Reimer: It's time for Tom Brady to start offering some proof about the 'TB12 Method,' medical experts say

Alex Reimer
August 03, 2017 - 12:48 pm

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t much left for Tom Brady to accomplish on the football field. He’s won more Super Bowls than any quarterback who’s ever played, winning his fifth ring last season when he led the Patriots to their historic 25-point comeback victory over the Falcons. At this point, anybody who doesn’t list Brady as the greatest of all-time is probably just trolling, especially considering he’s still at the top of his game at 40 years old. 

Nineteen quarterbacks in NFL history have played into their 40s, and Warren Moon and Brett Favre are the only two who have performed well. In 1997, a 40-year-old Moon led the NFL with 245.2 passing yards per game and was named to the Pro Bowl. The following season, however, he only started 10 games and averaged 82 fewer yards per game. Moon was out of the league two years later, only starting once during that span. 

Favre was spectacular in 2009 with the Vikings, leading them to the NFC championship. But then he floundered the following season before calling it a career. 

This offseason, Brady spent a lot of time talking to reporters about his desire to play well into his 40s –– or maybe even 50s. Perhaps most notably, there was his intimate sit-down chat with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King in the hills of Montana, where Brady professed his desire to serve as an ambassador to football. He says he’s uniquely qualified for the job, because he makes the “right choices.” Those “right choices” are now available to purchase in the form of a $200 nutrition manual, $100 “sleepwear recovery” pajamas and TB12 Performance Meals ™, which actually cost a reasonable $13 per plate. 

Brady believes he’s unlocked the keys to football immortality, and even the most cynical observer must admit it looks like he's right. In the mid-aughts, Brady hooked up with trainer Alex Guerrero, at the behest of linebacker Willie McGinest. Guerrero, who holds a master’s degree in Chinese medicine from the now-defunct Samra University of Oriental Medicine, rails against most Western medical practices. After Brady tore his ACL in 2008, he started seeing Guerrero full-time, and largely shunned the Patriots medical staff. The sixth-round draft pick who first met Patriots owner Robert Kraft while carrying a pizza box no longer eats dairy, white sugar or white flour –– and has also cut out nightshades like tomatoes and eggplants. Unlike most of his NFL counterparts, Brady doesn’t lift weights. Instead, he focuses on pliability training. 

All of this –– the fanatical diet, unorthodox training methods –– encompasses the TB12 Method™. A self-help book with the same title will be released in September, and it was instantly No. 1 on the Amazon best-sellers list. 

Brady’s sales pitch for the TB12 Method™ is simple: it works for him, and thus, it can work for you. Given the popularity of his products, it seems to be a successful message.

But medical professionals still cast doubts on portions of Brady’s routine. Earlier this year, a sports medicine doctor at the Lahey Hospital and Medical Center penned a rebuttal to Guerrero, who slammed the medical establishment in a Men’s Journal piece about the TB12 Sports Therapy Center in Patriot Place (Guerrero and Brady own the clinic together). In the article, Guerrero convinces writer Mike Chambers to walk on an antigravity treadmill, even though he’s recovering from ankle surgery. Guerrero claims Chambers’ surgeon “doesn’t care” if he recovers from his injury. All the surgeon wants, Guerrero says, is for Chambers to feel better. 

Dr. Jessica Flynn, a self-proclaimed Patriots fanatic, took umbrage with Guerrero’s insults. “Guerrero functions in a different world than doctors. He doesn’t have to prove his therapies work, or even that they are safe,” she wrote. “The thing about functioning in a space like that is that it’s very easy to become cavalier.”

Flynn also challenged Brady and Guerrero to release studies that support their methods. Without research, she argues it’s impossible to apply the TB12 Method™ to the general public.

“Guerrero is seeing a very specific part of the population,” Flynn told WEEI.com in a phone interview. “He may not see the patients with a repeat rotator cuff tear, or the patient with a calcaneus fracture that has major complications afterwards –– not only if they stop going to him, but maybe because they wouldn't go to him in the first place, because they can't financially afford it, it's not something on their radar, or they don't live in New England. That's why studying these things is so important before you directly market to the general population.”

