Tom Brady is a picky eater.
That’s what I took away from the Boston.com interview with Allen Campbell, the man who serves as the Brady family’s personal chef.
Although Campbell insists several times throughout the interview that Brady is “very laid back,” his diet is crazy strict.
As you probably know, Brady has long avoided sugary foods like Frosted Flakes and Coca-Cola, even calling them “poison.” Although that’s a strong opinion, avoiding such foods is a perfectly smart diet practice, one that makes sense for almost any athlete.
But you might not have heard that TB12 also avoids white sugar, white flour, MSG and iodized salt. That’s more intense. But the restrictions don’t stop there. He also avoids coffee, caffeine, fungus and dairy.
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But wait, there’s more!
“[Tom] doesn’t eat nightshades, because they’re not anti-inflammatory. So no tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants. Tomatoes trickle in every now and then, but just maybe once a month. I’m very cautious about tomatoes. They cause inflammation,” Campell said. “The kids eat fruit. Tom, not so much. He will eat bananas in a smoothie. But otherwise, he prefers not to eat fruits.”
If Tom Brady ever comes to my house for a dinner party, I’ll be serving him a bowl of organic almonds and calling it a night.
Yet there’s a method to his madness. The problems with highly processed foods are well known: they’re heavily altered versions of the plant or animal products they contain; and they typically have fewer vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and other useful nutrients than unprocessed foods. White flour and white sugar are frequent ingredients in highly processed foods. MSG is a chemical glutamate flavor enhancer. Although it is recognized as safe by the FDA, it can cause adverse reactions (like asthma, nausea, weakness) in a number of people.
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Coffee and caffeine can be beneficial to performance in a number of ways, but some people flat-out don’t like the effects. Several elite athletes have cut dairy out of their diets for a multitude of reasons. Many people have a milk allergy or sensitivity which can cause uncomfortable digestion issues.
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The most interesting restrictions are the nightshades and the fruit.
Nightshade vegetables are members of the family Solanaceae and include eggplants, chile peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. Many nightshade foods are dietary staples for cultures around the world, and when you glance at their nutrition facts, they look rock solid. So why does TB12 avoid them?
Some people believe our bodies have trouble absorbing the form of vitamin D found in nightshades, and this can lead to joint and bone problems. Others believe the alkaloids in nightshades, which can be deadly in very large doses, are the true problem.
However, the nightshades we typically eat contain such a minuscule amount of alkaloids, they likely cause no significant ill effects for your health. It was widely believed for a long time that people with arthritis should avoid nightshades since the alkaloid solanine was branded as an aggravator of arthritis symptoms. But the Arthritis Foundation has now declared this a myth, stating “no formal research has ever confirmed the claim, and the vegetables contain essential nutrients.”
However, if you’re someone with an autoimmune disease or a sensitivity to one of the chemical compounds in nightshades, they could cause trouble. Most people have no problem eating nightshades, but it’s possible that Brady learned—either through personal experience or medical testing—that he simply doesn’t react well to them.
We don’t really have an answer for why Brady rarely eats fruit. Although fruit is high in natural sugar, it delivers more than enough useful nutrients to make it an overall healthy choice. Fruit’s high fiber content is reason enough to include it in your diet, and a staggering number of studies show that regularly eating fruit contributes to overall wellness. Perhaps the high sugar content scares Brady off, but not all sugar is created equal.
So, what sort of foods does Brady eat?
“Eighty percent of what [he eats] is vegetables. [I buy] the freshest vegetables. If it’s not organic, I don’t use it. And whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, beans. 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,” Campbell says.
Campbell also frequently uses coconut oil and Himalayan pink salt in his cooking. An example of a meal Brady eats during the season: a quinoa bowl with wilted greens, garlic, coconut oil, toasted almonds, ginger, lemongrass and cashew sauce with lime curry.
Brady’s diet remains mostly the same regardless of his training and game schedule. The only changes are seasonal. Campbell serves more red meat, soups and root vegetables in the winter and more light salad-based dishes in the summer.
Brady’s diet obviously works for him. Before he tore his ACL in 2008, he had made 110 consecutive starts. Since recovering from that injury, he’s made another 124 consecutive starts. The dude is 38 years old and playing his best football ever. He has refined his diet to absolute perfection for his own body and needs—but it’s probably not a good idea to emulate him.
Nightshades are good foods for the vast majority of people. Fruits are great foods for nearly everybody. Coffee and caffeine can boost performance in proper doses. Iodized salt isn’t going to kill you. Cut down on highly processed foods, eat lots of plants and continue balancing your diet as you learn more about your own body.