The Appeal of Football
As a sports nutritionist, I've always loved watching athleticism. Football requires a lot of athleticism but now, finally, I am getting the whole strategy thing with football. I realize men have long appreciated this aspect of the game. Years ago, I admit, while watching a football game I only really watched the player with the ball, seems logical right? Not that I didn't realize the other guys were important too, but I was a little clueless to the pieces of the whole. After so many years of watching a successfull footbal team with our New England Patriots, I’ve become just as intrigued with the strategy of the game and the lengths of preparedness that the sport requires.
I get that not everyone is a football fan, though here in New England if you weren’t one before Tom Brady’s arrival, it’s pretty hard not to be at least a casual observer. Concussions and NFL/Roger Goodell non-sense aside, there is a method to football madness. Yes, the banging each other up is distressing to me. It’s a tough sport to appreciate unless you begin to understand that the devils in the details. And the Patriots have practiced these details at a record setting level every week for seventeen years. The Patriot documentary, Do Your Job, illustrates this the best. Malcom Butler's last second interception that led to their Super Bowl win in 2015 was a result of months of team and individual preparedness that put him in that exact spot to catch that ball.
Success makes others curious. The Patriots' success is unique and at a caliber that doesn’t happen by chance. Any "system" is only as good as the intellect, mindfulness, emotions, motivation athleticism etc. etc. of the people in it. Personally, I admire the Patriot work ethic, their respect for their opponent and the sense of humility they carry for themselves, despite their greatness. New England fans who watch them every week know this well. Any industry or individual could apply and learn from these same principles.
Frequently, I hear and read the media poke fun at Brady’s diet, questioning if it is too extreme or does he really feed his kids this stuff? I mean really, who eats avocado ice cream? Well, I eat avocados and avocado ice cream and avocado pudding. Avocados are actually a versatile fruit—high in healthy fats and if you don’t have trouble digesting them and like them—then eat them. Actually, research shows that avocados--one a day- may reduce LDL cholesterol— but I digress.
I’ve never met Tom Brady, nor do I know exactly what he eats—only what I hear and read. In my humble opinion, his diet seems to suit him. It appears to be working and at the age of 39, an age where almost all of his competitors are on the decline, what's to argue? Every person's body is unique and has different needs. The growing body of science supports many principles that Brady applies to his diet. It's impossible to list here all the benefits that a balanced, nutrient dense diet provides--but less inflammation is one big payoff. Less inflammation especially in the gut leads to less inflammation elsewhere. The trick is to match what works for you.
The pluses of Brady’s diet:
1. Abundance of vegetables.
Veggies are arguably the best form of carbohydrates because of their high nutrient value per mass of carb calories. Overall, they promote less insulin response while containing nutrients that help improve insulin senstivity. The recommended servings of vegetables and fruits are 5-11/day to acquire the many and varied phytonutrients that vegetables contain--including various fibers. Phytonutrients, have positive, some even pharmocological effects working synergistically within the body. For vegetables to provide these benefits, we have to eat them. Looking at them doesn’t give the same effect. Brady avoids certain vegetables (nightshades) which may or not be necessay for everyone. Of course if your diet is 100 % veggies then you will be missing out on certain nutrients.
2. Adequate protein.
Brady is not a strict vegan (which I tend to discourage especially for athletes). From what I hear, he eats occaisonal beef, chicken and wild fish. I suspect he is meeting his individual protein needs or he would not be able to heal and repair at his level.
3. Whole high quality vs. processd food.
Brady eats high quality, grass fed, no added hormones meat, poultry and wild fish, organic, high quality fats, organic produce; and minimally processed other foods. Yes, this requies a few more dollars to execute but this should be a no-brainer why this is a better practice than the standard, processed American diet. Why would you not want to provide these foods to your children if you are able?
4. Limits dairy and sugar.
Dairy has positive attributes for many people but the sugar lactose may cause GI distress for some and the protein casein may aggravate certain GI and autoimmune conditions. For Brady, limiting dairy does not see to be an issue. For the majority of people, there is no down side to eating a diet low in sugar.
Extreme or just SAD acceptance?
Brady’s diet seems extreme to many people only because for the last forty plus years, we’ve lived in an America flooded by sugar and processed foods (standard American diet--SAD) at every street corner. Ironically, the NFL has done their part in promoting these foods. We've come to live and believe that these foods are not just the norm for our existance but are acceptable. I have two sons in their twenties and despite their leaness, my insulin alarm goes off and I cringe a bit when they eat lots of sugar, drink lots of lemonade/juices or “carbo load”. Few people can handle “low nutrient, carbo loading" day in and day out, even athletes. Insulin is a powerful hormone that when constantly secreted, carries risks, even when our blood sugars remain normal. Most people especially children eat far more refined carbs than their little bodies need. Unfortunately, everyone is susceptible to our processed food environment. No person's body lean or overweight and especially growing needs chemical additives, excessive animal hormones, glyphosphaes, trans fats etc. We are learning that these foods probably change the microbes in our gut, causing an imbalance that lead to other problems--i.e. inflammation. I call the internet the wild west--but it has helped push the interest in nutrition, as well as help the public become more aware of better resources. The research in many areas is exploding, especially the gut microbiome--but we still have a ways to go.
Last year at a press conference Brady in his humble but passionate way, disbaraged the standard American diet SAD—especially sweetened cereals and the plethora of sugar sources. Amazingly, in the following weeks, I read some in the media and public criticizing him, saying he shouldn’t be telling people how to eat. People—-we can’t have it both ways! If we want these larger than life sports figures to be role models —because our kids do pay attention to them—then we must be open to the positive moments and information that they share.
A few weeks ago, a local radio broadcaster here in Boston (WEEI), Gerry Callahan asked Brady if it’s a burden for him to follow his diet. Brady's response, echoed a little of the Patriot’s, "Do your job" motto—that taking care of his body is part of his job, but also that it becomes a personal preference and a natural part of your life. I suspect Brady wonders how the rest of America doesn’t think it’s a burden to eat the SAD. And if you feel better, why would you not continue?
As a nutritionist, I do this for a living and I know it’s not easy for people to make changes, however, we should be thanking Tom Brady for calling attention to the unhealthy foods that are every day accessible to our children’s growing bodies. And if you don’t think it matters, take a look at the chronic disease statistics (especially obesity, diabetes and pre-diabetes and autoimmunity). They are staggering-- and especially for children and so much of it is preventable! I’ve been seeing these people as patients for over 25 years. Brady doesn’t impose his personal eating patterns on anyone but I would challenge every person to impose a little, "Do your job" on their own body. Eat a few more vegetables and a little less sugar. It's your choice to take care of yourself--or not. Your body will talk to you and let you know if it’s working. Learn what works for you!