There are certain portions of Brady’s fitness regimen that Flynn says are undoubtedly beneficial. The soft-tissue and pliability work, for example, have appeared to succeed in making Brady more nimble. After all, he hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2008.

But when it comes to other aspects of Brady’s program, such as his cognitive training techniques, the benefits are murkier. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission says one Brady-endorsed concussion recovery beverage is totally bogus. Guerrero used to produce a beverage called NeuroSafe, which was advertised as a panacea for concussions and head trauma. The FTC, however, ordered Guerrero to shut it down. (In 2004, the FTC sued Guerrero for his role as the pitchman for a fraudulent cancer cure.)

At the Super Bowl, when asked about the NFL’s concussion crisis, Brady said he thinks “prevention is part of the issue.” According to the TB12 Method™, it’s possible to train your brain to not succumb to head trauma. Apparently nobody told Brady’s wife Gisele Bundchen, who said recently that Brady has suffered a concussion over the last year. 

Flynn isn’t dismissive of the notion that cognitive games and other training techniques can improve field awareness, which in turn make it less likely to get smashed in the head. But once again, she wants proof. 

“There's no research that I know of that shows training your brain can prevent concussions,” she said.

When it comes to Brady’s stringent diet, nutritionists agree that eating plant-based and unprocessed food is good for you. But the hardcore nature of the TB12 Method™ is unnecessary, and supported with debunked research. 

In a 2014 SI piece, Brady talks about his adherence to the “Acid Alkaline Diet.” His foods are 80 percent alkaline and 20 percent acidic, which he says “maintain(s) balance and harmony through (his) metabolic system.” 

The theory is based off the work of Robert O. Young, who’s authored a number of books called the "pH Miracle." In them, he recommends abstaining from acidic foods, such as sugar, red meat, dairy, and basically everything we eat, because they inject too much acidity into the body. 

But that’s completely wrong, says Lauren Mayer, a clinical dietitian at Brigham and Women’s. “Food's cannot change the pH (a measure of acidity) of your body,” she told WEEI.com in an email. “Ultimately, once food hits your stomach, it's all acidic at that point. This scientific fact aside: the foods that are promoted on the ‘acid-alkaline’ diet just so happen to be whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean proteins. These foods are healthier options anyways, but not due to any acid vs alkaline reasoning.”

Matt Priven, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the founder of Oceanside Nutrition, was more blunt, telling WEEI.com that alkaline diets are “not evidenced based.” 

Young, the Godfather of the movement, was recently sentenced to prison for three years in California on two counts of practicing medicine without a license.

When defending his restrictive dietary approach in a 2015 interview with "Dennis & Callahan," Brady said “what you see on the field” is all of the proof people should need. But Mayer says that isn’t enough. 

“Nutrition is a young science that is certainly still evolving and more research is always better. However, nutrition is a challenging field to study because it involves unreliable subjects (humans),” she said. “It would of course interesting to see more specific results from Brady's diet, but not much more than "interesting". A result from one person (with about a million different variables), may be fascinating, but it definitely does not ‘prove’ anything in the science world.”

It’s apparent that Brady wants to market the TB12 Method™ full-time once he retires in five, 10 or 15 years. But in order to do that responsibly, Flynn says he’ll have to cite more than his play as proof. Judging by the prices of most of the TB12 products, living like Tom Brady won’t come cheaply. Most folks out there can’t afford to be swindled. 

“The thing that bothers me the most is, what is the goal of the athletes going to TB12? Or the goal of the average athlete reading his book?,” Flynn asks. “Is their goal to play a professional sport until the age of 45? Because that's a very tiny population. 

“I think the onus is really on Tom Brady and Alex Guerrero, if this is something that Tom Brady is going to be doing going forward after he retires when he's 50. The onus is on them to prove their stuff works before expecting the average person to dole out the cash for it, or put their body at risk by using their methods.”

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