Football teammates share a lot of things.
Hours on the road, locker room showers, sideline jokes.
But New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski now share a bit more: their diet.
Brady’s notoriously strict diet has been the talk of the food and fitness curious for many years now.
He doesn’t eat or drink dairy, coffee, white sugar, white flour, peppers, mushrooms, eggplants, tomatoes, and most fruits.
His avocado ice cream has a cult following.
He doesn’t drink alcohol, but he does drink liters upon liters of water each day.
At age 40, the five-time Super Bowl champion is in peak physical condition. His gridiron performances continue to dazzle.
However, for 28-year-old Gronkowski (lovingly called “Gronk” by his fans), half of his professional football seasons have ended early with various injuries.
Since starting in the league in 2010, he’s missed 24 of 112 regular-season games, while Brady has missed only two for injury.
Plus, Gronkowski has undergone multiple surgeries, including his third back surgery at the end of his short 2016 season.
The Patriots went on to win another Super Bowl while Gronkowski was on the injured reserve list.
Following the Tom Brady plan
Seeing his teammate’s health and wellness propel him into a career beyond what many in the National Football League play, Gronkowski turned to Brady for advice and a plan.
“Just looking at Tom, seeing what he does every day, what he eats, talking to him, personally one-on-one, just learning about the body with him, just seeing how flexible he is, how pliable he is, how loose he is all the time, every day and ready to go," Gronkowski told the Boston Herald. "I just felt like it was the time in my career where I needed to devote myself at all levels.”
During this summer’s off-season, Gronkowski began working with Brady’s body coach, Alex Guerrero, for training and physical development.
Brady and Guerrero have developed their own training philosophy, the TB12 Method. The method is centered around muscle pliability. Muscles that are more pliable, the program says, are softer, longer, and more resilient. Pliable muscles protect the body from injury and bounce back faster.
“I just felt like I had to add on to what I was doing. Find a way that my body will respond so I can perform every day. Be in prevention mode for injuries happening,” Gronkowski said. “I definitely feel like a brand-new guy just being able to do exercises here [at the TB12 center].”
The TB12 Method also follows strict nutrition guidelines.
That means Gronkowski had to completely upend his old food habits. He had to give up almost all meat, opting instead for a largely plant-based program.
He also eliminated all the same foods Brady avoids, though many of these foods would be considered healthy by almost all standards.
“The main premise behind Tom Brady’s diet is to eliminate foods that can cause inflammation,” says Mike Kneuer, a personal trainer and a member of the Men’s Health Fitness Council. “As an NFL player, his body takes a beating and then can be very inflamed as it is.”
What about the long list of foods Brady and Gronkowski avoid is so bad?
Many of them are nightshades, a botanical family of more than 2,500 plants. Many of them are used for medicine and food.
Some people may have a sensitivity to nightshade foods — tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, and potatoes — and may not be able to fully digest them.
Brady and his trainer believe these foods cause inflammation. Since the diet is focused on noninflammatory foods, these foods don’t make the cut.
“Rob has been really committed,” Guerrero told the Boston Herald. “He’s done a great job. The foundation has been set. Certainly, we’re not done.”
The one rule Gronk won’t follow
As much as Gronkowski has bought into Brady’s diet and healthy lifestyle, there’s just one thing the notorious party animal won’t give up: alcohol.
Guerrero devised an alternative for the four-time Pro Bowl participant.
For every alcoholic drink Gronkowski has, he has to drink three glasses of water to clean out his body. The same rule applies if he drinks coffee.
“The whole drinking water to get alcohol out faster is an old wives’ tale,” Kneuer said. “The only way alcohol can get out of your system is through your liver, which processes only so much regardless of how much water you drink.”
Still, Linzy Ziegelbaum, a registered dietitian in New York, says this 3-to-1 ratio of water and alcohol might be a good rule for anyone to follow.
“Alcohol is dehydrating, and drinking water following a drink can help with rehydration to avoid hangovers, but it will not remove the alcohol from your system,” Ziegelbaum told Healthline.
Can football fans follow this diet?
Last year, Brady released a “nutritional manual” — don’t call it a cookbook — that outlines his eating philosophy and offers recipes to match.
The book is designed to be a “living document” so that Brady and Guerrero can make changes, modifications, or add new recipes.
It’ll set you back $200.
You can also order direct-to-your-door meal kits inspired by Brady’s recipes and meals.
For $78 a week, you get three meals with two servings each. Each plant-based option meets many of the same guidelines Brady and Gronkowski follow.
Though it may be tempting to try to mimic the training and nutrition of famous athletes in hopes of seeing similar results, this diet, Ziegelbaum says, isn’t for everyone.
In fact, it’s really only for people who have the means and resources to do it, like Brady and Gronkowski.
“High-level athletes require a lot of calories, and they need to eat a balance of carbohydrates and proteins in addition to micronutrients,” Ziegelbaum said. “While I do not think their diet approach is a good one, if their diet is planned correctly, they will be able to meet their nutrition needs.”
Plus, some of the reasoning for eliminating certain foods may be based on science that isn’t fully settled yet, she said.
“Many people believe that nightshade vegetables, white sugar, and white flour all cause inflammation. Some fruits have also gotten a bad reputation because people think they are too high in sugar to eat,” Ziegelbaum said.
“However, there is no science showing any of these things to be true. The nightshade vegetables and fruits he is avoiding are sources of antioxidants, which actually work to reduce inflammation. Science shows that eating more fruits and vegetables is beneficial, and there is no evidence showing harm from consuming nightshade vegetables,” she said.
“For the average person who has not been tested and does not know for sure that their body responds negatively to a fruit or vegetable, I would rather them not avoid it,” said Paige Penick, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Kansas City. “There is so much nutrition benefit from consuming fruits and vegetables that they would otherwise be missing out on.”
For Kneuer, who’s also the conditioning coach for the Florida Atlantic University lacrosse team, this diet resembles what he’d recommend to his clients.
“I ask that they remove sugars, except one piece of fruit per day if they need it, gluten, dairy, and alcohol from their diets,” he said. “But unless a client is complaining of being achy, chronically sore, or have a history of arthritis, I don’t normally worry about the nightshades.”
“If someone is wanting to eat better,” Penick told Healthline, “a good way to start is to get in more foods from the earth — things like produce, beans, and legumes. Look at eating from a positive perspective and focus on what you can have, and what is providing your body with needed nutrients, as opposed to creating a list of can’t and shouldn’t. At the end of the day, having too many rules sets most people up for failure.”