for fish, I mostly cook wild salmon.”
The list of what they don’t eat includes refined sugar and flour, dairy, coffee, caffeine, iodized salt, fruit, and nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, and peppers. For a treat, Brady says he likes to munch an avocado-based ice cream.
Brady’s diet has attracted a lot of attention, but would it be right for you?
“The diet works for Tom Brady, but he has a lot of help from his personal chef and trainer, and other amenities, to properly incorporate it into his life,” says registered dietician Joan Salge Blake, a clinical associate professor at Boston University's Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.
“Whether Joe or Josephine on the street should be following it thinking they can become as fit as a professional athlete remains to be seen.”
Blake warns that cutting out entire food groups, such as fruit and dairy, can increase the risk of becoming deficient in key nutrients.
“Each food group has a robust set of nutrients,” she says. “No single food group has all the nutrients your body needs. That’s why you should eat a variety of things.
“For example, the dairy group — yogurt, milk, cheese — is rich in calcium, vitamin D and potassium, which are three nutrients many Americans are short of. If you take dairy out of your diet, you have to make sure you’re getting these nutrients from other sources.”
Brady’s chef says the star also eschews nightshade vegetables because they are “not anti-inflammatory,” something experts question.
Sports nutrition specialist Kelly Prichett told WebMD there’s no evidence that these veggies boost inflammation, adding, “Actually, if you look at a lot of the foods that are considered nightshades — the eggplant, the tomatoes — these foods tend to be high in vitamins and minerals and antioxidants.”
Blake notes that the same could be said for cutting fruit out of your diet.
“Fruit is a great source of vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, minerals and even water – it’s very hydrating” she says. “But as long as Brady is making up for that nutrition elsewhere, it can be healthy.”
Despite the eccentricities of Brady’s diet, Blake points out that his focus on health and nutrition sets a good example for others.
“He’s projecting a positive image of eating well and exercising to protect his health in a wholesome way,” she says. “There’s a good message in that, especially for younger athletes.”
Whatever Brady is doing, it’s working — for him, at least. And he has no plans to hang up his cleats anytime soon. Still, Blake says the diet isn’t for everyone.
“I don’t want ordinary people to think that they can eliminate dairy because they want to be as fit as Tom Brady,” she notes. “That’s not going to happen.”
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