What is Tom Brady’s Secret?

He’ll tell you — for a price.

Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr. The quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (that’s still weird for this Connecticut boy to say) is quite possibly the greatest quarterback of all time.

Super Bowl Sunday will mark Brady’s 10th — 10th Superbowl — a record. He already has six superbowl wins, a record. His career combined passing yards, over 91,000 are the highest in the NFL. Same with career touchdowns — 661 of them. He’s also the oldest player to be named Superbowl MVP and the oldest player to win a Superbowl as starting quarterback.

Brady is 43 years old — he’s been playing pro-football for 21 years. The average NFL career is 3.3 years. His outstanding longevity and unparalleled success has led many writers to ask the same question: what’s his secret?

Look around the internet and you’ll see lots of speculation. Die-hard sports quants will point out that the Patriots protected him more than almost any other QB. He also throws the football quickly — on average just 2.5 seconds after the snap — which keeps him from getting hit too much. It’s easier not to get injured if you never get tackled. Or maybe it’s his wife Gisele Bundchen who keeps him on his toes.

But it’s hard to talk about what’s special about Brady and not stumble upon TB12. TB12 is Brady’s personal “peak performance” website, providing details about his training and diet methods as well as, of course, the opportunity to purchase any number of vitamins, supplements, tonics, equipment, and even 1-on-1 training with a body coach.

I doubt Brady is struggling for cash but — this is how celebrity works, right? You’ve got to branch out. The Kardashians have their makeup, the Olsen twins have a fashion line. Jennifer Paltrow has whatever Goop is.

On the surface, TB12 is pretty standard. Advocating a mostly whole-foods, plant-based diet, along with exercise is reasonable and good advice for anyone.

What do they sell? Much is pretty standard overpriced wellness fare. Here’s 30 doses of a supplement called “recover” — sold for $60. While the ingredients supposedly fight inflammation, a careful footnote indicates “these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease”.

But dig a bit deeper and there are some medically questionable things there. Why? Well TB12 seems to come from the mind of Alex Guerrero.

Brady attributes much of his success to his “Body Coach” Alex Guerrero — and this is a name that many in the alternative medicine community will be aware of. Alex Guerrero was sanctioned by the FTC in 2005 for promoting his “Supreme Greens” diet — remember that? — as being able to cure cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and several other maladies. Later, he marketed a product called “neurosafe”, which Brady endorsed, that he claimed would protect your brain from sports-related traumatic brain injury. The FTC again got involved, closing the company.

TB12 though, is still standing, and like all lifestyle brands, it’s a mix of good and bad advice, science and pseudoscience, and a lot of really slick marketing. Here are some of the major tenets.

Brady recommends drinking a LOT of water. Take your body weight, divide by two, and that’s how many ounces of water you drink — if you aren’t exercising.

So someone like me should drink like 90 ounces a day — 2.6 liters. As a nephrologist I can tell you that the water level in your body is one of the most precisely regulated systems you have. Drink when you are thirsty, and you’ll be fine. Drink a lot and — assuming your kidneys are working — you’ll pee a lot. Yes, there is a risk of hyponatremia from drinking excessive water and I have treated several patients who have water-loaded themselves into seizure territory following some kind of cleanse, but the weird thing here isn’t that he wants you to drink a lot of water. It’s why. Guerrero and Brady think that the water changes your body somehow — that it protects your skin from sunburn, for instance, and increases something they call muscle pliability.

“Vibrating Pliability Sphere”

One of the reasons he avoids getting injured, Brady says, is that he keeps his muscles soft and pliable through, well, hydration, but also specific exercises. He promotes deep-tissue manipulation — which can be performed with some trademark products like this “vibrating pliability sphere”.

I am not sure what pliability means. Is it flexibility — the ability of a muscle to lengthen which is, you know, measureable? According to TB12, it most certainly is not.

Rather it is a muscle that is “vascular…permeable…enzyme-receptive…efficient…elastic…contractible…[and] relaxable.” That is hard to quantify in a clinical study. And that is, of course, emblematic of the problem with the wellness market — vague claims that feel scientific but really can’t be tested one way or another.

Another component of Brady’s approach that is on pretty thin scientific ice is its promotion of an alkaline diet. Let me put on my nephrologist hat again and say this — you can not change the pH of your body by what you eat. pH is another exquisitely regulated system in the body. I could drip acid directly into your veins and your lungs and kidneys would work together to keep your pH right at 7.4.

There’s one way to look at the story of TB12 as a regulatory success. You have this guy, Alex Guerrero, doing typical snake-oil salesman stuff, promising cures he can’t deliver, who gets shut down by the FTC. He comes back with TB12 — and here, the line isn’t being crossed. There’s some weird advice, sure, and lots of standard supplement language that is not really meaningful like “optimizing performance” — but no where were they promising to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.

Ewwww

There’s still some flirtation with scamminess though. Back in March, as the coronavirus pandemic crashed onto our shores, Brady started promoting some of the supplements as “immune enhancers”.

Which is a little gross in my opinion.

TB12 also received almost $1 million in PPP loans, but honestly that is as much of an indictment against the PPP system as it as against TB12.

Here’s my take. There are no easy fixes in medicine. There are very few miracle cures. The reason Tom Brady is Tom Brady is not because he drinks a lot of water or because he tries to alkalinize his blood somehow. It’s because he works his butt off. He is incredibly strict with what he puts in his body, he gets a ton of exercise, he studies, he has a level of self-discipline that very few of us could match. But don’t be deflated. If you want to emulate him, wake up early, eat healthy, and train. You don’t actually need to send him more money.

A version of this column first appeared on medscape.com.

Writing about medicine, science, statistics, and the abuses thereof. Commentator at Medscape. Associate Professor of Medicine at Yale University.

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